This past winter, Emily Nussbaum wrote this terrific New Yorker article on the uptick of quality kids’ programming and I breathed a sigh of relief. That piece absolved me of most of the guilt I had about our kids sitting slack-jawed in front of the flatscreen. Because even if Scott or I (or both, if we’re watching something Star Wars-related) co-view with the kids, and attempt to guide discussion about what’s happening in front of us, they get that “look.” Mouths parted, heads hanging, so absorbed in the action that we could be screaming an invitation for all you can eat ice cream and it would go unnoticed. Only Legos command their attention so deeply.
Scott and I both work in TV, so we police it vigilantly with the kids. We don’t allow Charlotte, almost 5, to watch more than an hour. Her 2-year old brother we try to limit to half an hour.. There are days they watch nothing. There are days where we exceed those limits (try Day 2 with a too-sick-for-school-but-not-sick-enough-to-sleep-and-let-you-get-stuff done kid in the dead of winter). But at the end of the week it pretty much evens out.
For the past few months, Campbell has been getting up early and asking to watch something. I usually make a half-hearted inquiry if he’d rather do a puzzle or read instead, but he declines and we settle in on the couch for some kid-and-mother-approved Netflixing. I don’t like that the mornings and evenings sandwiching my workday often include the television, even if it’s to a small degree. But it’s a pretty nice way to start my day: 22 minutes of him rolling on me, dancing for me, and enlisting my participation in his enjoyment of the show. I don’t mind starting my day with Campbell and DJ Lance Rock.
Scott and I try to be good examples; we don’t leave the TV on as background noise. In fact, we don’t turn it on for ourselves until after they’re in bed. Of course, our use of smartphones has made this easier, as TV entices us so much less than those gadgets. But we recognize that, and, unless it’s an urgent work matter, we really try to put the little screens away when the kids are around.
Another rule we have is to not let them watch anything for the first time (and kids are ALL about repeat-viewing) without supervision. We try to supervise EVERY subsequent viewing, but sometimes the phone rings, or we have a work deadline, or we just can’t stand to hear that g-damn song again. But the first time? When they are wondering what the hell is going on? We’re there to field questions. Even if it’s “I have no idea, but maybe we’ll understand it at the end.”
I expect to be saying that a lot when we introduce “Twin Peaks.” Is 5 too young for that, ya think?
How do YOU handle TV with your kids?
*Not to be confused with this comedy album or Shakespeare.