Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Baby Nuthouse: plugged in and tuned out

A few months ago I saw a magazine ad that just rubbed me the wrong way. It was advertising a minivan equipped with dual screen DVD players and satellite TV. The picture showed a smiling mom driving with three kids, who were wearing headsets and watching various screens. The caption spread across the page read: “Six hour trip to Grandma’s, and never heard a peep out of them!”

Has this become our goal as parents? I wondered. To get our kids to shut the hell up?

As I drove the 2,000 miles from Iowa to California with my children, many peeps were heard. Also screeches, groans, whining, complaining, shouting and all-out crying. This was with a DVD player. By the time we got to Denver I decided to spring for an extra DVD player, so that my daughter could view age-appropriate videos while the boys watched their movies in the back seat.

Somewhere around the Utah state line, I broke out the new DVD player, and got everyone set up. It was the calmest the van had been in days. Everyone was enjoying their shows, and I was enjoying the peace and quiet. I even smiled. Maybe there was something to that ad after all. I did find that my feelings toward my children were somewhat warmer when they were not screaming and throwing things at each other.

The movie entertained my daughter for about ten minutes, then she fell asleep. When she awoke a very short time later, she no longer had any interest in Baby Van Gogh. Meanwhile, in the back, the boys were arguing over which movie to watch next. The DVD player ended up on the floor.

At any rate, movies did help us pass the time on our long journey, but they certainly did not cure the boredom, discomfort and restlessness that naturally occur during nine-hour days of driving through the desert.

Then we arrived at our new home, where my husband and I had decided to buy a television for the office and leave the rest of the house TV-free. The kids didn’t even notice the absence of a television at first, but after a couple of days I noticed my 3-year-old son was on the sofa making whimpering noises.

“What’s wrong?” I asked him.

“I’m sad,” he said.

“Why are you sad?”

“I’m sad because I want to watch a movie,” he said.

“Well, we’re not going to watch a movie. We don’t even have a TV right now.”

My 5-year-old piped up: “Why not?”

“Because it stayed with our old house.”

“ are we going to watch movies?” he asked.

“We’re not,” I replied.

“But...what about the little DVD players?”

“We’ll still have them for long car trips, but we’re not going to watch movies at home.”

“But...I need to watch movies!” At this point he was on the verge of tears.

“No, you really don’t,” I told him. “When I was your age I never watched movies.” (and I walked a mile to school in a snowstorm, uphill both ways...and I liked it!)

One minute later, the boys were back to playing with their cars.

Hopefully living without a TV staring at us all day will improve my children’s brain power, creativity, and attention span. I’m hoping for a positive long-term result because, if I am going to be perfectly honest, removing television has changed my life, but hasn’t necessarily improved it.

Things at our house are messier, louder, and more rambunctious than ever before. I never realized how, when things started getting too rowdy, I’d often turn to the television to calm everyone down and take a break from the intensity.

Now it just stays rowdy. We’ve had a lot more conflict, without the sedating effects of television. But even though I sought them out, I never much cared for those effects. When I was trying to grab the attention of a child who was completely focused on the screen. When I saw the dazed, vacant looks on their faces. And then, the protests and fits when it was time to turn the thing off.

We became too reliant on it. Television became a habit, and even when we’d get out of the habit for a while, the thing was sitting there all day staring at us. Just tempting us to turn it on. And how easy is it to justify a couple hours of Thomas and Friends so I can get dinner on the table without having to break up any fights. Now when they are fighting I can’t threaten to turn off the movie, so instead I have to come up with other creative, or not so creative (e.g., “Go to your room!”) solutions.

Probably most people can regulate, minimize and cut back on their kids' television viewing without actually banishing the TV set from the living room. For us, though, I think going cold turkey is best. The kids don't even seem to miss it, and it sure helps me to resist the temptation. I cannot tell you how many times I have just wanted to get my kids to sit still and be quiet so I could unpack a box, or assemble a desk. In the short term, it would make my life easier, but in the long run I think that eliminating TV is the right thing to do.

Now, about the time I spend on my computer...


Meaghan said...

Right on, Sister! Here's to thinking outside the Box!

I've lived more or less TV free since the late 90's. And when I met my husband, I noticed he didn't have a TV either, which was probably one of the reasons I married him.

These days, we do own a TV, but it resides in a closed cabinet on the third floor. We literally never watch it. And I can honestly count the number of times our 2 year old has watched it on one hand. I basically will put in a movie for her if she's sick and I don't want her moving around too much.

I firmly believe that when we watch TV mindlessly and endlessly as so many of us do, we give over too much of our intellectual and emotional lives to marketers and producers. And we don't even realize that we're doing it!

I could go on endlessly about this subject, but it's probably better I do so on my own blog rather than in your blog's comment section.

But I'll say it again: Right on, Sister!

Angela said...

TV FREE here, too...(we do use my computer for family movie nights)
but spending too much time on the internet! I'm trying to cut down to using it ONLY when the kids are sleeping...but
Hi. My name is Angela, and I'm an internetaholic...

and...right on meaghan and ruth! i'm with ya, sistahs!