Before I became a parent, I said I wouldn’t let my kids watch any TV (I think I said a lot of things before my children were born that would make me fall over laughing now). Well that lasted until my second was born and then all bets were off. Elana Gartner has shared her experience with us on how she was able to do it…for a while.
When my husband and I were pregnant with our first child, we decided that we would not allow him to watch television before he was two. We felt that those were the early developmental years when we wanted him to be engaged. Technology and media would surround him for the rest of his life.
Our only potential for breaking this vow came on a fourteen hour flight to China when he was eleven months old but he wasn’t interested. For the first two years, he mostly liked watching videos of himself on our phones and he sometimes watched a DVD when getting a haircut.
After the second birthday success, the social element of TV started: syndicated characters started worming their way into his life through books and games. Adults would start conversations with him, asking who his favorite Thomas character was and he would look at them blankly. Peers would talk about Bob the Builder and he would repeat it but not understand what it was. We noticed it but our usually inquisitive fellow didn’t ask about this.
When we had a daughter, we made the same pledge, with the understanding that this might fail, should our son ever start watching. Sometime after he turned three, we introduced the DVD’s that accompanied his favorite children’s songs by They Might Be Giants and he began to watch them in a loop. He usually watched on a little DVD player with headphones so his sister couldn’t see. “You’re not old enough.” he would tell her.
Last year, we drove from New York to Ohio and knew this would be the game-changer. We researched age-appropriate and educational DVD’s. We mounted the DVD player in front of our son’s seat and he used his headphones. He watched They Might Be Giants for a while and tried one or two others. Remarkably, our daughter couldn’t see the DVD player from her seat. Despite the library of DVD’s that we had created for him, he was happy with the ones he had, even after the trip.
I sometimes wrestled with the idea that my son’s lack of exposure to current TV might continue to create social gulfs. When his friends talked about superheroes or characters from movies, he had no context. But he happily incorporated the characters into his play, despite his ignorance, and occasionally forgot if Spiderman was good or evil.
Over the summer, we let both children watch pieces of the Olympics and I showed our son a baseball game when his sister was napping. It looked like we would accomplish our goal again but then…Hurricane Sandy hit. While trying to secure our home from leaks, we gave in and Dinosaur Train made it to the big TV. Amusingly, this created a sense of simultaneous guilt and relief for me and my husband. Our daughter had made it nineteen months without TV.
And now, she watches it regularly with her brother before dinner. However, even as they gleefully repeat lines and holler songs, we have made our peace with it; it’s just the next developmental stage for them.
Elana Gartner is a freelance writer and an award-winning playwright. Other articles of hers can be found at Kveller.com, and Park Slope Stoop. She founded the EMG Playwriting Workshop which fosters a supportive community for NYC playwrights. More about her playwriting is available at:http://www.elanagartner.com. Elana lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, son and daughter.