Before I was a parent I was a teacher. I have to admit that I was probably a little judgmental as I got to know my students and learned how things went at home - bedtimes, when homework was done, what movies or t.v. shows they were allowed to watch, what responsibilities they did (or didn't have), etc. Ashamedly, I often found myself thinking thoughts that began with, "When I'm a parent..." For all the non-parents who may be reading this, trust me... it's dangerous territory. For all the parents who may be reading this, you probably know what I mean.
One of those areas that I've been recently challenged in over the last several months now is television. In our house, we're not big t.v. people... and I'm proud of that. But sometimes on those Wednesday mornings when I think, "Wow... What exactly have I accomplished this week?" - it's so easy to let the tube provide the entertainment and teaching for my toddler. I'm guilty. Initially I didn't think too much about it. Jadon hardly watched any t.v. all summer. He preferred to be outside. So, as we fell into our new routine, I began to feel a bit convicted (and rightly so).
I asked myself the question, "What role do I want the television to play in my son's daily life?" I know of families who don't even have a t.v. I honestly have to wonder how they do it; and at the same time a small part of me almost desires to toss ours in the trash at times (I said almost). I don't want t.v. to be the teacher, but what t.v. my toddler does watch I want to be instructional/educational. I don't want the t.v. to be Jadon's source of entertainment, but I'm okay with him being entertained by it from time to time. I want what programming that he does watch to encourage his imagination and creativity, but not take the place of it.
Thankfully my conviction turned into action (which is not always the case). So, here are some guidelines that our family has come up with for toddler t.v in our home.
No t.v. after 9:30 a.m. (if it's been on at all). Jadon is typically awake for the day between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m. In the next 3 hours, we will all be getting dressed/showered for the day and eat breakfast. Andy will get ready to head out the door (make coffee, get a lunch together), and I usually clean up from breakfast and empty the dishwasher. How does Jadon fit into all this? Obviously he has to get ready for the day (dressed and teeth brushed), but it's really easy for Andy and I to go through our routines and suddenly realize that our son has been doing nothing but sitting in front of the tube.
We've come to the point that we're okay with a little bit of t.v. during this part of the day (hence the guideline for this part). What we've also done is made more of an effort to include Jadon in our morning routine. This could include anything from picking out his clothes and getting himself dressed (a recent accomplishment), to helping get breakfast ready, to helping me empty the dishwasher (he pretty much puts everything away that belongs in the lower cabinets and drawers).
Let me just say that once we implemented this rule, the t.v. time in the morning nearly vanished! And, get this... No one has missed it!
Be picky. I'm super picky about what Jadon is allowed to watch. So much, in fact, that he knows some of the shows that he can't watch and will tell me if it's coming on next or just turn the t.v. off himself. Andy is picky, too, and has been known to point out some aspects of certain shows that I felt were okay that maybe weren't as great as I thought.
I do some research, pay attention to commercials for these programs, evaluate what fellow parents think, and ask myself if the show emphasizes qualities that we also encourage in our parenting. We tend to look for programs that are intentionally educational, encourage imagination and creativity, and do not go against the qualities that we are trying to instill in our son. Red flags for us are programs that emphasize whining, complaining, selfishness, and egocentrism. When it comes down to it, at this point I'm okay with about 75% of the programming on PBS, and then a few shows on the Disney Channel and Nick Jr.
Stick with 1/2 hour (or less) programs I
find that this prevents endless t.v. watching. Reserve movies as
"special treats", like a family movie night, or the third rainy day in a
row, or when a parent is feeling under the weather.
Make your child turn off the the t.v. This sounds ridiculous, I know. We've really found that this works for Jadon. Not everyone is okay with their child touching the t.v. (ours is older and not a flat screen - yes, we live in the dark ages), but we're fine with it at this point. It really seems that by having Jadon physically turn the t.v. off when a show is over he's actually embracing the guideline, rather than having no other choice because it was turned off for him. We've practiced this so much, in fact, that he will turn it off all on his own accord (even if I didn't say, "When this show is over the t.v. goes off."), and even when I'm not in the room. It's amazing. It has totally eliminated the tendency to watch show after show... even when a channel reels a child in my showing the preview for what is next as soon as the current show ends.
Conclusions Although this was definitely no scientific process, I know that I've seen awesome results in Jadon as a direct result of us tightening up on the television.
Jadon's t.v. watching has come way down. He watches little to no shows in the morning. The only consistent time in his day that he watches t.v (20-30 min.) is before his nap and this is for two reasons: 1, it's the best routine on the 3 days that I watch another boy while I'm getting him down for his nap; and 2, it really does seem to help slow his body down in preparation for taking a nap.
Jadon may watch one show around the time that I am preparing supper (let's be honest, that's often essential in preventing meals that consist of blackened shoe leather and mush), and maybe one before bed, occasionally a movie.
Maybe that still seems like a lot to some of you, or maybe a dream to others, but it works for us. And this pregnant lady isn't exhausted trying to entertain a 2 year old throughout the day (at least not any more than I already was). His imaginative play has soared over the last few months. He's become extremely independent in his play, but has also grown in his family responsibility (discovering things that he no longer needs help with, and participating in chores and helpful things around the house). Part of this is just him getting older, but another part is less time glued to the television. He's thinking more. He's not being entertained as much as he is creating his own entertainment.
All this to say, whether it's t.v. or something else... whether you're a parent or not... it's important to take hold of areas of conviction in our lives and act on them in faith. Prayerfully consider what is best for you (or your family) and do something about it, trusting that God will honor your intentions. And for goodness sake... if you aren't a parent yet take it from me - don't fall into the trap of "When I'm a parent..." because you just don't know until you're up to your eyeballs in diapers and cheerios. Truth.
"What if, sometimes, there are mists and fogs so thick that I cannot
see the path? ‘Tis enough that You hold my hand, and guide
me in the darkness; for walking with You in the gloom–is far
sweeter and safer than walking alone in the sunlight!
Dear Lord, give me grace to trust You wholly, whatever may befall; yielding
myself up to Your leading, and leaning hard on You when
“dangers are in the path.” Your way for me has been marked out from all
eternity, and it leads directly to Yourself and home!"