Ollie, have I failed you?

Since before Oliver was born, actually ever since I heard an NPR program in 2004, it was my intention to not introduce television to Oliver for as long as possible. Not because I think television is inherently evil, or that I want to be some weirdo, wacko, anti-entertainment dictator of a parent, but just because in my heart I believed that I would be doing Oliver a favor. In my imagination I saw myself playing with my children, playing outside or playing make-believe with whatever we could find, and I also envisioned my children being able to entertain themselves and fully enjoying their limitless imaginations. The NPR program, by the way, was an interview with Juliet Schor, who has written books about the influence of media (particularly marketing) on children. She said that she had observed some rather striking differences between children that grew up with out television entirely and children who have grown up with video games and television and computer games, and how the latter didn't seem to know how to really play or imagine. I remember her talking about a child playing very imaginatively with simply some acorns. And it has stuck with me, and I really wanted to give that as a gift to Oliver (in my mind, I imagine it as me doing him a favor). Then I came upon the American Association of Pediatrics recommendation that children under 2 should not be exposed to ANY television whatsoever, and I felt like I had someone to back me up. I vowed to myself I would not use the TV as a babysitter. That's where I went wrong, I think. I also had vowed to myself that I would be the flossing-NAZI so that my kids wouldn't have such miserable dentist appointments as I do. And I've already failed miserably with that vow, along with giving him fluoride consistently, and at an appropriate time so that milk doesn't cancel it out. sigh, I'm getting off the subject...

In any case, I did a pretty darn good job about not exposing Oliver to ANY television, until he was 15 months old. Not that it was really that difficult when he was that young, anyway, because he wasn't interested. Well, one morning when he was fifteen months old, I couldn't stand his crankiness and he wouldn't leave me alone, and it was 5:00 am and I couldn't even wash a single dish without him yanking on my pant legs and screaming, and (not that I'm trying to excuse myself AT ALL, I'm just showing my point of weakness) and I turned on Signing Time and said, "watch this, and just leave me alone for five minutes!" and I went and finished the dishes. He only watched a few minutes those first few times, but ever since he figured out how to turn on the television he wants to watch ALL OF THE TIME! He watches hours and hours of signing time everyday, and even when we tried to hide the TV (which is hard on Kevin's back) he figured out that it was hidden and wouldn't rest until we could put it back and turn it on. (It's cute how he signs signing time, too, I should get a picture of it.) I do realize that I can say "no" and let it be at that. But seriously, how many parents can deal with a tantrum every 15 minutes? Or annoying pestering and whining? So I've just given in, and I feel terribly guilty that I didn't at least make it until he was two years old before I turned him into a couch potato (actually, I was hoping that if I held out that long, maybe he wouldn't be very interested, and he would rather play than sit and watch hours and hours of television). Most of it is because I hate listening to his tantrums, and he can be VERY stubborn with his tantrums. I'd much rather dodge a tantrum than live through it, but we're past the ability of saying, "all gone" or "it's broken!" because Oliver knows better. He is one smart cookie. And he knows how I loathe his tantrums, and takes complete advantage of that. So "no" doesn't exactly work. Distractions don't work like they used to, and even then it ended up being more work than I liked, because it used to be I could say, "want to cook some eggs?" and let him crack the eggs (and make a mess) and that would buy me 15 or so minutes. Or I'd let him play in the flour, or in the refrigerator, or in my make-up, or with play-dough, or with markers. But you can only crack so many eggs, and only so many kitchen messes you can live with after a while before you are saying, "stop making that noise (it makes me want to pull my hair out!) go watch TV and let me clean this disaster up!" ARgh.

So in my mind, the only solution that I can come up with that doesn't involve tantrums is to get rid of the TV altogether. But it's not really an option, because we would have to store our entertainment center somewhere (where? anyone want to buy it?) because even the empty entertainment center is a reminder, and Oliver will throw his tantrum until we put the TV back. I don't know. I just can't see a solution that would work for both Kevin and Oliver. And it IS really nice to get the kitchen clean without an interruption every three minutes. Or read a book for that matter. But what kind of problems am I setting myself up for down the road? And poor Oliver! I'm totally limiting his potential! If I hadn't turned the TV on that fateful day, he may have been a GENIUS! heh. I'm exaggerating, I know, but every time I put signing time on for him (it's the only TV he gets to watch, except for the occasional blip of real TV that comes through when the TiVo flips back to live television) I can't help but wonder how many brain cells I'm killing, or how many opportunities for playing and learning and interacting we are missing because he wants to sit and watch TV.

I almost wonder if he would be less interested in TV if I had let him be exposed to it from the beginning of his life, and if I didn't make such a huge deal to myself about it.

I just can't think of a good solution.

Here is my attempt at rationalization: But everyone lets their kids watch TV? Right? and they're okay? Right? It's the weird kids that don't watch TV? I'm helping Oliver to not become the playground pariah, right?

I went to a "ready to learn" workshop, and the coordinator there said that she has a good friend that is a preschool teacher that says every year she gets fewer and fewer students who know how to play. and more and more kids who want to be entertained. And this was exactly what I was hoping to be able to help Oliver learn--to play! to entertain himself! to have fun with simple things! to interact and be creative and enjoy life (not that I have been an example for that, oh, dear).

Ollie, I'm sorry I have failed you.


inanechatter said...

I don't know if I would call it a failure. It would be hard to entirely keep a child from getting exposed to television. At least he watches educational shows (he's learning and his mind is active) and he isn't addicted to video games. I think it is a valid ideal to not expose Oliver to TV, one that I've thought about trying but I'm not sure I could do it. It's everywhere and would be difficult. I also think that the problem with TV is not necessarily the fact that kids are watching it, it's that they are watching it constantly. I mean hours on end. Moderation in all things right?
Oliver likes to read right? If he continues to develop that then I think it will help develop his imagination.
I don't know much, not being a parent or anything but I don't think you've failed or that all hope is gone. I'm sure he'll turn out just fine and in the end he is own person. I'm not sure if any of that makes sense but I wouldn't worry about it too much.

Amy said...

You're a great mom! I have had to make that slight moderation with my children as well. I too made it to about 15 months before my sweet Brooke turned into an attention-hungry terror half the time, and can I REALLY leave all the dishes dirty, the laundry a mess, the food unfixed? There would be even greater problems than a child who is gaining some of her education from Sesame Street. Then I'd have a husband who wants to leave me and rampant disease and children who are starving and going to school naked.

I read a lot when I was little and didn't watch TV endlessly. My husband can quote or sing the theme song from almost every TV show from the 70s and 80s. Yet, he is the imaginative, playful genius of the family. We also allowed our oldest son to watch the occasional Powerpuff Girls and Fairly OddParents, and he is way ahead of his class and has already been moved up a grade. He is constantly making up "pretend" games he plays with us, his brother, or himself.

To sum up, it's a good goal, but we all must survive, and it's better for Oliver to be alive with sane parents, than the alternative, but without TV.

megan said...

Thanks for the comments, girls! They really helped me! I'm learning to relax a little more about TV everyday, and Oliver has seemed to relax a little about it, too, which helps. He still asks several times a day for Signing Time, but I've been able to limit it to at most 3 episodes, and there have been two days where we were able to go the whole day with out turning the TV on!

inanechatter said...

That's awesome! I'm glad to hear things are going well.

plugalong said...

So I am finally able to get on the internet again. Sorry I haven't called you back yet Megan.
Sounds like you are finding a balance. We go back and forth on things- I assign jobs and/or take them out of the house for a while when I think they are on the electronic entertainment too much. Especially when they are off track. Boy do the older children drag their feet sometimes. They usually end up enjoying themselves though.

millie's mother said...

hi megan-
it's tye. i found your blog. this particular blog was interesting to me because i also did not want millie to be addicted to tv. i remember when abby was a baby, maecy had decided that she would not expose abby to tv until she was at least 2. but inevitably, she was exposed to it- occasionally her neighbor would babysit for her and she would almost always have the tv on for her children and this stressed maecy because abby was being exposed to tv when she shouldn't be. also, when she'd visit other people, abby would see the tv on because they had the tv on. maecy decided this was okay because it might be offensive if she asked people whom she came to visit to turn off their tv's. also, when abby got older and didn't need a morning nap anymore, maecy didn't know when to get ready for the day so she gave in and let abby watch "baby einstein" while she took a shower and got ready for the day. this continues to be a good solution for maecy and abby. i think she also does this at dinner time.
before millie was born, i also had the same hopes that she would not watch tv and i wanted her to have enough imagination to play on her own. besides the occasional exposure to tv when i visited friends' homes, she had not really been exposed much. when i went home for christmas and stayed with my family, millie was exposed to tv because abby watched tv. maecy could tell a was a little worried about it. she told me that she's learned that a little tv is okay. millie loved the "baby einstein" videos and i was worried that her eyes were glued on them. but when i got back to michigan and was all by my lonesome again, there were times when i felt like i needed millie to stay out of my hair (especially when making dinner), so i started checking out the baby eintein dvds fromt the library. i let millie watch one a day while i make dinner (she's not old enough to ask for it yet so she's not yet begging to watch it more than once- we'll cross that bridge when we come to it). i really feel like that is saving my sanity and i know millie is a lot happier when i'm happier.
also, i think monica gave good advice- to go out of the house for a while when the kids want too much electronic entertainment. before i visited family for christmas, i was down in the dumps a lot and got stir crazy a lot. before coming home, i was talking to family about how i was worried about going back and how i didn't know how i would make it through another semester (for kyle) at home with millie. maecy told me that kids NEED to get out of the house- even if there's a million things you feel need to get done at home or even if you don't feel like getting out, they need it. she said that kids need a change of scenery. so, i've tried to take this advice. in the winter, i think we need to get out even more because we feel so trapped. so millie and i went to the mall a lot where they have a big play area, we got together with other moms and kids almost everyday, we went to the grocery store, etc. at first i was afraid other moms would get annoyed by me calling them because i was interrupting their day, but i found out that most other mothers were feelig just as trapped as me and were happy to get together.
well, good luck with everything- i'm happy i found your blog.
have a good day!

Penelope Crackers said...

no. no. no. You goose. I know I'm not an expert because I only have a 6 year old and a 3 year old, but both my girls have been exposed to tv since they were born. I really think it's his age that he really likes the tv. I listen to my girls play pretend all day long. In fact, Kendyl picks up accorns and plays with them like they are little people. Before that when she was two she was pretending little lego pieces were talking to her. They are at the point now that they don't think about turning on the tv and after a bit they turn away from it to play with each other or in the backyard. Everyone needs some down time/veg time I think. Even 1 year olds. You are a wonderful mom!