Currently, my 1- and 4-and-half-year-old are basically media-free. They don't watch any TV or movies and have only seen a handful of two- to three-minute YouTube clips in their lives. Well, okay, Ginger, the eldest, has just recently seen a Pooh-bear movie and "Babies" (a great first film) while sick, but other than that, you catch my drift.
I hesitate to write about this because when I even tell just one other parent that we don't do media, I see the walls that can instantly go up. Am I judging them? Am I trying to convert? I truly am not. Sometimes I think I am just one stomach virus away from Nickelodeon myself. "They just don't watch yet," I always tell them, and it's true. Some day we'll journey into things like "The Sound of Music" and the Discovery Channel. But even if we waited until Ginger was 7, or 9, she'd still have a long life of keyboards and DVDs ahead of her, no doubt.
And my husband and I are not exactly media-pure. In fact, we live and die by a DVR recorder to get a little HBO or news at the end of most every day. But we are tired souls, and that often amounts to about 10 hours a week. The national average for adults is about 38. We both decided not to show Ginger media when she was a baby because of the studies that led the American Association of Pediatrics to recommend zero TV for kids under 2.
Plus, when Ginger turned 2, we were on a trip to Bali and her attention span for the elaborate dance performances, a part of everyday life there, was incredible. The look on her little face was the same one I've seen on kids watching a Disney movie -- entranced. Plus, we reasoned, so far I'd found ways to cook dinner, make phone calls and all those other things one needs TV for, and we just loved what she was building, making, playing, doing when not watching. So we kept it up, and that's how we got here today, almost five years after making that first decision to hold off.
Here are some of the things we love about our no-media policy, with a huge disclaimer that you can never be sure what's nature over nurture:
- Our elder daughter's unbelievable imagination
- What she does make and do while I'm busy (sometimes that means helping me with chores -- it's amazing what little hands can do)
- The innocence of her brain and her total lack of sophistication -- she has no idea about things like war, sarcasm or commercials
- The malleability of her brain -- a rock can still be so many things for her
- Her attention span for stories, books, even car rides
- Her initiative about playing on her own, and her lack of need to be entertained
Contributing to our beliefs about protecting the slow innocence of childhood are the Waldorf principles of Ginger's school. They ask that parents don't show any media at home to the young ones and if they must, not on a school night. Teachers say the increase in hyperactivity is that obvious for some kids.
I can see what they mean, only because the little that my daughter has seen is so stimulating and there's no time to ask any of the questions she constantly asks when reading or exploring her world for real. So with very little allowance for processing or reacting, it's just take in, take in, take in and then, I wonder, when will it come back out? This is especially true today with ever increasingly fast edits and camera moves, even in truly educational TV. They say it would take 92 hours of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" to equal one hour of "SpongeBob SquarePants" in this regard.
But I think we are on the rare side even at a Waldorf school, in that most kids watch at least something here and there, many on a weekly basis. And I do want my children to be of this world and learn how to balance all its goods and ills. Sometimes I worry about how and when we will start to introduce more media; in some ways it has become a kryptonite to me. But, like drugs or sugar, I don't need them to figure out the balance right away. When they're building a circus with blocks on the floor, helping me cook and clean, making up endless new lyrics to songs on the couch, or running around the backyard, I feel like we could wait forever before we go down that Technicolor road.
When there are booming questions being fired at me during a phone call to the bank, of course, it's another story. So, you know, stay tuned.
This piece also appeared on www.parentinginthedigitalage.com.
Follow Abi Cotler on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AbiCotler