Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The FriedOkras vs. The TV - Oh, It's ... Off!

I've got a cup of cawfee, a little Yo-Yo Ma on iTunes and two quiet kids reading books on the floor behind me this morning as a silent snow falls outside the office window. His tender mercies are made new every morning. Amen.

I've been conducting a little experiment this month with the chiddren. Back in December it occurred to me somewhat painfully that Bean's time in front of the TV had increased to completely unacceptable quantities. In short, she watched, she watched more, she craved more, she lost her ability to think of anything else to do, she begged, whined, and even cried for it all throughout her waking hours the times I put my foot down and said No. When I really allowed myself to think about it, which I was loathe to do, as y'all know I am a loyal wearer of the ruby spectacles, I felt SO DISAPPOINTED IN MYSELF for allowing my sweet, bubbly, bright, creative little girl to become a complete unequivocable TV junky. Coach potato. Video vegetable.

So I marked January 1 as the day I'd just turn the confounded thing off and deal with the consequences I'd signed up for by using that evil box to play mind-scramble with my baby while I got on with the business of keeping up with Peabody and running the household. I knew I was in for it, though, and as the day loomed closer on the iCalendar, I'd nearly QUAKE with dread over what was to come. If she was fighting me HARD about the TV being left in the upright and locked position for an hour or two a day, what on earth would she do when I just unplugged that bad boy for good.

I never said a word about it to her as December stretched on. I let her have her boob tube fun as she so chose - the business of Christmas did work to my advantage as she didn't get quite her normal belly-full every single day. Still, she was couch-bound for hours most days, her glazed eyes glued but vacant, her three middle fingers plugged resolutely into that saucy little mouth. But come January first, she crawled into bed with us as dawn stole quietly into the room. She reached for the remote, as was her custom, and I said "No TV this morning. We'll find other things to do."

And she balked slightly, but the panic attack I'd expected didn't ever materialize. Throughout that first day, she asked a couple of times to turn on the TV, and I said no. The next day, she didn't even ask in the morning. When she did, I just said,"No TV, honey. Go play!"

Honestly? When I look at it in the rear-view mirror, I think she's been waiting for this. A forcing of her hand and mind back to activity and imagination. She seems mostly happier this way - I hear her now playing on her own, narrating stories of FASHION GIRLS and DANCE CLASS and PRINCESSES ON UNICORNS. Yesterday in the late afternoon - a dark and cold and gray afternoon and a time I'd usually pop popcorn and let the kids watch a movie - she asked for a video and I just said, "How about if you and Peabody build a pillow pit on the floor and jump in it instead?" and she whimpered a little bit and then got busy doing just that. It is, and will always be, with Bean, I think, up to me to help her little mind see the possibilities for fun and creativity (and that takes quite a bit of time, which along with fundraising for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure constitutes my excuse du jour for not getting to blog here as often as I really, really, REALLY wish I could), but by and large, with my firmly foot down and the TV off, she's thriving and hungry for more "good stuff" than she has been since her brother was born.

I was so excited, y'all, when, about 4 days into our experiment she came to me and asked, "Mom, when can we start doing our reading lessons again?" See, about 6 months ago, we'd started working on Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons (Engelmann) together. Back then, each lesson with her was a 30 minute struggle and I eventually gave up and decided she just wasn't ready yet (even though my gut felt she was, and that her issues had more to do with desire than ability). Lo and behold, with the TV out of the picture, she quickly got interested on her own and continues to ask EVERY DAY for that lesson. We'll do Lesson 30 today - my daughter is READING and I'm teaching her! Those of you who have experienced this process will know what I mean when I say this is one of the most awesome (and I mean awesome in its most traditional iteration) and rewarding things I've ever done. It's AMAZING.

And don't get me wrong, I don't think TV is 100% evil or even bad for children. I will reintroduce it in very small doses as I see appropriate beginning next month, now that we've got her detoxed from mindless viewing and me detoxed from not having to invest my energies into guiding her in her quest for entertainment. I see the value of educational programming (good heaven's after watching 962 hours of Word Girl, the child has a vocabulary that rivals mine!) and I LOVE it when we all sit down as a family and watch a good movie or an hour of the Food Network together. But I will keep TV to a bare minimum from now on and watch my kids' minds bloom with creativity and imagination. Too much joy to be missed by doing it any other way.

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  1. Good for you! It's much easier to let them watch and be entertained (and I did that too often) but you are seeing the rewards that come from turning it off!

  2. I, too, have fallen into the nice, wide rut of Too Much Television. I should follow your lead and just leave the darned thing off. I have seriously considered moving the TV to a less-accessible location, rather than it having a prominent spot in our living room, but I haven't done anything about it yet.

  3. Oh, give it a try for sure Jeni! And let us know how it goes, too. I hope you're as pleasantly surprised as I have been.

  4. Yay! Glad the experiment was so successfull :-)

    I wanted to ask you about the reading..... I was planning on starting the lessons with Jove when turns four, but at that age they'll also start him on some phonics basics at school. How do you find the lessons work in conjunction with Bean's school reading lessons? Do they gel well together or is there danger of one confusing the other?

  5. Finally had a chance to sit down and catch up a bit. Sometimes I think our lives run parallel. I have been acutely aware of how much TV Camden has been watching lately and after reading your post, I realize it is time to Just Say No. It is so sad to see his lack of desire to find things to do and/or use his imagination. The TV is such mindless, easy amusement. So very sad that it is such a dominant force in most households. Well..thank you for inspiring me to make a change.

  6. Guilty.
    I've used the "I'm growing a human, and doggone, it's tiring!" as the TV stays on pretty much all day long. Mookie will come and go, and play in the other room, but it's on when she wants to get sucked in. :-( Shame on me!
    So now, I've got it turned to a kid-friendly music station. She's dancing and talking and doesn't seem to be in shock or anything! :o)
    I would love to have one of those entertainment centers with doors to cover the TV when it's not in use.

  7. How awesome! I need to do that, too. We as a whole watch entirely too much TV (but I just love it!) I didn't make it a New Year's Resolution, but it just may come to be one after all.

    Thanks for the inspiration. Hope the creativity keeps flowing! Heck maybe you can introduce Bean to our wonderful world of "survivor"

  8. *applause* Good for you :)

    Although, I have to add a warning form my own experience, it'll probably happen again. You know? Tv seems to be one of those things that just creeps up on a body and then before you know it, you're back to the grumpywhinies whenever you suggest that your couch potatoes spend some time outside. We have regular, enforced tv fasts in our house about every four or five weeks for about a week or so. That seems to keep it in check :)

  9. Yes, ma'am you are right, Herb of Grace. And I think it's likely that I'll potentially be as guilty of backsliding as she will be. There are days when I *really* want to turn on my instant babysitter and take an afternoon off! I just have to keep reminding myself that it's like a snowball rollin' downhill. I will try those fasts, too. Smart smart smart.

  10. And Marie - the MINUTE she knows how to fold blankets by herself, I'll tell her alllllll about "Survivor."

  11. Megan,

    This is really something I need to work on. I've been sick for the past month, and am finally on the mend, but in that time the TV was on more than it should have been...well, because I was sick.

    I found a great website with ideas to do with your kids instead of TV. Thought you might be interested.


  12. Fantastic post, Megan.

    I, too, have been guilty of sliding into the too-much-TV habit. I think it's most common when something else is occupying our time (i.e. Peabody). And from one perspective, it's understandable. We can't do it all, and we're looking for a way to make our days easier for a while.

    But once we recognize the bad habit, it's commendable to face it head on.

    And really -- aren't they so much happier and more creative without the influence of hours of TV?

  13. Good for you! I banned most commercial TV for my kiddos a few years back. We'll watch an occasional Leap Frog or Baby Einstein video and one episode of Super Why before nap and everyone is much happier.

  14. We usually have to detox after illness, when I use more TV to keep them still and quiet. We purposely have a 13" TV so that watching is not all that enjoyable. (We go to my parents-in-law's house for Packer games, for my dear husband's sake!)

    About reading -- I loved teaching my first son to read! But I learned a lesson . . . kindergarten was really hard for him because he had to sit through reading class with everyone else (even the advanced group was painful for him). "My morning is SO long, mama" were his exact words. :o) So, have fun, but beware the backlash!

  15. Nancy - I would love to hear more about your comment! And so would my friend Jemma (Tequilamonky). Will you email me so I can ask you some more questions?


  16. The simplest thing in our house, because we home school, is the rule, "NO TV ON SCHOOL DAYS!"

    They can watch on weekends, which are usually so busy that they don't sit much anyway.

    There are occasional exceptions but that rule helps us all to remember not to turn it on.

  17. I never really watch tv when the kids aren't around so I rarely even think to turn it on. They don't even ask me for it. Of course, we've run into issues with COMPUTER time. Riley would sit in front of the computer all day every day playing games and things if I would let him.

  18. Smart girl. Smart momma!
    We don't do much TV here-- an hour of PBS most mornings is the sum of it, and usually only the youngest two kids are up early enough to do even that.

    Mary, mom to many

  19. Good for you! We use "TV/Video Game/Computer" sticks at our house. 1 stick equals 30 minutes, and each kid has 2. When they want to watch/play something, they bring me a stick, and once the sticks are gone for the day, that's it. Of course, I have veto power over what's on or played, but overall the system works well.

    I also have to second the commenter that talked about how her kindergartner was bored. Mine is, too, and complains that kindergarten is very "babyish". I think it's great to teach the kids to read when they are able, but be aware that you may need to supplement the school's curriculum.

  20. You may have felt that she was ready but when your child knows they are ready it seems to go much easier.
    My son balked at reading. Now he LOVES to read and reads almost as many books as me
    I also know the joy of teaching your child to read- it is an AMAZING experience :0)

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  22. Way to go! My 2-year-old only gets to watch Sesame Street or Barney each day, but he, too, is CONSTANTLY asking for it - maybe we need to unplug for a while...but I have a newborn, so it's 'sanity' time for me... we'll see. :) I think this is great, though, and I'm glad you've rediscovered her love for reading! :)

  23. Good for you! We cut the tv time down dramatically and it has made such a difference in Boo and longer singing tv jingles.