Thursday, January 31, 2013

Toddler TV Time

A friend recently asked if I had started letting Ellie watch TV. For the longest time I was the scrooge mom who steered my daughter away from all media (and sugar, but that's another post). How things change with two kids. 

I wrote this post a while ago about my thoughts on TV. Wow. It's an interesting post with plenty of statistics and written from my high-horse-only-had-one-easy-baby perspective. I still believe that watching TV should be limited and intentional for children and is 100% unnecessary for babies. But, two of the reasons I listed (and berated) for using TV are exactly mine now: taking a shower and nursing my baby. At the time I wrote this I had one child and couldn't understand why these parents couldn't just teach their kids to play by themselves. Oh boy. For those of you who read that at the time and laughed at my idealism and or inexperienced naivete, you had every right to, although at least at the time I foresaw the possibility of changing my mind after having baby #2.

Ellie started to watch short clips of cartoons or Sesame Street around the time Hazel was born. She was about 20 months old. I felt guilty. I had wanted to wait until she was at least two before letting her watch consistently. Even five or ten minutes made me uncomfortable. Somehow I felt like I was being lazy or letting her brain rot. Around the same time we started housing my brother's TV temporarily. Up until that time we didn't have a TV in our living room, which made our no TV policy much simpler. 

We started to use I-Phone games as a reward for Ellie going #2 on the potty. This increased her screen time (and her success on the potty).

We watch Netflix or Hulu and don’t turn on the TV to surf. We still don’t have cable or get local TV. There are only a few shows Ellie watches and they are considered educational. She was addicted to several Sesame Street books before her world changed and she learned that Elmo was alive and real. 

When we let Ellie watch TV I position Hazel away from it and will do this until she is much older. She doesn’t need to see the TV even for a few minutes. I still believe that to be true. She should be exploring the floor or toys or staring at her hands in front of her. There’s zero “educational” screen time at this age, no matter what Baby Einstein or any other video manufacturers claim. 

Ellie went through a stage of waking up much earlier than normal. We’d turn on an episode of Sesame Street and crawl back to bed (15-20 feet away) for a few more minutes of guilt-ridden sleep. Quickly a routine formed where she’d wake up in her way-too-early sleepy state and demand Elmo, and we realized that had to stop. Instead, books, puzzles, and Mr. Potato Head have become good early morning activities, with only the occasional Elmo as a treat.

I try to limit TV to when I’m desperate for Ellie to be preoccupied: usually, when I’m nursing Hazel (and Michael isn’t home) or when I want to take a shower.

I feed Hazel in another room and encourage Ellie to play, but if she’s doing anything other than watching a show she lasts less than five minutes before she wants to be near me and Hazel. Unfortunately, Hazel is at the stage where even the slightest noise, especially from her Daddy or sister, causes her to stop eating and look around. This is not conducive to a good feeding. In a normal week there’s one daily feeding when I need Ellie distracted, so that has been Ellie’s TV or game time for the day. I try to have days where there is zero screen time when I can manage it. 

This week Michael has been out of town and Ellie has gotten more screen time than usual. The reality is Hazel’s full tummy is very important and as long as I’m giving Ellie good attention and having lots of active play time the rest of the day, I do what’s needed, and I no longer feel (as) guilty. And, she's even learning Spanish to prepare for our move to Guatemala! My former blogging self that wrote the above post would not be happy with me, but I am more than fine with that. I no longer believe that a little exposure to media will rot her brain. On another note, I have no idea what our TV exposure will be like in Guatemala. 

And so, my ideas (or should I say ideals?) of parenting practices continue to morph with each new child and each new set of realities. This is just another way I judged other parents until I discovered, once again, the adage that as a parent, You do what you have to do. 

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