The Hubby and I have willingly—though perhaps unknowingly—let an insidious enemy into our house: cable TV.
It came practically free with our new Internet connection, and after five years of doing fine without any TV (we couldn’t even get a decent local channel on our geriatric TV with the old school bunny-ears style antenna that you had to position just so to get a signal!), we had more channels than we could ever watch in a week.
And it came with the Playhouse Disney Channel. This was something new for Raine—who watched a cartoon channel for the first time when she was confined to the hospital with pneumonia a few months back—an endless parade of shows that she liked. And that Mommy approved of. Initially. There’s Word World—building words! That’s a great way to learn to read, right? Then there’s Agent Oso, who shows you three special steps to get anything done. Little Einsteins, who make learning about science and art and classic music fun.
But rapid addiction to TV soon followed. Raine could spend the entire afternoon watching TV if I let her, which, to my shame and mother-guilt, I sometimes do. Then there were the tantrums when the TV had to be turned off or she wasn’t allowed to watch TV. She would rather watch TV than do her other favorite activities, including going to the grocery with Mommy.
When she wasn’t watching TV, she would wander around the house muttering “what to do, what to do”. Raine is usually independent and can keep herself busy fairly well, but in a span of three weeks, it seemed that TV was the only thing that could keep her entertained. She would perfunctorily perform the tasks I’d ask her to do—eat breakfast, change into play clothes, water her plants, fix up, do arts and crafts projects, read books, play with her other toys—and then she’d say, “I’m done. Can I watch now?” The entire day revolved around watching TV.
I admit that it was partly my fault. I relished the freedom the first few days. I could work uninterrupted for whole hours. I could surf, I could read, I could cook or I could just veg out without that incessant little voice saying, “Mommy, Mommy” every five minutes. I used TV as a reward and its loss as a threat. TV was a bribe and something to distract her when The Hubby and I wanted conversation beyond what animals we were pretending to be today and what color toothbrush did we prefer. TV had become a convenient, very effective babysitter.
Not that TV in itself is a bad thing. With Agent Oso’s help, for example, getting Raine to pick up after herself is much easier, because she has “three special steps” to follow (Step one: put books on the shelf; step two: put toys in the boxes; step three: pick up everything else). And once, I watched a Little Einsteins episode about Saturn with Raine. I used it as a jumping point for other activities: we read about different planets; when we went to the Museo Pambata (Children’s Museum), she was captivated by the presentation on the solar system; and she’d be interested in anything planet-related on other channels. Shows on Animal Planet helped us introduce animals and facts that we’d never encountered before (and for some reason, she found the coconut-harvesting monkey hilarious). The teaser for Glee—where a guy throws a shake on a girl—helped us open up the topic of being mean and what not to do to other people.
But that’s the crux of it. TV should be a joint activity, something you do together with your kid; not something to get her out of your hair (guilty!). How else could I have leveraged Raine’s interest in Saturn if I didn’t watch it with her? Or how could we have explained that being mean isn’t something she should aspire to?