I knew I had to come up with better strategies to keep Raine from being sucked in by the TV. I got a reprieve of sorts when our senior citizen of a TV finally kicked the bucket (or the picture tube, as the case may be). We just told Raine that it was broken and that was that. After a day of moping and muttering, she was back to that self-entertaining, independent little girl.
But that reprieve only lasted a week. For some reason, The Hubby and I decided to buy a new TV. But this time, I was more prepared. The week had given me time to arm myself with combat-worthy tactics.
- Don’t splurge on a TV or a home entertainment system. OK, this may make us sound like techie philistines, but at least we don’t feel obliged to keep watching simply because we paid so much for it. And we don’t get stressed over tiny handprints on the screen, or rambunctious play near the TV. I’m proud to say that The Hubby and I bought one of the cheapest TVs in the shop (but the temptation of that flat screen TV that was as big as The Hubby—we had to get out of there fast!). And if you can help it, don’t get cable connection.
- Limit screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours a day for children above 2 years old—and none at all for kids and babies younger than that (even those ‘educational’ make-your-children-learn-faster kinds). This includes computer time and playing video games. They suggest no TV at all on weekdays, and just a few hours on weekends.
- Have firm rules, right from the start. Raine can only watch after she eats breakfast, dresses up and does her chores (she has to water plants and pick up her mess). As much as possible, we do an activity together—coloring, crafts, story time—before TV. And if she doesn’t ask for TV, then I don’t offer it to her. On good days, we make it past lunch before she remembers that she has her shows to watch. For older kids, it could be TV only after homework, or TV only on weekends.
- Make use of technology. Our new cheapo TV has a great feature that the ancient one didn’t have: a sleep function. I set it at the agreed on time, and let her watch until it auto-offs. The first time it happened, Raine was apoplectic. But I just let her have her tantrum and told her that the TV had to rest, otherwise it would go the way of the old one. The next day, when the TV turned off, she just came out and said, “OK, he’s sleeping now so he won’t get tired.” And I’ve had not much problems since then. Sometimes though, if it went off in the middle of her favorite show, she’d come to me with tears in her eyes and a trembling voice and say, “I feel a bit sad.” But at least that’s easier to deal with than the tantrums. Also available are the v-chips that help screen the shows.
- Modify your own TV habits. The Hubby likes having the TV playing in the background while he does other stuff. He also likes, to my extreme annoyance, to channel surf. These habits allow more mindless TV watching. The best thing to do is to select a show—and turn off the TV when the show is done. Lately, we’ve been checking the schedules of our favorite shows online, and switching on the TV only during those times. He still can’t help channel surfing though, but I’m working on that.
- Don’t eat and watch TV at the same time. Family meal time is one of the best times for interaction—catching up on each other’s day, story-telling, even a few timely lessons (not lectures!).
- Have a TV-Turn-Off Day. Or week, if you can do it. Perhaps have Friday Fun Night instead, with board games, outdoor picnics (yes, at night), crafts sessions, or outrageous storytelling.
- Watch with them. This, I think, is the most difficult for me, since the main reason I let Raine watch is so that I can have some time to do other things. Yes, I have succumbed to the bad-mommy-uses-TV-as-babysitter syndrome. But watching with them is crucial—it’s the chance to turn the TV from something mindless to a good learning tool. So far, Raine and I have been able to discuss the solar system and caterpillars’ metamorphosis; how to brush teeth; and what to do when your room is a mess. I’d say that’s time well-spent.
- Have alternative activities lined up. Enticing Raine away from TV does take some work. Now, rather than let her do her own thing, I make it a point to sit down with her to do crafts, read stories or play games. It isn’t easy for me, since I’d rather be doing other things, but I always tell myself it’s for the best in the long run.
I admit to not being able to perfectly implement all these tactics. But the past days have been manageable, and neither Raine nor I get too emotional over the TV, so that’s a big plus. I’m also building up my arsenal of alternative activities—one day, Raine will be begging not to watch TV, because she’d rather do other things. After all, one can always hope.