Monday, June 13, 2011

TV and Movies

I admit it. My kids watch TV. More than we really meant for them to.

When our older son was a baby, we were "against" TV as a baby-sitter, in that we didn't see a reason for a small child to be watching TV, and we really didn't think a baby should be propped in front of a television in lieu of playing with toys or being interacted-with by adult caregivers. When he was a baby, the TV was on a lot in our house, but it was our shows, and then when he was a toddler, we'd watch TV when he was sleeping. I didn't (and still don't, really) believe in using Baby Einstein or any of that. I think babies learn way more from hanging around with their parents than being sat in front of a TV screen, regardless of what that screen is showing.

I'm aware of the research out there that says kids under two shouldn't watch TV at all, and preschoolers shouldn't watch more than an hour, and so on. There are all sorts of theories about how TV is causing autism, or ADHD, or G-d knows what else. And it's entirely possible that exposure to the TV screen is in some way bad for the brain or eyes or something. It wouldn't surprise me if they found something definitive.

My bigger concern is how TV is becoming a crutch for me. We'll put on a 30-minute show in the morning for the kids to watch while my husband makes breakfast and I shower and get dressed. Keeps them occupied. I'll let my younger son watch a "moo-wee" so I can get work done. He knows how to open the DVD player and turn on the TV, how to handle a DVD properly, take it out of the box, put it back in its box, and put it in the DVD player. He doesn't know how to switch the TV to the proper input channel or to start the DVD, but I'm sure he'll work that one out eventually. Then, when his brother comes home from school, I sometimes let them watch some more TV, say a 30-minute show or two, so that I can get a little more work done, or cook dinner, or something, while they wind down. Many days, I refuse to let them, and if they don't ask, I don't suggest it unless they've already been playing well for a long time and I want them to start calming down.

What's nice about my kids is that they do self-police what they watch. My older son is, pardon my brutal honesty, a wuss. We've tried to have him watch age-appropriate movies other than "Toy Story" and "Cars," and most of them have him whimpering in fear during mildly scary sequences. My husband and I don't really get it, and we're never sure what will scare him or give him nightmares. My younger son is more open to watching new movies, but he hasn't reached the point of anticipating what will happen or being afraid of something bad happening. It's possible that when he's 4-1/2, he'll be a "wuss," too. He's already been exposed to far more TV and movies than his brother had been by this age, though, by virtue of, well, having an older brother!

So how do we choose and police what we allow them to watch? Well, first of all, thank G-d for the DVR. My sons don't even understand that there was a time when you couldn't just choose what to watch, whenever you wanted to watch it. We picked out mild shows from PBS and Nick, Jr. that we felt were inoffensive, fairly calm, had some educational value, and didn't annoy us too much. Since they choose from what's been recorded, we have total control! (I know that won't last, but we'll enjoy it for now.)

My kids' favorite shows are, now, "Calliou," "Curious George," "Thomas the Tank Engine," "Sesame Street," "Sid The Science Kid," and "Martha Speaks." I'm not sure why they like the shows they do, but I don't particularly mind any of these. I don't feel like the kids are learning anything they shouldn't, and sometimes a lesson gets through.

As far as movies, we mostly stick to Disney/Pixar. We've found, in trying other studios' fare that it's less truly kid-friendly. At least, not little-kid friendly. They like "Shrek," though. They definitely prefer animated to live-action, cartoon drawing to CGI, except they love all three "Toy Story" movies and "Cars." In fact, we've decided that our older son's first theater movie will be "Cars 2" in a couple weeks. Lucky guy!

I guess as they get older they'll start watching more "mature" stuff, but hopefully not for a while. I never understand how parents can let their young kids watch things like horror films or thrillers or action movies. My husband and I saw "X-Men First Class" last weekend (good movie!), and there was a family there with fairly young kids. That movie has some very disturbing imagery. I wouldn't take my kids anywhere near that stuff for years yet. I mean, if "Wallace and Gromit," which says right on it that it's intended for ages 5 to 7 years, gave my son nightmares, who knows what Holocaust imagery would do to him. I don't see any reason to find out!

I don't know how you know when a kid is old enough for a particular show or movie. I know that my brother, at four-ish, was afraid of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," while I, at seven-ish, loved it. So maybe seven is a magic cut-off age? I suppose if you know your kid, you know what he can handle. It's just, there are movies and books I really look forward to sharing with my kids, like "The Princess Bride," that I know we need to hold off on for years yet. I first saw "The Princess Bride" when I was about eight, and it scared me! I still remember that, despite how much I adore that movie now.

I also don't care for them to see shows or movies that will bring up questions I'm not ready to answer. I'll never forget watching some sitcom with my mom - I don't remember which - in which the word "orgasm" came up. Naturally, I asked her what it meant. I don't think she enjoyed answering. I don't remember how old I was, but probably not quite old enough to need to know what an orgasm is. I was pretty sheltered, TV-wise, as a kid. I watched "Mister Rogers" and "Square One" after school, and that was good enough for me for a long time. To give you a sense of my "shelteredness," I was about 9 when "Terminator 2" came out. Some of my friends went to see it. I was horrified that someone my age would see an R-rated movie! I remember saying, "I don't watch R-rated movies!" I think I saw my first R-rated movie when I was about 13. I remember being haunted by the violence of "The Last of the Mohicans" for years, and being shocked when we were treated to Olivia Hussey's breasts in the 1968 Zeferelli version of "Romeo and Juliet," which we watched (with parental permission) in ninth grade. I'm happy enough for my kids to be equally sheltered.

For now, while we still have control, I won't worry too much about what TV my kids are exposed to. Soon enough, they'll be going to friends' houses and probably watching TV there. They'll be able to turn on the TV and channel surf on their own (although right now we don't have cable, so there won't be much to see!). They'll want to go see movies in the theater with friends instead of parents. My main hope is that they also will do their homework and read books, because while I don't think TV is evil or to be completely avoided, I also think it definitely gets in the way of other valuable pursuits.

And who knows? Maybe they'll figure out that TV really does rot the brain, and we'll all turn our TVs in for healthy organic snacks and, um... haha! Just joking!

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