The One About All the TV

My kids watch a lot of Disney Junior. As a result, I do too. My favorite Disney Junior shows (don’t pretend you don’t have a favorite) in order of preference:

1. Doc McStuffins – Doc is plucky and adorable and intrepid and I find Loretta Devine’s voice extremely soothing as Nurse Hallie. Bob and I have watched enough episodes now, that we tend to add Doc-speak when diagnosing our own children. Like, Charlie has “bad attitudeitis” or, Millie is suffering from “needs-a-naposis.”

2. Sophia the First – Sure, Sophia can be a little grating in her near constant perfection and her step-siblings can certainly be accused of affluenza but her dress is purple and purple is big with the toddler set around here. Even Henry loves this show. Plus: Tim Gunn.

3. Handy Manny – I’m pretty sure Manny was Disney Junior’s first really big superstar, even if this show is not in heavy rotation anymore. Henry and I watched episode after episode of Handy Manny and I’m kind of sad that Charlie and Millie aren’t that into him. I do hope though, that Disney makes a huge series finale that ends with Manny and Kelly in a passionate embrace.

The Disney Junior shows I find tough to tolerate:

1. Jake and the Neverland Pirates – All of my kids adore this show. It’s fine, I guess. But, I seriously can’t stand the non-aminated bearded pirate band that plays at the end of every episode. They’re creepy. And, their music is terrible.

2. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse – I fully appreciate that Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, with its near constant focus on the alphabet and basic math and MousekaTools, probably prepared my kids for Kindergarten better than any preschool ever could but I still find the show totally annoying. The music, the colors, the animation; all of it. Not a fan.

IMG_1766

Millie’s love of anything purple goes way back.

From the very first time Bob and I plopped a one-year-old Henry down in front of an episode of Bob the Builder so we could eat dinner uninterrupted, we have allowed the presence of an alarming amount of screen time in our home.

I did not grow up watching a lot of television, a combination of strict parental control and a definitive lack of available programming. I can remember watching Dukes of Hazzard, The Lawrence Welk Show and, on occasion, Sesame Street on a TV set up in our basement, which captured a signal via a rabbit ear antenna.

But, this isn’t a “back in my day” screed. Because I’m not sure that if my parents were parenting four kids today, they wouldn’t use technology the same way we do. New era, new rules. But, screens are absolutely everywhere now. My kids can watch YouTube videos on my computer, play games on my phone, download movies on the Kindle and watch hours of on demand programming on TV.

We have relied on all of these devices and all of these screens to deliver entertainment straight to our children when we weren’t able to, or didn’t want to, entertain them ourselves. Screen time is perfect for that! Screens keep my kids occupied when they wake up hours before the sun rises. Screens keep my kids engaged when I have a project to finish. Screens comfort my kids when they are not feeling well. Screens help ease a rough nap reentry. Screens help my kids complete their homework. Screens make snow days pass with ease. In summary, screens are the best!

But, screens are also kind of the worst. All of those movies and TVs and Kindles and computer games are loud and they’re always on and they eventually became the DEFAULT SETTING around our house and Bob and I were not happy about this at all. One day, we realized that we were actually supposed to be the ones in charge and so we eliminated the problem. Towards the end of last year, we banned weekday screen time in our house. Gone. Just like that. It’s the best parental power shift we’ve ever initiated.

The Screen Time Problem was really two-fold.

First, the noise. I have a totally undiagnosed, completely minor sensory disorder and find a lot of background noise to be problematic. My brain gets easily overwhelmed when life gets super noisy. Like, when multiple children all ask me a different question at the same time. Or, if I’m trying to help one kid do homework and the other kids are hollering. Or, if I’m trying to make a complicated dinner and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is blaring in the background. My brain short circuits and the noise becomes intolerable. Bob, post-stroke, suffers from the same problem. We know kids are loud. That’s a given. We can’t change that, short of a muzzle. But, we had to do something about all of the background noise adding to the already loud household din.

Second, the maintenance and management of all of those devices were driving Bob and I absolutely crazy. Just the sheer hours of our day spent selecting channels or switching DVDs or charging the Kindle or finding the lost remote or monitoring YouTube channels. The kids would argue over what show to watch, whose turn it was to have the phone, why this kid got computer time and this one didn’t. It was kind of maddening.

So, while I’d like to say our big decision to cut off electronic time was driven by our deep desire to give our three children the gift of their imagination, it really wasn’t. It was mostly us being totally fed up with the ceaseless, relentless noise combined with all of the discarded DVD cases strewn about the family room.

As someone who grew up surrounded by books, this is just the best.

As someone who grew up surrounded by books, this is just the best.

Our kids, understandably, did not agree with our screen time stance. I would wake up on a Tuesday and find Charlie wandering aimlessly around the house, confused why the bright box in the family room wasn’t on. Millie would weep every evening when we wouldn’t let her watch TV in the last half an hour before bedtime. Henry was the only one that begrudgingly took to this new life plan. Many mornings and afternoons, I would find him perched by the fire, reading.

Enforcing our new screen time policy hasn’t been super easy on us, as parents, either. There’s a lot of time to kill between the hours of 3:00 and 6:00 p.m. I’ve had to dig a little deeper to find activities and projects that will pique the kids’ interest. But, that’s okay because that’s kind of my job right now. We have rediscovered a plethora of forgotten toys in the past few months from Lincoln Logs to Duplo blocks to puzzles to Bruder trucks. After school, we’ll clear a big space on the family room rug and drag a bin up from the basement and the kids PLAY. They fight too, because of course, but they PLAY. With their brains and imagination and everything. It’s magical.

And, our TV Time Rule is not absolute. Bob and I are, frankly, easily swayed to let the kids watch something here or there. Our policy is flexible enough to allow for a small amount of strategic screen time during the week. The amazing thing is that it is then viewed as a treat by the kids and tends to hold their attention longer which is the whole point of screen time in the first place.

We’ve also found that since we watch a lot less TV during the week now, that the kids expect to watch a lot less TV during the weekend. Less screen time has become our new normal. Our new DEFAULT SETTING.

It is the best. Really. Like, we’ve found the ultimate MousekaTool.

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5 thoughts on “The One About All the TV

  1. I just want to watch all the fun Disney shows you talked about! Good for you and Bob. It can’t be easy. But it will make a difference later in there lives. Kelsey hasn’t had a TV since she left home freshmen year in college.

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