As a first-time pregnant mom, I remember telling my dad, “My kids will not watch excessive amounts of TV.” I was adamant that we would only watch shows like Sesame Street that promoted learning and we could enjoy together. And for a long while, that philosophy worked with my first son. We indulged in a little Thomas the Train and used that as a springboard to talk about trains and build our own tracks and we enjoyed a little Caillou together to talk about our feelings (and ponder why he had no hair). It worked.
When my second was born, naturally he was exposed to television earlier than my first because his big brother would watch TV. By this time, we had welcomed Bubble Guppies into our repertoire and we enjoyed singing the songs together. It all seemed okay because we were using TV as a learning tool and we were engaging with one another. My first would wake up early in the morning and snuggle on the couch with his daddy while I fed the baby and got breakfast started. It continued to work for us.
But somewhere along the way, life got busier and we started to use TV in times I had never intended. The boys would watch TV while they ate at the kitchen table. I read so many studies saying this would make children obese and that worried me, but I also knew that if I put the TV on, my boys would slowly eat their dinner instead of throwing it on the floor. And after cooking a home-cooked meal, I preferred the food to end up in their bellies versus finding the dog’s beard covered in meat sauce (for example).
TV became a staple in our home. My third was born and putting on a show for the two big ones became an easy way for me to get a few things done while the baby napped (Yes, I put my foot in my mouth and ate my hat at the idea that I had become one of those moms that let the TV be a babysitter — but hey, all my friends were doing it too!). Couple that with iPad time and the introduction of video games, nightmare!
[Ok – sidebar on the iPads and the video games. My boys had iPads early on as a learning tool. We installed only amazing learning apps and uploaded age-appropriate shows for them to watch when we travelled or when they were sick and quarantined to their rooms. As for video games, I refused to have systems in the house for a long time, but pressure mounted from dear hubby and the boys as they complained that ALL of their friends had video game systems and TVs in their rooms. I said yes to the video games (no shooting games!) and put my foot down about TVs in their rooms – NO NO NO! I explained that I had a TV in my room when I was younger because there were only a few shows on TV that I could watch at any given time versus now where DVRs and On Demand gave kids the freedom to watch 100s of programs – many of which are NOT age appropriate but billed as so].
Fast forward and suddenly electronics were taking over so much of our lives and conversations. My husband and I used our phones constantly, the boys were glued to their shows or iPads. Instead of coming up with unique ideas, my once creative and engaged boys would only draw characters they saw on TV. They talked about Minecraft and The Thundermans or Henry Danger. And then the ZOMBIES emerged. Try to take an iPad away from a child that’s in the middle of a game or try to tell a kid that his bus is coming down the street and he has to stop watching TV to put his shoes on and you know what I’m talking about. Either blatantly being ignored OR meeting a full-blown tantrum. I was at my wits end.
But what really put me over the edge was the snarkiness that emerged. The sense of entitlement. The demands. The constant talk about what they wanted and why they should get every single item for sale on TV. The fighting over what to watch.
So I punished them for being disrespectful and took away the iPads for a few days. Didn’t do the trick. I took away the TV at meals and explained that I worked hard to cook for everyone and I wanted us to talk about our days while we ate. They resisted. They threw tantrums. I banned the iPads during the school week and they wailed. I put them on a TV ban for fighting.
It certainly didn’t happen over night, but somewhere in the span of a few weeks, the kids stopped asking to watch TV while they ate. Is every meal filled with mind-blowing conversations? No, of course not, but we are talking instead of zoning out and ignoring one another. I started leaving them “Mommy homework” to do before school instead of watching TV and guess what?! They are actually doing it and proudly showing me when I come downstairs to give them breakfast. They are playing again (and still fighting naturally – three boys, what do you expect!). They are doing art in the morning and after school instead of plopping down in front of the TV. They are building legos to decompress. My oldest even went so far as to say, “I’m using my creative mind again. It was shut down because of the TV, but it’s back now.”
So while I still like to indulge in my fave shows late at night when everyone else is off to bed, and while we still do family movie nights and watch TV or take iPad time on rainy afternoons, we are SO much more engaged with one another now and I love it. Even if it is more work and means less time to sneak away to answer an email or phone a friend while they zone out, I’m finding life at home more enjoyable and more meaningful than a month ago.