Sunday, December 18, 2011

Yes, my kids enjoy some screen time.

Bean as Astrid from How to Train Your Dragon.  It's his favorite movie, and she is his favorite human character.
Clarifying two previous posts here.  A friend of mine has informed me that it is "shocking" that my kids have screen time (well, really just Bean).  Is it really so shocking that my choices are no more black and white than anyone else's? 

Anyhow, I actually wrote the following post in April.  I have no idea why it didn't get published.  All it needed was a picture!  I will update with some recent stuff at the end, because a LARPing preschooler is just too adorable not to share.

Kids watching TV absolutely does not bother me.  My kids watching tv absolutely does not bother me.  I mean, dude, we put a DVD player on Bean's birthday wish list...and he got it.  He then took ages to actually finish a video because he just wanted to push pause/play over and over and over.  ha!

We do not watch TV primarily because we don't get any channels!  We had the most basic of cable packages until Bean's first birthday, but The Beast never watched TV outside of football season and I was hardly watching anything either.  I watch a couple of things on Hulu - The Daily Show and So You Think You Can Dance (I'd rather go out and see live dance performances...but that's way complicated with two kids).  In any case, we opted to spend less money by getting rid of cable tv (and we don't get any channels without it) and downgrading from cable internet.  

Another reason is that I like having to be a little more conscious about screen time for the kids.  We don't own many DVDs, so we have to seek out videos from the library or online.  It works for us.  And it is a lot easier to say "no" to a video when we literally have no access to it.  My kid is super persistent and we have had major meltdowns over videos if he knows it's possible for him to watch one but we're saying he can't for whatever reason.  For me, not having them around all the time is part of setting up our house so I don't have to say "no" all the time (aren't "no" days the worst???).

As I am writing this, Bean is not feeling well and he is watching a movie quietly.  But usually he is running around acting it out, or chatting with The Beast or me while it's paused, or asking us to come watch with him and explain everything that's happening.  It's not a break.  It doesn't help me get dinner made or anything else done.  I know that works for some people, but it rarely works that way over here.  The closest I've gotten is having him set up his portable player at the kitchen table, and then he can bring it over to show me something when he wants.  But there are other activities that accomplish that same result or require less of me.

And, frankly, I find a lot of kids' shows annoying.  I'm going to have to watch them eventually, I'm sure.  I'm sure I will roll my eyes at a lot of teeny bopper stuff.  But for now I have the option of not turning on high-pitched voices and obnoxious music that will surely get stuck in my head.  I do not have the option of sending him to another part of the house where he can watch and I can have quiet.  No, I have to listen too!  I'm not hiding those shows from Bean, but I'm not seeking them out.  He will surely discover them through his peers.  

Lastly, I am bothered by the commercialism of kids' shows.  There are so many products being sold with the characters.  Again, I'm sure Bean will discover some of this.  If he asks me for a room filled with a licensed character, so be it.  It's coming.  We don't live in a bubble.  He recognizes Big Bird and Elmo and I don't freak out.  But for now I have much more control over what he watches.  If (ok, when) he asks for something I don't really want to watch, chances are I will let him unless its content is truly objectionable or not age-appropriate.  More than likely, I'll tell him what I don't like about it (whether it's that it annoys me, I find the content bothersome, or it's very commercialized) and leave it at that.  Heck, I don't exactly enjoy his current aggressive play and everything-is-a-weapon worldview, but I have to embrace it to some degree while simultaneously setting limits and talking to him about what is bothersome.  Communicating my values to my children is important and, like any parent, I sure hope they share my values.  But letting them explore and come to his own conclusions is also important - and also exactly what they're going to do whether I'm encouraging it or not!

I don't think that television-watching is a horrible thing for kids.  I watched a lot of television as a kid.  I think everybody - adult and child - can use a little time to be still and zone out, and television can accomplish that (*ahem* so can Facebook).  We have even discussed having Bean watch videos during quiet time because he's refusing to give me that hour to myself and I need it.  Unfortunately, we're too concerned that he would end up destroying his DVD player or something else while wielding a sword and fighting the characters in a movie!  Or he'd have questions for us about whatever science video he's watching and wouldn't be able to contain himself (he already brings out things he's built for me and cannot wait to give me).  And I'm not thinking badly of anyone's parenting choices if their child is watching television shows or movies every day.  We all do what works for our families and our kids.  I feel like our household and my child are more manageable if there is little in the way of screen time, or it is consciously chosen and managed and integrated into activities (like using the internet to answer nature questions and then going outside to explore things further).

That said, I also feel that our best days are those during which I spend less time on my computer.  I post quite a bit to Facebook (and then go through and put many of the posts in my kids' journal when I have a chance), but I am doing a worsening job of keeping up with other people's posts and lives.  And I'm learning to be ok with that.  Especially as Squeak is getting older and more mobile (read:  I'm not sitting in a chair nursing him and reading every single Facebook post!), I'm becoming less plugged in to my Facebook friends' lives and more plugged in to my own.

Bean has been playing on and off on Starfall.  He is really interested in letters and phonics and he is starting to identify some words.  Starfall has been great because a) he has learned to use a mouse, and a trackpad b) it is interactive and keeps him occupied with very little help from me c) there are frequent pauses built in rather than constant stimulation, so I am able to extract him from it more easily than some other screen options d) it satisfies his current interests.  Honestly, I'm not sure he is really learning anything from it (because he never runs in and tells me what he has discovered from it) - but it is a way for him to play games with stuff he is learning elsewhere.  He spends a lot of time asking me what various signs say, how to spell random words, asking me to dictate letters and signs, and telling me what random signs say (he can now read the word "STOP" and I get lectures if I don't stop before a stop sign - like if I stop past it so I can see traffic better!). 

Also, this week The Beast started playing a video game, and it includes dragons (Bean's current major interest).  So The Beast played the game and Bean asked for help building a bow and arrow that could go on his back like the character in the game.  He then acted out all of the action, using his multimedia bow and arrow (materials:  the sash from a pirate costume, Duplos, a pair of tongs, and masking tape...).

And what about the violence?
Bean's first exposure to guns was in Peter and the Wolf.  His first exposure to other weapons was in The Magic Flute.  He loves How to Train Your Dragon and acts out the violence frequently.  Although he knows that Hiccup (the male protagonist) was a hero because he realized he could work things out without fighting, Bean is more interested in Astrid (the female protagonist).  In fact, he was Astrid for Halloween (and I still need to post about his costume.  It was awesome.  We made it together, and he still wears various parts of it). 

Anyway, I am actually not completely comfortable with the degree of weaponry and play fighting that goes on in my house - but there is no stopping it, and I might as well embrace it and discuss it and work out boundaries for what everyone is comfortable with.

Last week, Bean was in the back seat with some combination of Duplos that he declared were now a gun.  I said, "I really don't like the gun play, Bean." 

"Why?"  he asked.

"It makes me uncomfortable.  I get concerned.  Guns are dangerous."

We talked a little more and clarified that he was not using his gun against people.  He said, "I'm just 'fendin' myself against wild animals." 

I said that was fine - the whole thing just made me uncomfortable.

He said, in his most comforting tones, "but anyway?  It's ok, Mom.  There is nothing to be concerned about because this gun is just pretend!  Don't worry.  It's ok."

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