It's official: My son has made it to 2.5 years old without getting hooked on television or screen time. Some days I wear this like a badge of honor. Other days, I wonder why I care.
To be clear, I watched plenty of TV growing up. I remember Saturday mornings parked in front of cartoons with my brother while my parents snagged an extra hour or two of sleep. I loved those mornings filled with Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry, The Smurfs and Adventures of the Gummi Bears. And after school, we'd usually enjoy another hour of TV, while my mom finished working or ran errands.
I survived it — and even came out a pretty balanced human being. So why do I feel so resistant to exposing my kid to the screens?
First, there's the concern that cartoons are more violent, adult, and aggressive than ever before. Of course, when I honestly consider it, I can't deny that Tom and Jerry was wrought with violence. And the central theme of Looney Tunes was basically various characters trying to off each other with shotguns, dynamite, boulders, clubs or whatever other blunt object was handy.
Still, I was recently surprised to learn about research that shows even programs intended for younger viewers can lead to less desirable social behaviors including arguing, aggression and trouble concentrating.
Setting that easy answer aside, I've also had to dig a little deeper into my rationale. And I'm left with two driving forces. One is pretty simple: I figure the battles over quantity of screen time will be inevitable with a child growing up in this wired generation, and I'm choosing to set limits now, rather than later.
The second is a bit more esoteric. It's a question of the family culture that my husband and I want to curate. Connection, conversation, and collaboration are central themes we aim to build into our family.
As a filmmaker, my husband is actually a big proponent of engaging kids through video content (he talked about it at Tedx just after our son was born). But traditional cartoons, and the typical disconnected manner in which kids now consume them, just don't deliver on our goals of what our family should be.
How We Enjoy (Occasional) Screen Time as a Family
We've actually been living without a television in our home since long before our son was born, opting for movies projected on a wall instead. It works out well for us because we don't have the constant visual reminder of TV as an option.
But instead of banning every video or screen — which would surely backfire — we've found our own healthy way of approaching TV as a family.
Throughout the week, my husband and I collect interesting kid-friendly videos we come across online. Whenever we see one, we direct message it to the other via Facebook, which creates a little bank of videos. Then, once a week after dinner we sit down together as a family and watch them on the computer. Afterwards, we talk about which ones we love and what we found most interesting about each video.
The videos we collect as our favorites are really varied: skilled dancers, people doing impressive physical feats, musicians, singers, science experiments, cute animals. Sometimes the most unexpected videos are my son's favorites. And they all create an opportunity for discussion.
Best of all, there's no need to set limits, hide remotes, or engage in lengthy negotiations about how much TV-watching is too much for our family.
If this resonates with you, drop by my blog on Sundays to check out our weekly picks. And if you have kid-friendly videos you enjoy, please share in the comments below.
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