TV is EVERYWHERE. I lost count of the number of TVs in the Red Robin we ate at on Labor Day (there was even one in the floor… what?!). There were TVs in the waiting room in The Munchkin’s pediatrician’s office in NJ. There are even TVs in the checkout aisles at grocery stores, above the pumps at gas stations, & on the PATH trains into the city! So how can you keep your kid under that 2-hour suggested screen time limit?
I can’t answer that for you.
What I can answer for you, though, is what we do to at least try to limit The Munchkin’s time in front of the tube, & how you can help your kids make better choices about what they’re watching in those 2 hours or less.
As well as some good choices for you too.
My good friend Lauren is blogging on TV choices as well over at her blog today; check it out!
Screen time tips
- Don’t leave the TV on. It sounds silly & obvious, but I’ve walked into too many homes where the TV is just on for background noise. When the program you have chosen for your child (yes, chosen… see below) is over, turn it off. No amount of kicking & screaming changes this in our house. Also, if you need to have news in the morning as you get ready, use the radio in the kitchen.
- Set expectations & stick to them. The Munchkin knows that she can watch in the morning while Mommy’s getting ready, & sometimes in the evening while I’m making dinner, if it’s not one she can help with. That’s it. Occasionally we will have a rainy-day movie, but it’s just that: occasional.
- Know that kids are sneaky. & take the appropriate precautions. Even at her age, The Munchkin knows how to turn on the TV & DVD player (thankfully not usually at the same time). Keep the family TV & computer in public view, & hide the remotes. (That last tactic worked wonders when I was growing up because we’d broken the power button on the TV, so no TV ever got watched until after homework was done. We never did find where my mom would stash the remote all those times…)
- No TVs in kid rooms. Period.
Choosing what to watch
When they’re young, it’s easy. They don’t have friends & commercials telling them they should be watching. Though, in the aforementioned pediatrician’s office one day, Spongebob — the Ren & Stimpy of the new generation — was on, & despite my best distraction efforts, she zoned completely. Then like a week later we were walking in front of Dylan’s Candy Bar when she saw him again & recognized him. How do they do that?! Those Hollywood ad people have no souls.
Wait, where was I? Oh yeah. I think it’s important to help your kids choose shows that you can tolerate. I, personally, want to take a power drill to my right temple every time Dora is on. So we don’t play it in our home. You can’t say “no” to everything (which I imagine will become very tempting in the tween years judging from the after-school lineup on Disney Channel), so suggest something you can say “yes” to. I have very fond memories of evenings spent with my dad & my siblings watching Rocky & Bullwinkle, followed by The Muppet Show.
The only suggestions I have are for little kids, because that’s who’s watching TV right now. Those of you with older kids, please give your suggestions!
- Sesame Street: Teaches kids stuff (The Munchkin may or may not have taught herself how to jump after an “Elmo’s World”), not annoying (except “Abby’s Flying Fairy School”), & even celebrity guest stars & jokes that parents can appreciate (I still think of the Sesame Street versions when I hear Feist’s “1-2-3-4″ or Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” on the radio). But even The Munchkin got over it after awhile. Now she’s into…
- Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Okay, so the writing’s not going to be winning awards any time soon, but at least not everyone has the EXACT SAME voice with the EXACT SAME inflection (cough cough, Dora). The characters solve a problem in each episode, & I like that they’re resourceful with their “Mouseketools:” for example, they needed to transport sand somewhere, & one of the tools was a few pillows — they emptied them to carry the sand in the pillowcases.
- Curious George: Honestly, this is my favorite. (Is that weird to say?) It’s well-written & teaches kids about lots of different things. The Munchkin & I always have lots to talk about after each episode.
I think the important thing is to teach your kids (when they get old enough, of course) to be active consumers. Just because my friends were all watching Beavis & Butthead in middle school, doesn’t mean that I could turn off my brain (or stay up that late, for that matter) to watch it too. But how can you teach them that?
The main thing is to be an active & discerning consumer yourself. So we’re old enough to watch TV-MA now. Does that mean we have to? Well, that’s up to you & your family. But here are my 2 cents:
I don’t like to watch stuff that makes me feel gross, sad, or uncomfortable. We had to stop watching 24 after a couple seasons because of all the torture. The Office just wasn’t funny anymore — just awkward. The Mentalist was really good, but it just left us feeling depressed or disturbed afterwards most of the time. So if something you’re watching leaves you feeling less than desirable — or like you just murdered 85,000 brain cells by watching it — just stop watching. Here are the shows that make us happy:
- Psych: This show makes me laugh harder than anything else. Lauren should be talking more about the finer points of this gem, as well as Monk, which is sadly over but still great.
- White Collar: Another USA Network program that does a great job of keeping it clean & entertaining. The cinematography & costuming are beautiful (oh, ok, & so is Matt Bomer). Rundown: FBI agent catches brilliant con artist & gets him a “work release” from prison to help out his elite team in New York.
- Chuck: The usual nerd-boy-meets-hot-girl-&-goes-on-spy-missions-with-her love story. Brilliantly written, clean, funny, action-packed. I have yet to introduce this show to someone who didn’t immediately love it. But this is the last season, so if you’re just tuning in, start at the beginning. Please.
- Bones: The only drama on the list, this is actually classified strictly as a “dramedy” because it’s generally so lighthearted. Brilliant Smithsonian forensic anthropologist (Emily Deschanel) consults on murder cases with strong but sensitive FBI agent (David Boreanaz). Her team of “squints” is awesome too. I’m just sad Zac had to leave… I hope they write him back in eventually.
- The Middle: We first started watching this because it was about a family in Indiana (we were living there at the time), starred Patricia Heaton & the janitor from Scrubs (see below), & it looked funny. We keep watching it because it is funny. Each of their 3 kids falls on a different point in the social spectrum, & their misadventures are totally relatable. It’s a very family-friendly comedy with no social agenda, unlike the family comedy that comes on ABC after it. (I think Lauren will be covering that one, since I’ve only seen one episode.)
- Frasier: An oldie but a goodie. Still SO funny. Niles is my absolute favorite.
- Scrubs: A story of love, friendship, bromance, & what it’s apparently like to be a young doctor who reminisces to himself all the time.
- How I Met Your Mother: We just started watching reruns because they were on after Frasier, so I can’t claim to be an expert, but it’s funny. & it takes place in New York. Win! Oh, & it’s also what I watched while I wrote this post.