I work 10-15 hours a week as a writer.
I have three children, and no current childcare.
I am an introvert.
I am not superwoman.
I value my sanity.
For all of these reasons, I use television as a babysitter.
Recently, Tracy asked:
"I know you had some past posts about TV, how much TV do your kids watch these days? Any advice on shows for the younger (preschool set)?"
And Amy asked:
"My questions is regarding your TV philosophy, and also computer games/hand held devices. I remember reading your blog over a year ago and reading about your schedule and being shocked that at that point, your kids watched tv twice a day as a regular routine.
I have this unhealthy fear/phobia of TV, that it is going to ruin my kids, but they do watch some TV, and it is just a real internal conflict for me. I need some help with the proper framing of it so I do not always respond to the whole situation out of fear, but rather from an intentional standpoint."
Yes, my children watch programs regularly, but don't go picturing them waving the remote control as they surf through multiple cable channels. No way! I use my kids' screen time very intentionally and in a manner that I feel comfortable with.
1. Only DVD's or streaming programs.
We don't have cable generally, and don't want it--as there is so much mind-wasting, disturbing stuff on television. So though my kids watch programs, it is only from our Roku player (which was well worth the investment!) or on DVD--thus no commercials and I have complete control over which programs are chosen.
2. Set watching times at specific times.
Just as we have set mealtimes, we have set "video times." This is what enables me to do a bit of writing during the day as well as get dinner on the table.
On the weekends, each child gets to choose one show in the mornings. On most weekdays, I choose the programs when it it video time. (This is to avoid sibling bickering!)
3. A time limit I'm comfortable with.
On weekdays, my kids watch between one and one & a half hours. On weekends, up to two. (This is on regular days, catastrophic days might be slightly more!)
I'm comfortable with these time amounts, which are a fraction of what I myself watched while growing up, for the following reason:
4. No other screen time.
Steve and I have the philosophy that computers are mostly an adult tool, so our kids do not have any other computer time currently--no video games or computer games, no apps, etc.
The kids also do not watch movies (at this stage)--they have seen maybe five movies in their lifetime--all older & classics. This is also intentional, due to the following reason:
5. I choose slow and steady programming.
This is where my kids' viewing differs from many others. I dislike most of the fast-paced programming aimed at young kids these days (which includes most movies). I think it can easily go against the development of attention span, which I spend hours trying to cultivate by reading aloud to my kids and giving them plenty of free play time.
So all along I have purposefully sought out slow-paced programs for them to watch, with young themes. (No tween-type shows.) I let my kids watch shows that are aimed at younger kids, for as long as they still enjoy them.
I preview new programs to check them out and see if they fit with my philosophy before adding them to the kids' lineup.
(Keep in mind: My kids are now 9, almost 8, and 7.) Here is the current list of their shows from our Netflix queue:
Others they also watch: Little House on the Prairie, Road to Avonlea, Mister Ed, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood (love!), The Electric Company (older version), and the French Chef and other cooking shows.
6. A gradual increase over time.
I didn't let my children watch any television/screens at all as infants. At age one, I allowed one show per day that was especially for babies, like Baby Einstein or something similar. (This wasn't in an effort to make them smarter, but to make Mama saner! =)
When I had both boys and they were over age two, they began to watch two videos a day--one in morning and one in evening--and it stayed at that level for some time. I imagine that as they get older, their programming will decrease in some ways as their screen time increases in other ways (using computers for studies, etc.)
7. More book time than screen time.
Probably the most important reason I'm comfortable with their video watching is that throughout our days together, we typically spend far more time with books than we do with screens. Homeschooling allows us this great privilege, and we certainly take advantage of it.
I read to the kids as a group at breakfast, lunch, and snack times. I read to individuals on request throughout the day. They are constantly reading themselves or flipping through books. Imaginative stories are at the heart of our home.
I hope these details help you think of ways that you could also use television with intention as well. It doesn't have to be an all or nothing situation, but you can find what feels comfortable to you.
“So, please, oh please, we beg, we pray, go throw your TV set away,
and in its place you can install, a lovely bookcase on the wall.”
Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory