Raising Mary: Do our kids watch too much TV?

It hums in the back of my brain
like TV’s white noise, that
feeling of guilt when I let the kids
watch too much television.

We have clear rules: no
television during lunch or supper,
never during homework or other
activities, and regular watching
times. We don’t want to be a
family that turns on the TV in
the morning and has it on all day,
even when it’s not being watched.

Yet television is a helpful
friend. It’s golden for keeping
a child still when you’re doing
their hair. (I have two girls,
remember?) It’s precious for
buying a little quiet time to chat
after dinner when you have
guests. Television also helps me
with discipline, especially for
Mary, who at six is getting a little
old for time-outs. Sometimes,
it’s the carrot. (“You can watch
an extra episode of Wild Kratts.”)
Sometimes, it’s the stick. (“No Arthur after school.”)

We closely monitor what the
kids watch. It’s tricky lately,
because Mary is getting bored
with many of the preschool
shows still appropriate for her
little sister, and I don’t feel she’s
ready for tween shows. The clips
I’ve seen from some programs
encourage celebrity worship,
fame aspiration, shopping and
caring way too much about how
you look. The characters are
often sarcastic and adults are
portrayed as idiots. I’m not in
a hurry for those shows to get
screen time in our house.

We made a big mistake last
year by saying yes to a superhero
series the girls saw at their
cousins’ place. I felt nostalgic
because the shows featured
TV characters I watched as a
child, and I liked the idea of the
kids viewing strong women
superheroes. I scooped up
discounted DVDs of the series
and let Mary watch them in
the basement when her sister
was napping. (Television time
is usually in the family room,
where I can listen in).

But I hadn’t looked at the
packaging, and two of the discs
were clearly labelled PG-13. My
sister and her boyfriend watched
with Mary one weekend and
reported too much violence
and some sexual innuendo.
In retrospect, I realized her
behaviour had been influenced a
bit around that time. With much
protest, those DVDs have been
put away for when the girls are
older. Another lesson learned the
hard way!

In the end, if I’m feeling guilty
about TV-watching, there’s
probably too much
of it going on.

Tracy Cooper is a stay-at-home mom mother of Mary, 6, and Adelaide, 3.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, August/September 2012.

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