Thursday, September 16, 2010

Television - the Dreaded Box!

Television viewing is the secret shame of most parents I know.  No matter how well adjusted we appear with our self-regulatory arguments, even self regulator parents have a secret spot of shame about how much their kids view sometimes.  Other than super parents who don't have a television, all of us struggle with how much kids watch, and what they are watching.  So I thought I'd work through some of my thoughts on this here, though I freely admit it is an issue I feel a lot of conflict about.  It's not a referenced post, though I think I'll expand on some areas in later posts with references :D.

To view or not to view? 

We are obviously television viewers.  I harbour a secret dream of having some perfect TV-free life where we all play games, read, and discuss politics or something, but we live in a real, digital world, and I actually think it's part of what I have to guide Lolly through as she grows - viewing and managing various forms of media. 

My other main, and considerably less noble, reason, is that I get time.  I get to sit and have a coffee.  I get to pay bills.  I get to surf online.  I get to catch up on chores.  I get to cook dinner.  I get to write on this blog.  And so on.  I don't have to be "on".  And that's important to me.  In the absence of a tribe with which Lolly can play and interact, a LOT of the time it's just her and me.  So, in order to maintain some space, I view television as both a necessary and valuable thing, and a sometimes welcome distraction/"evil".

Those who have seen my house will be laughing at the idea that I need to "out" myself online as a TV viewer.  We have, I kid you not, a 60 inch plasma screen television that is the biggest thing you've ever seen.  Please ignore our lackluster curtains and drab stained carpet in this shot.  You can tell what our priorities were, giant TV or makeover for the lounge.  The TV won.  :D 

Watching Backyardigans.

I love this shot of Lolly at 15 months watching In the Night Garden.

OMG!!!!111!!  Pinky Ponk!!!  In other words, this is one serious television. 

How much to view? 

We are predominantly self-regulators, with a dash of "just No" thrown in - lol.  I think learning to regulate her own viewing is important, and to do that, Lolly needs the freedom to over-indulge and feel the effects of that (I think her ability to do this increases as she gets older).  But I also, at a practical level, reserve the right to say No on occasion, or to put the television on when it hasn't been requested.  My general policy is only to put it on when it is asked for.  Sometimes I might refuse if I think it's motivated by frustration, or comes at a bad time, like when we're getting ready to go out or have dinner.  Likewise sometimes I put it on when I need it on, like if I'm tired, sick, or frustrated.  This latter type of viewing is what I am trying to cut out entirely.

Self regulation with digital media has worked well with Smash, who is nearly 15.  He goes through periods of lots of screen time (he doesn't get much of a look in with the TV, but plays WoW) and periods of almost none.  I notice that on holidays there are days of almost solid TV/WoW, which dies down after he reaches saturation point.  I work in a similar way, so find it easier to understand.

My fundamental view is, that I watch television and use lots of digital media, and I'm fundamentally okay.  So why will my children be any different?  Some days I want to watch heaps (obviously I'm thinking pre-kids here) and others, none.  Some days I can sit and read all day (pre-kids - lol), some days I don't read at all (rare!).  Television is not evil. It's just a thing.  Another thing all of us need to deal with at some stage in our lives.  I'd rather not make it more attractive by being forbidden, and use it for what it does offer, a glimpse into other worlds, fantastic opportunities for education, and for entertainment.

If I did regulate, and I know some do this as their kids get older, I would probably go with a 'number of shows" approach, not time limitations.  Like, you can watch 2 movies, or 3 episodes of whatever, a day.  I think saying "only between 4 and 5 o'clock" or similar makes that time about television, not choice.  At Lolly's age, I'm not considering regulation, and in keeping with what I believe about self-regulation, I don't think it will be necessary.  It does involve a lot of trust that the child knows what they are doing, though!  It can be hard as a parent!

What to watch? 

Here, I am NOT a self-regulator, not with Lolly anyway.   I think regulating content is too much for small children, with no context in which to do it, and loads of natural curiosity.  Smash, well, we now let him choose what he likes, and have done since our last bastion of censorship fell by the wayside - South Park when he was round 12 :D.  Lolly and Snail, I control content.  Mostly for gender and praise, violence, and other negative social messages I want to avoid for as long as I can.

So what I do is allow free choice within a limited palette.  At 2 and a half, this is easy.  To be honest, I think kids generally choose shows that suit them anyway, so don't think this will be too much of an issue, but I may be eating my words in a few years, who knows!  Being fundamentally a self-regulator, I'd have to have a compelling reason to say no, too.

I try for shows with little or no obvious gendered behaviour and characters, and as little praise for nothing as I can.  Shows with music and dancing, and shows with real people, as well as animated stuff, are good too.  A minimum of violence, and appropriate treatment of children as little humans is a must.  We probably allow more violence than I'd like in an ideal world, as we have older siblings.

As she grows I anticipate increasingly allowing her a choice and voice, until I don't provide any "no"s at all.  This is what we did with Smash very successfully.  We had a couple of programs, Family Guy and South Park, that we didn't "allow" him to watch until he was 12 or so because of their style of content.  I think you need a well developed sense of irony to appreciate them.  We talked to him about it, and he always seemed fine.  I think by 11 or 12 he was so proficient at computing that continuing to "forbid" a program was a waste of time anyway, as he could easily access all that content online by then.  I'd rather watch a show with a child and talk about it that make it Golden and Forbidden.  It's about providing the child with a structure for approaching and understanding content, and making up their own mind within a supportive environment. 

So, what does Lolly watch?  Things I liked for Lolly very early years - In the Night Garden, Play School, Wonder Pets, The Upside Down Show (this one was her first obsession and she requested it All. The. Time for about 3 weeks, and they only made one series!!!  She was round 20 months then from memory), Peppa Pig, Timmy, Shaun the Sheep.

As she headed into the twos, we introduced movies:  Ice Age 1, 2 and 3 were her favourites (she still likes these), Madagascar, Wall-E, and unfortunately, Astro Boy (or Robot Guy as she calls it) which we watched with the family and she became obsessed with a few months ago.  Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Bee Movie are also popular.

Stuff she loves now - she's 2 and a half:

- The Backyardigans - this is a fantastic, creative show, that she has liked, on and off, for many months.

It's colourful and filled with music for younger ones, and she follows the stories and plot now she is older.  It's CGI animation, and the dancing is modeled on real dancers.  There are five animal characters who share a backyard who go on imaginary adventures each episode, with a different musical theme.  There are heaps of episodes, and I recently read they are making a new season this year!  The gender stuff is good, with three male and two female characters, and each character having turns in all the types of roles, king, queen, captain, knight, scientist, explorer, detective, pirate, journalist, superheroes, and so on.  There's a minimum of praise as it's all child characters talking to each other.  With simple stories and catchy tunes, I highly recommend it if you haven't seen it!

- Charlie and Lola - adorable, especially as Lolly has an older brother, too.

- Wallace and Gromit - she LOVES this, though it is a little scary on occasion, and can be violent (cartoonish of course).  Not many episodes, but they did do two films, thank goodness.

- Timmy Time , by the same animators who did Wallace and Shaun the Sheep.

Lolly recently went through an obsession with "Timmy on teevee!", I think because she moved beyond the cool colours and cute animals she liked as a younger tot, to the plots of each show - which are simple toddler problems like sharing and dealing with frustrations, and so on.  Timmy does have some episodes I culled, which included a "naughty step" - the opposite of what we practice here!  In general it is a little too "good" and "bad" for my taste, but manages to pass more generally because of it's simple young child issues, and managing emotions positively.  I would warn homeschoolers that it's about 'nursery' school.  Lolly doesn't go to school, though, and doesn't mind this at all.

- she likes some things as entertainment, I think, like Pingu, which she laughs at and says is "so funny."

- she watched Poko almost exclusively a month or so ago, but is off high rotation now.

It's a lovely gentle show that focusses on emotional intelligence and development in children.  Poko deals with upset and frustration gently and successfully.  It's lovely and bright, and Mr Murphy the monkey is a favourite round here.

- Shaun the Sheep is still a fave, and we all enjoy the show.

Intentional viewing.

This is the biggest change in television viewing for our whole family, and is a product of pay television and digital storage of films and shows.  Since we got our digital recorder, and Foxtel, we watch almost NO live television.  We record everything and watch when it suits us.  This has been the case since before we had Lolly.

The two main side effects of this are the almost complete lack of commercials, and that our viewing is more intentional.  We don't turn on the television and watch hours randomly, we are watching things we want to watch.  Now, if I'm honest, of course we still can be found with our bums on the couch for hours at a time, but at least we're watching things we are interested in rather than whatever we can get from four or five channels, at a particular viewing time, which is very much how it used to be sometimes long ago in pre-digital eras :D.

For kids, the lack of commercials is truly fantastic.  I can't really overstate just how awesome it is.  And intentional viewing, while it may not be truly ideal in terms of Lolly's brain, is still involving choice, preference, lets her explore a show over and over again while she learns what she likes to from it, and memory and communication as she finds ways to ask for what she wants.

Negotiation is a big thing, too, when all of us are watching, or even just Lolly and Snail.  For example, Snail LOVES Blue's Clues, and would watch it every time the box is on if allowed to.  In my pre-Lolly days, I watched a complete shed-load of Blue's.  Lolly likes Blue's, but she just doesn't have the single-minded focus of the Snail.  So Snail's request is always "Blue" and Lolly's is most often "not Blue."  I've started negotiation with Lolly (Snail finds this hard, it is a little beyond her other than "not now, soon" or "first this, then Blue"), first Blue's for Snail, then your show (or the other way round).  It works about half the time - lol.  On less than ideal parenting days, I go with whoever will whinge the least (usually Snail). 

So, that's our television truths.  Lolly watches from 3 or 4 hours to no hours a day, but normal for us is a couple of hours spaced over the day being normal, especially when we have Snail as well.  After school I do tend to put on the television for them, and they wander and play around it.  I try as much as possible to have television free time, and this is increasing as Lolly gets older.  I don't make a big deal out of it, I just leave it off!  My main "rule" now is that Lolly or Snail have to request the show.  So the television is off unless something particular is requested.  This is working well, and I'm hoping will limit "default" viewing.  I also quite often turn it off altogether if neither girl is still watching. 

How much television do your kids watch?  How and why do you control it?  We're all curious, let's be upfront!  :D


Ashwee said...

That's funny! I just hit "POST" on my blog. I have also written about TV and our gentle approach to cutting it back naturally without an argument. I allow my daughter to watch TV and the shows you mentioned are some of her favourites. Thanks for sharing, come over and say hi! :)


Rachel said...

Great post! Our tv broke a while back and I was initially very happy but it took about 2 hours of trying to get the baby to sleep with Henry hanging off my arm to make me sit down and work out how to fix it.


Selene said...

Hi Ash - let me know a link as your blogger id isn't letting me view it :D

lol - Rach, I'd be the same!

Stacey said...

I have that utopian ideal of no TV but I know it will never come to pass. I have gone through phases of letting them (Kira mostly) self-regulate, or me setting limits on their viewing. If I let Kira self-regulate then the TV is on so much it begins to impact me (I don't deal well with the TV on a lot, I value music, and also silence (or atmospheric noise) more than I do the constant background noise of a TV). We've basically weaned ourselves off commercial TV and pretty much just watch DVDs and docos and some recorded shows. These days Kira loses interest in the TV pretty quick so it's mainly Imogen who asks to watch stuff. It doesn't seem to affect her mood as much as it used to affect Kira's (who will zone out on the computer these days, if I let her... but we share one so she can't!) I am happy to use TV as a babysitting tool when I'm sick, I'm doing it today actually! It's just something I have to live with to enable me to cope I think, with no other adult in the house (woe!) When we're all healthy though I am to suggest something else if the TV is brought up, in case it's simple boredness. Gosh that was a ramble sorry!

Selene said...

I like a ramble, you did see the length of that post, right :D

Anonymous said...

We were far more 'on' with our first and she didnt watch anything until she was close to 3 but come no 2 and I needed an off button and the tv was the quickest most painless method I could find of getting that. Like you say without a tribe it is difficult to be the one and only for 90% of the day everyday! A lot has changed since moving to a colder climate, a lot less outside time which has meant more tv viewing. I hate it. They self monitor how long they watch something as both of them usually rather DO than watch so its never been a n issue for us. We do monitor what they watch though as I think there are too many things that are too damaging for them to see to young. We are more inclined to watch pre-approved movies than tv. We have always explained honestly why certain shows are'nt allowed and at almost 6 our daughter tells us when there is a show that comes on that is not "appropriate".