Television, in moderation, OK for kids

By Anita Doberman

My 20-month-old daughter clearly knows Sponge Bob Squarepants (“Bub-bob”) and can sing the song well enough that even non-family members recognize it. She is also more than familiar with Dora and Diego; I think she expects them to come over for a visit any minute now.

A few years ago, in the before-children era (B.C.), if someone would have told me that my children would have known TV characters at such a young age, I would have been appalled. What kind of parent lets her children watch television while she is cooking dinner, or in the car, or in the morning while getting the older ones ready for school? Clearly, this parent. I have obviously learned that B.C. ideas don’t always go hand-in-hand with solutions for the children era (C.E.).

Yes, I admit without shame that have relied on television to give me a break. Especially with deployments and my husband’s long absences, OK military living, my children have become quite cozy with our television set in the living room and in the car. My 4-year-old knows how to turn it on and get to the cartoon channels, which is not that simple if you know a modern satellite remote control. Hey, my parents still can’t figure it out when they come to visit.

But is it harmful? (Not the remote control, the television watching.)

Let’s see what the experts have to say. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that parents should limit “children’s use of TV, movies, and video and computer games to no more than one or two hours per day.” They also recommend not putting a television in a child’s bedroom or letting them watch TV while doing homework.

I am sometimes skeptical of so-called expert advice when it comes to children, especially because some of it is unrealistic (never raise your voice, never lose your patience, be in control … come on, do you have any idea the stress moms are under, not to mention military wives?) But I do try to limit the amount of TV the kids get, and we’ve resisted putting a set in their bedroom. Most parents set some limits like these, even if, like me, they don’t exactly meet the guidelines.

And if I don’t always choose to turn the box off, I do think that some watching is better than others. Sometimes, watching TV can be a good family activity. I ask the kids questions about the story, the characters, what’s happening, and whether or not it’s real. There is a lot more learning involved that way.

And even in those times when I just need a break, a little mindless video entertainment, as long as it’s balanced by exercise and creative play, it isn’t that big of a deal. The point is that TV is not all bad. So enjoy the cartoons and don’t stress. “Bub-bob” is not an appropriate babysitter, but don’t feel guilty if he occasionally buys you half an hour of relaxation.

Anita Doberman is a freelance writer, mother of five and wife of an Air Force pilot stationed at Hurlburt AFB in Florida. Contact her at: anita@anitadoberman.com