Wanting to stay connected*

Ben in his new pimped out clubhouse

We decided to cut down on the TV watching in Ben’s life. For the last year or more, I have been letting Ben watch videos around dinnertime. This helps me juggle two boys more efficiently, make dinner, run a tub, tuck the baby into bed, without completely losing my cool at every turn. It was totally my way to cope and Ben was completely on board. Endless episodes of the Backyardigans and Sponge Bob, Scooby Doo and the Wonder Pets are his crack cocaine.

And like any addict, he was devastated when I broke the news. “Hey Ben,” I said a little tentatively, “We’re not going to watch any videos today and we’re going to stop for a while.” He was outraged. He sobbed in the back seat of the car and told me he was going to pack some snacks and leave. He said he was going to move to another house, with another family. He told me that he’s sorry, he knows I’ll be sad, but I can visit him if I want.

I tried not to take this too personally. And considered locking the doors when we got home, just in case.

But the beauty of being 5 is that he forgot by the time we got home and when I suggested a bath with his brother he cheered a joyous, yes! and we all had a sweet time. There were more tears, for several days after school while we were breaking the habit, but it was much easier than I had thought.

My word of the year

I should back up and add one more thing to the background of all this. My word of the year– connected. I chose this word for many reasons, but one of the people I most want to feel connected to is Ben. As often happens when a new baby is born, my cozy relationship with my eldest was disrupted. I noticed it immediately in those first weeks back from the hospital. I literally had a baby in my arms or at my breast all the time and as much as I tried to stay connected with Ben, something shifted. There was literally another human standing between us! We have evolved since then of course, but the fact remains — our relationship is different now. We are navigating our way through the dynamics of a family of four. The shift was natural, but I feel a loss.

I have been wanting to spend more one on one time with Ben, have special dates with him, be sure that our connection stays alive and strong. I’m amazed how one little hot chocolate date at the cafe up the street, or a ride on a bus together to the kite festival can loom so large in his mind. “Remember when we went to the kite festival together mama? Just you and me?” he asked me the other day.

I had an intuition that this TV thing was one of our barriers, so in the spirit of connection, I bit the bullet. Unexpectedly, the first thing I noticed was how tired Ben was at the end of the day. Suddenly, without the option of a video, he started begging me to put him down at 5 or 6pm. His seizure medication has the unfortunate side effect of fatigue and we had to increase his dose recently. The 5pm videos were keeping him stimulated enough to stay up and neither of us actually noticed how tired his little body was. I was so glad to be more connected to how he was actually feeling and to know that he was connecting in to that too.

He still asks and protests this new policy regularly, but it has fostered what I had hoped– a connection that I thought I might have lost when Nico was born. And Ben has been outside more. Building his treehouse empire, practicing his ninja moves and taking more baths at night to chill out.

I would be lying if I said I don’t miss those videos! It was an easy way for me to get some much needed quiet time, get some work done in a pinch or tidy up the house without it being ransacked. ;) But I’m clear I have gained something I wanted much more than a clean house or tidy inbox– the chance to connect, play and engage with one of the more adorable five year olds in the world.

I’m curious

What is your policy about TV in your house? or video games and other media? What have you noticed about it? Just for the record, I am not against TV, but very curious about how we use it and what my limits should be around it (both for myself and for my kids)

What have you noticed about your connection to your kids and screen time?

53 Comments

  1. dianne
    Posted April 16, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    We are battling the screens all the time. We try to limit TV to family time watching where we all sit and watch a movie or a recorded show. But my kids would be in front of the screen 24/7, even giving up food if they had to. Between DS, ipod and TV, we are attempting to limit and use the time as collateral. I’m all for entertainment and for distraction (especially when it’s time to make dinner or when dad is on day 3 of a business trip), but we do notice a huge increase in aggression when they’ve had their DSs for a while AND in smartypants behavior with TV . . . and my kids are girls!!!

  2. Posted April 16, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    Bravo Andrea!! I love this post.

  3. Posted April 16, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    I love this. We have a limited TV policy but I struggle so much with it. As a single parent I use TV in exactly the same way — in the morning 1 TV (usually now an episode of Busy Town) while Liam eats breakfast and I get ready for work; then in the afternoon no more than 3 more TVs. I hate to even type that it sounds like so much. I see him really rely on it to smooth transitions and I know it spins him up and makes his almost-5-year-old behaviors more challenging. After endless arguments about TV we hit on a “no more than 4 30-minute TV shows a day rule” (I choose the number, he can choose the time to watch), and a lot of days, when he’s with me all day, he doesn’t watch more than 2; but when it’s the babysitter it is always all four. I’ve been thinking about dropping the number and this just reinforces for me how much I want to take the plunge. Thank you!

  4. Posted April 16, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    I’ll offer a bit of a view from “the other side” – since my kids are 15 and almost-20 now:

    *Video games were not allowed until the youngest was 13 – and then it was limited to Wii Sports. No Playstation, DS, or whatever. It was the same for me growing up (no Atari!).
    *Family dinner is required, and there is no technology at the table (ie, cell phones). There isn’t a TV near the kitchen, so that’s never an issue.
    *No TV, period, in the morning. This is selfish – I’m not a morning person, and I don’t like the sound of the TV while I’m getting ready for work. I don’t think my kids realized that TVs would turn on in the morning until they were about 8!
    *While in school, one team sport per season is strongly encouraged. Tired athletes don’t really care about TV!

    Now, wanna see the dirty laundry? I’ve never really censored what my kids watched when they did watch. I made them partially responsible for choosing – too scary? too violent? speak up. I do have family monitoring (or whatever you call it) on the computers in the house, and I have all passwords to emails & social media. Incidentally, my 20yr old still gives me her passwords.

    Longest comment ever, I realize. Anyway – the moral of the story is that both of my big kids are quite comfortable having conversations with adults & with each other – probably that was often their only entertainment.

  5. Posted April 16, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Kudos to you for staying strong and staying connected to your little ones!

  6. Posted April 16, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    I love this post!

    No kids of my own, so I cannot answer your questions. But my heart tells me you’re on the right track. :)

  7. Posted April 16, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    Allowing my daughter to watch a video or tv show is the only way I would be able to prepare dinner each day! I have to say, she’s learned a lot of great things from watching Barney, Blues Clues and Sesame Street vocabulary clips on youtube. She also learned how to spit from Curious George – which I’m not as thrilled about.

    It’s true, when she’s watching tv she’s definitely not interacting with me. It’s a babysitter. I’m not super psyched about it but we need to eat!

  8. Sandy
    Posted April 16, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    I don’t have kids but sometimes marvel at my own TV habits. When I’m tired or stressed, I’ll tend to turn on the TV in order to tune out, but I’ll notice that if I do this a lot, my mood is much worse than usual. My mood will perk up almost instantly with music, so I try to be mindful of what I need and where my choice will lead me, and usually music is going to be the better option. I’ll move with music, and it will improve my mood — two great outcomes and great stress relievers!

    So, I often don’t have the TV on on the weekend at all, and it probably won’t be on today either. I can (and have) fairly easily gone a week without any TV. That being said, I find a lot of benefit from certain types of shows on TV — just watched a great documentary about the Elmo puppeteer! I just need to consider whether I’m choosing to watch for a healthy (or even neutral) reason or for a reason that could be better dealt with in another way.

  9. shawn
    Posted April 16, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    we just instituted this rule…mon-thurs no tv or computer time or itouch time on those annoying apps. It really was scary but I have to say it has been very nice. I have 4 kids and am a bit of single parent as the hubba works out of state – it was a nice EASY way to kill time and give me time…but I am glad that we have implemented this rule…it’s not always easy but it’s nice not to have to ask kids to do things 15 times over and over again b/c they are not tuned into what I’m asking them-talking to them about. I like it.

  10. Janet
    Posted April 16, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    This post was so interesting for me Andrea! I’m 21 weeks pregnant with our second child and I’m conscious of how I already use the TV to give myself a break….and even though I feel like it can do wonders for me, on the other hand I feel guilty for putting Jonah into his little zombie mode.

  11. Posted April 16, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    my daughter turns 18 in june…and i she is my only child…so i sort of feel out of this loop, but i do have a feeling about television that i would like to share: we never put restrictions on t.v. i will be the first to admit there were rainy weekends when it was never turned off! but also…there were summers when it was never turned on, christmas breaks when it was used to watch “sound of music” every night, and sick days when it was comforting background during the all-day in and out napping. my favorite t.v. memory is when “high school musical 3″ came out and olivia and her friends spent the day transforming our house into their version of the academy awards…complete with a red {construction paper} carpet. it was awesome.

    a mother’s intuition is rarely wrong. if it feels right then you’re doing exactly what you should be doing. who knows, in a month things might change, and with it you’ll adjust.

    …and now i’m going to go and start watching season three of downton abbey…again.

  12. Posted April 16, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    oops…i meant season two! :)

  13. Posted April 16, 2012 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    First of all, kudos for taking a stand. Here’s my story: our daughters are 9 & 12-1/2. A few years ago we were a Nielsen family (our viewing habits were monitored) and they called to make sure our kids still LIVED with us … that’s how infrequently my girls watch TV! Generally, they don’t watch TV on school nights because between homework and dinner together and chores, there’s no time. Saturday morning they’ll watch 2-3 hours of cartoons, but my older daughter will just as often curl up with a novel. When my girls were toddlers, we followed the whatchamacallit Pediatrics guidelines. During the summer, we do a lot of road trips & camping with absolutely no TV. (Now with smart phones and wifi, the digital bit is more of a challenge than TV, and we adults are just as guilty and in need of a media break.) Like Katrina, we have rules that there’s no TV at dinnertime; also, there are no bedroom TVs (research supports this along with regular family dinners). Sometimes my daughters’ TV watching habits get a bit crazy … when they’re visiting grandparents, when they’re sick, when they’re most of the summer (ironically), and, admittedly, when I have wanted to get them out of my hair.
    And with that, I have perhaps beat the longest comment (or at least tied it), so I’ll step down from my soap box. Thanks for sharing how you’ve stepped up to the challenge of changing your family’s habits with the aim and benefit of connecting.

  14. RoseB
    Posted April 16, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    Great post and something I will keep in mind with me today. Our story is simple: We don’t have a TV at all! I got rid of it even before my little boy was born as I never switched it on and just found it a greater expense.

    To compensate, we do watch occasional DVDs together on the computer but mostly spend our time together doing art and craft work or gardening (currently making bunting for the Queen’s Jubilee as we’re in the UK). Even if i’m in the kitchen area and he’s wrecking the dining table, then we’re still physically together, if that makes sense!

    This dynamic would need to change hugely if another person was added to our little family though, so I think you’re doing tremendously to still be mindful of this. Also, that club-house is awesome!

  15. -L
    Posted April 16, 2012 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    Seriously . . .I can relate to you on this soooo much it’s ridiculous. I feel it all completely. That loss of connection w/ my little one when his baby bro came along. It’s painful to me and he starts kinder in the fall which is too soon for me. It’s hard, there is so much. We do have dates together but it never seems like enough time even tho I am home with my kids. The T.V. shows, Backyardigans, Team Umi Zumi, Mike The Knight to name a few have been how I make dinner, get a breather, get the baby ready for bed, nursed etc. We’ve recently cut back too but not cold turkey. When Sam was really little it was easy. He never saw a show before age 2 (plus). Closer to 3 it was Curious George in the morning and Sesame Street and Max And Ruby in an “emergency mama needs a minute to breath”. Then when he turned three I had a late miscarriage and somehow that one week when things were really bad and my hubby was home all week running the show there was more t.v. and his nap really disappeared. We got back on track but it was a little easier by age three to give in to some demands for a fave show. Then by age 3-1/2 when I was way far into our long awaited 2nd pregnancy and desperate to rest there was more giving in for (limited) Nick Jr. shows or movies from the library. Now it’s twice a day but we decide together. Sesame Street is good here, for both kiddos love it. Dino Dan as we love dinosaurs and it’s only once in while and a couple others to choose from. On Fridays we rent a movie as something to look forward to. I plan to cut back way more and have plans for some more backyard fun. As much time at the beach as we can pull off and our fave thing is long walks or hikes. I need to let go more in order to be out and about w/ both kids more. Just getting them both in and out of their carseats and in and out of the grocery store . . . can really wipe me out sometimes which often leads to a video when we get home. We do youtube (trains or other interesting to boy videos). He has a little electronic learning game (numbers and shape building-Leapfrog) that he plays w/ sometimes but never for too long. He’s never played a “video game” or even knows what they are. He’d pick a light rail ride, a book or a trip to the beach over t.v. or videos anytime unless he’s sick or really tired in which case he’ll ask for “a show” to watch. I suspect the older they get the harder it might get but we are working on organizing Friday night to be family game night, Sat. and Sun. we get out or at least keep most media aside from music off unless it’s raining and we see get a movie. You are doing so awesome. Ben is so adorable and I love his club house! Our kids would have a lot of fun together. Sweet, sweet little boys:)

  16. michele
    Posted April 17, 2012 at 4:01 am | Permalink

    My boys are 6 & 8 and we have a pretty strict NO “electronic” policy Sunday thru Thursday.
    I find that this works the best for us, at time they whine for it and try to barter. But it is always, no honey…sorry. Friday is almost here and then it’s fair game. They can have it as much as they want on the weekends but we are usually not around the house, so the electronic hum is kept to a bare minimum. i like it that way and the kids get to explore life and i get to be with them more and it all just works out for the better.
    music is always on!!!!

  17. Posted April 17, 2012 at 5:48 am | Permalink

    My 2.5 daughter watches a couple of TV shows in the morning with my husband (or while my husband cleans/does stuff around the house) and oftentimes we’ll watch a movie at night. Watching a movie together actually is a little connection ritual with us. She will snuggle in to me and tell me what’s going on in the movie, and I treasure the cuddle time. Most times we’ll only get through half a movie and then save the rest for the next day. For me, it’s a nice way to relax after a long day and just enjoy holding each other.

    Now that it’s getting nicer out and staying light out later though we’ve been spending more time outside. She helps in the garden or plays in the dirt or challenges me to a running race. The thing I’ve noticed most is how much she just wants to be with us. She could care less about what we’re doing, as long as we’re focused on each other. I’m expecting my second in the fall, and I worry about what this will do for her behavior-wise once our time and attention shifts, but I’m sure whatever happens we will navigate it and probably be pleasantly surprised along the way.

    BTW, thank you for not putting judgment out there on Moms who let their kids watch TV. :) I know you aren’t that kind of person in general, but I always feel the need to acknowledge when a Mom is not doing that…because I feel like too often we only see the other side. (Mom’s like the one here…http://youtu.be/ikvcS3Oe-oA…hilarious video if you’ve never seen it…)

  18. Posted April 17, 2012 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    My daughter is 8 and we started a no tv on any school night rule three years ago. Now she willingly does her homework without being reminded, and if she’s extremely bored she’ll find a book to read. Most nights though, she keeps me company in the kitchen while I cook – usually she draws.

    Not gonna lie, the first month or so was rough, but she got over it. I think the no screen rule forces her to use her imagination more. Now we also play lots of board games as a family after dinner. It’s actually loads of fun.

  19. Posted April 17, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Thank you everyone for so generously responding! LOVING your answers and having a window into your world.

  20. Posted April 17, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Love that fort. And I applaud your decision.

    We don’t have a TV, so my kids only see videos, which they watch approx 1 – 4 hours of each week. I see the videos as a way for them to actually slow down and rest their minds. My kids are busy little people, spending a lot of time using their imaginations, building, drawing, creating and “ransacking the house.” When I sense that they are over-tired and cranky and picking on each other because of that, watching a video is a way for them to transport to another place (like I do with books) and take a breather from having to engineer their own lives. And I’m grateful for that.

  21. Andrea
    Posted April 17, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Hi Andrea! It’s great to have stumbled onto your blog via Tea and Cookies. You probably remember me from our birthing class back in 2006 – and random encounters at the Berkeley Farmers Market.

    Anyway, TV – and screen time in general – is the thing we’re probably most strict about with Marcos and his sister. We don’t have a TV in the house. I have an iPhone that Marcos uses a few times a week and we watch movies a couple of times a month. In this crazy world where so much of life runs counter to what you would ideally want for you kids, I’m glad I can at least do this.

    I have to say that in very practical terms, the biggest motivator in sticking to my limited screen time commitment is the drama, the tears, the angry stomping about that inevitably occurs when the computer is turned off.

    Play dough, paper, scissors, beads and crayons have been my most helpful allies in creating a little sanity at the dinnertime hour. One of those activities will usually work when the kids over-tired bickering is getting crazy – and delaying dinner even further.

    Glad to see those lovely pictures of you and Ben. Take care!

  22. Posted April 17, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    I love this post! I’ve started working from home on my own little business, and (more often than I care to admit) I use movies to buy me some time to work. We don’t have TV/Cable, but we use Netflix and movies from the library. When my oldest (now 5) was a baby, I swore we would never let her watch much TV. But now she and her three year old brother probably watch anywhere from an hour to three hours most days. I feel ashamed to admit it. We’ve thought about getting rid of the TV entirely, but I haven’t been brave enough yet. You’re inspiring me to at least seriously consider it though!

  23. Susan
    Posted April 17, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    The best decision I ever made was to have no television in the house when my kids were young. It was never an issue because there was no tv to watch! Around pre-teen age we got a tv and dvd player, no cable, so it really didn’t get any channels. We had saturday night movies: all musicals, mostly. I am proud to say they are 17, 19 and 27 now and thank me all the time for not having a tv when they were little. They were forced to entertain each other and cultivate interests and read, read, read. Sure, it would have been nice to distract them once in a while, but that’s what chores are for! :)

  24. Susan
    Posted April 17, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    P.S. I don’t think I would have had the will-power to keep this up if we did have a TV in the house.

  25. elisa mikiten
    Posted April 17, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    We’re pretty happy without it.

    Because of social pressure at school, we didn’t eliminate screens entirely. We have a Friday night movie so that he can talk about shows with his friends and not feel too out of it. As he’s gotten older, he has asked a little more often to watch something online. That’s been okay.

    I did turn a TV on in a hotel recently. I was HORRIFIED by what I saw. A dozen shopping channels, dramas about self-absorbed teenagers, porn channels, wrestling, blow-hard political pundits, commercials designed to make a kid insecure about every hair and every smell on his body. Even PBS was going for trash (who cares about the genetic history of movie stars?) What does a person raised on TV watch when his parents are no longer there to censure? That scares me. I know he could rebel completely, but I doubt he will. I think he’ll go off to college, watch for a week, decide that it’s trash, and choose to get back to his life!

    I get to raise this child. I get to shape his values. Comcast does not.

    Online seems a wee bit better to me. It doesn’t come pouring into the room, in a barrage of 200 channels. I’d rather have no screens, but as a compromise, a little online viewing works for us.

  26. elisa mikiten
    Posted April 17, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    One other thing just occurred to me: At 10, Eli is a fabulous cook. Is that in part because he was in the kitchen helping me with dinner? (Argh, that ‘help’ was so aggravating in the beginning!!! But it paid off!)

  27. Carole
    Posted April 17, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    The scoop: our kids watch anything from no TV to 1 1/2 hours on various days – sometimes other things just take priority, including playtime with each other and our new dog, the park, homework, mealtime (no TV or music or e-devices), and so on. I let each of them (we have two kids) pick a half hour show on weekdays, on weekends, they usually pick a movie to watch – one picks a movie on Sat, one picks a movie on Sun. They both like angry birds and Lego Star Wars on the computer, but we consider it part of their “screen time” as well.

    Now for my thoughts: It is important to me that our children know how to entertain themselves and are creative, that they know how to enjoy silence and be quiet, that they are connecting with others, and that they get outside. If those things are happening, then I feel that we are striking a good balance, and I am okay with a little screen time. As an adult, I hardly ever watch TV and would much rather talk to a friend, paint, read, cook, etc. My parents limited our TV to one hour a day growing up, and although I sometimes felt “out of it” with my peers, I am glad that I had so much space and time to grow, explore, and have fun. Balance, and knowing how your own children are wired (no pun intended!). I think that’s the key.

  28. Carole
    Posted April 17, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    P.S. We record programs (i.e. Super Why, Max & Ruby, WonderPets), and forward all commercials. I think that makes a huge difference.

  29. Posted April 17, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    well, the screen got smaller when Santa brought me an iPad for Christmas-which I have seldom used…now my children DO NOT watch TV till they are having their cereal before going to bed, and that is just 30mins. Surprisingly they don’t miss it, turns out it was just on (very environmentally wrong)as background noice and it’s been that way since they were little, playing with their toys but having Charlie & Lola or Phineas and Ferb keep them company, from which something unexpected happened: they were partially bilingual before even starting preschool, how about that?! And well, iPad or iPhone have become my allies in getting things done and stopping the nagging: behave, do homework, eat your breakfast, school lunch and home lunch so that you can use the i-TOYS…it hasn’t gotten out of control because they obey or risk loosing their iPad time…and that’s the way it’s worked in my home, no complaints here…whew!!

  30. Posted April 17, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    Oh, TV. I have two girls, 4 and almost 2, and I’m very torn when it comes to screen time. First, I like TV and I think there are a lot of good shows, for both children and adults. I am in no way anti-tv. But if it weren’t for my husband’s love affair with sports, I probably wouldn’t have cable. I’d just rely on netflix and what’s available online. I use TV as a babysitter for my kids at different points in the day, but I wish I would use it less. But I can’t make dinner with two little ones running at my feet, and in the morning after breakfast, TV gives me some time to get my day ready. My girls wake up early and I can’t get up before them for some time to myself (or I’d have to get up at 4:30, which isn’t going to happen). I don’t mind a couple of 20-30 minute shows a day. But there are days when it’s more, and I always regret it. I know my kids are great at coming up with ideas for play, and I never want TV to stand in the way of that.

    Movies are great, and I hope our family develops a good movie night once they are a bit older.

    Great post!

  31. Posted April 17, 2012 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    Well, I’m feeling shy about my answer, since there are so many abstainers responding, but I am going to tell the truth. My daughter will be five in July, and though we do not have cable, she watches an almost unlimited amount of shows on Netflix and plays computer games for up to an hour at a time. We let her watch shows and play games on my husband’s iPod during car rides and when she becomes restless at restaurants. We go out of our way to keep commercial television away, which we find to be the bigger nemesis than the shows, themselves.

    My daughter probably watches three hours on days she doesn’t have preschool. And while some of that viewing is Backyardigans and classic Spider-Man, some of it is filled with beaver documentaries and videos of herself as a baby. I predict that this will naturally cut down when she begins elementary school in the fall and as other activities begin to fill her days.

  32. Amy
    Posted April 17, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    My daughter is almost 6. We don’t own a TV, but we do sparingly use Netflix, Hulu, and DVDs for that purpose. She probably gets no more than 2-3 hours (sometimes much less) of passive screen time a week. Sometimes she’ll play games on a computer or iPad. Sometimes she does a yoga or ballet DVD, but I don’t really count that as screen time. We have a pretty easy situation, though–two adults, one kid, my husband works from home and is around most of the time (he’s out of town a few days a month). We are not opposed to the occasional movie for the sole purpose of keeping her occupied and out of the way (like when my husband is home alone with her and has a conference call or while traveling).

  33. Posted April 17, 2012 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    we never watch tv in the morning and we only watch tv sometimes in the evening and always together. thankfully, my son, who is 11 years old now, is so used to this, that there is never a discussion about it. there is more tv time in times of sickness and then we often watch cookery shows:) or animal programmes, sometimes movies. seems to work out fine. thanks for this post!

  34. heathersf
    Posted April 18, 2012 at 4:14 am | Permalink

    my boys are 4 & 6 and one thing we often do for quiet time is audio books. we have many many stories we listen to while drawing, playing legos, baths, or just sitting. try sparklestories.com – those are our favorites! but we get a lot of audiobooks from the library, too.

  35. Anniepletz
    Posted April 18, 2012 at 5:20 am | Permalink

    Hi super connected mama hero. I have been a silent witness to your journey for quite a long time now. Your ability to share life’s moments has been an inspiration. I hope to have a chance to say hello someday in the east bay. U helped me connect to the bay in a tangible way since before I landed here.

    I do not have children of my own but have worked with them as a nanny & preschool teacher for countless years. Kids are the best…. They are smart sponges & they are open & the tv is a tool that if used wisely teaches them all kinds of things. If they are watching something you would want to watch, then it’s fun & healthy.

  36. Claude
    Posted April 18, 2012 at 5:22 am | Permalink

    We don’t have a TV. That’s so relaxing, also for the adults around here. But of cours we watch DVDs on the computer, but this way we can decide what our girl (5 years old) is watching. Our son (2 years) doesn’t watch at all (only coincindently).
    We limited the time to special days: weekend, monday and friday and only in the afternoon. Never with the meals. And only short shows. On the weekend she may watch a longer movie, but as we are doing lots of other stuff on weekends she now forgets about watching very often. The first time, when we limited the times of watching it was the same: Our daughter wanted to move out, search for nicer parents and all. (no invitation to visit her by the way…) But now it works fine and sometimes I even find it too much still. We have a nice radioshow in the evenings for kids here in Germany and we have a habit of listening it before bedtime and the good night story that I read to her.

  37. Anniepletz
    Posted April 18, 2012 at 5:22 am | Permalink

    PS.
    I figure it must be hard to navigate the world of motherhood & I just want you to know that you are doing an amazing job. Thank you for sharing your life journey. Talk about connected.

  38. Posted April 18, 2012 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    We limit the amount of screen time depending on circumstances. A couple of years ago we eliminated all but basic cable and we have Netflix streaming. The 9 year has on his own limited his viewing to Netflix. The amount of time varies but is impacted by how tired or grumpy he is, what else is going on during the day, what day of the week it is. He definately gets grumpy if he’s allowed too much time and he doesn’t self-limit. There have been times when he was not allowed any tv for an extended period as a consequence for bad behavior and while he complains he also acknowledges that it feels good and leads to lots of exploration and fun. If we say no to tv he now can move on to something else pretty easily. We do watch a movie most Fri or Sat nights as a family.

  39. Posted April 18, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    I have 9 kids + 3 stepkids, age 27 to 2. Although my 6 oldest kids are out on their own(ish) now, the habits we started when they were little still have an impact. They feel like watching TV is like “watching life rather than living it.”

    We do not pay for TV. That is, we do have a regular network antenna but no dish or cable – there aren’t 300 channels in our house. We do pay for Netflix, and we have iTunes/Apple TV for renting movies. My “little” kids (the still-at-home set, aged 2-14) are allowed to watch cartoon episodes sometimes on Netflix or YouTube, but only two or three at a time and definitely not every day (maybe an hour, 2 – 3 times a week and then a movie on the weekend – that’s a medium-heavy week). As for online computer games, they use games to learn to type and sometimes for math (we homeschool), and otherwise they probably play an hour or less per week, and no one under eighteen has a Facebook. Two of my younger kids have mild tendencies toward autistic traits; these two are the most impacted by exposure to lots of screen time, so that is great incentive to simply turn it off.

    Personally, I usually unwind late at night with some TV (usually a Frazier, a Cheers or a Grey’s episode, something like that) but I’ve noticed I sleep better when I don’t do this, so it’s a habit I should change.

    We do own a Nintendo 64 and a game cube, I think (I’m not even sure what game systems we have because I didn’t buy them – they were gifts to the little brothers from the big brothers). They are virtually never on during the week; they are only used on sort of “party” occasions when the big brothers come home from college and have a late-night game marathon with their little brothers.

    We don’t use the TV/computer at mealtimes nor in the morning, and we don’t use it as “background noise” (ahem – I live in a zoo. Background noise?? Seriously?).

    All in all, I feel that screen time is a detriment to my kids, so I try not to let it creep up in usage – but it’s a regular challenge because it’s so easy and always there and takes so many different forms, some of which are even valuable (think, YouTube for science class – awesome, but still has the screen-time effect if overdone).

    Great discussion, Andrea! And I’d like to second comment no. 37. You seem like a truly wonderful mother and woman.

  40. Posted April 18, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Whoa. Sorry. Didn’t realize I had typed such a mega-comment! Eeep!

  41. Posted April 18, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    My boys are now young men (23, 18,17) but when they were only 3,4 and 9 my husband and I made a huge decision to move to the mountains, some 600 miles away from family and friends (we didn’t move to get away from them) but to raise the boys in a beautiful environment where they could run and play outdoors in the country.
    Up until then they had their favorite tv shows and videos they would watch daily, and I’m not embarrassed to say I looked forward to that time for me (quiet time) everyday.
    I remember how exhausting and joyful at the same time :)

    When we moved to the country, to our farm, there wasn’t any cable at first so they learned to play outside most of the day. I saw an incredible thing happen, their play was more imaginative than ever. They didn’t whine as much and all around seemed so much happier to explore. They looked forward to “us” time in the garden.

    When we did get cable again and when they sat down to watch their favorite shows, it had an odd effect…they began to fight more among themselves (almost instantly). To the point I had to turn off the tv several times, until we finally made the decision to pull the plug all together, and we never looked back.
    Tears did flow, but after a week or so they were right as rain again and I was so glad not to have another bill to pay.
    I always had such fun joining in when they had pretend time outdoors, those were such good memories. My boys and I are very close, such great guys and I’m convinced it sprouted because of bonding time together when they were young.

    Sorry for the long story, but thought it might interest you :)

  42. Posted April 18, 2012 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    It’s always changing, but currently, we’re having TV time after school, for 2-3 shows from about 2:30-3:30/4, while eating a snack and taking a rest, and then we go out again. But this is not everyday – if we go straight out and about after school, my 5-year-old often doesn’t watch any. I’d say he watches about 3 times during the week. He gets really tired after school, and it’s a good way for him to take a breather. But neither of my kids is totally zoned out when they watch TV, at least not for the whole hour. They play around a lot too. Not thrilled about the 18-month-old watching TV, but it doesn’t seem to affect him much one way or another. Weekends the 5-year-old watches most days, a lot of times it’s sports with Dada. Sometimes we do a movie night, where we watch a movie together (Mary Poppins is a favorite), but then no TV earlier. I feel like a lot of the shows actually encourage creative play once the TV is turned off (I don’t know how many episodes of Wildkrats he’s created himself, where he’s Chris and I’m Martin).

    BUT — what’s currently driving me nuts is the video games. He has gotten into angry birds, and sometimes I swear it’s like 5-year-old crack. Again, he does a lot of creative play based around it when the device isn’t on, but I feel like actually playing the games makes him cranky, and there’s often a fuss when it’s time to turn it off. Recently, my father-in-law came to visit, and my son immediately just wanted to play Grandpa’s iPad, because he puts games on there for him. I hate this! I want family interaction, read books together, put the devices away. My husband and I need to sit down and decide some limits together. I’d really like to take a break from all video games for him for a while. I feel like he doesn’t need it. He’s only 5! But they sometimes play them together, so we need to be on the same page about this.

    One more thing – try story tapes for when you need to cook dinner, etc. Elan really gets into them, and we’re listening together, which is nice. It’s like reading aloud, except you can do stuff at the same time. You can download lots of good ones from iTunes. Fabulous!

  43. Elise
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    No TV for our 26 month-old triplets. However, we do use videos to teach them Sign Language and Spanish (Baby Signing Time and Little Pim), probably 30 min 3X per week. But never as an electronic babysitter, we watch the videos with them and repeat the words and signs together etc. Sometimes I feel a little self-conscious about being “that mom” who doesn’t allow TV, candy and whose daughters have no idea what a princess is, but my girls are genuinely happy.

    On an aside, one of my daughters had a lengthy medical appointment that involved examination by three different doctors. Neat the end, one of the doctors commented “She has great concentration, I bet she doesn’t watch TV” which was encouraging.

  44. Elise
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    I find it so stressful to try to get stuff done with three little hanging on to my legs that I just don’t do it any more. The majority of meal prep gets done on the weekend when my husband is around to distract the girls. I usually make three entrees including pasta sauce, freeze half and then reheat all week long. So much easier on all of us.

  45. Rosemary Harrison
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    I LOVE that you are doing this! My kids are all grown and gone but we definitely limited the tv when they were home and I’m so glad we did!
    I like that they get to use their imagination and figure out how to entertain themselves when they don’t have the tv to fill the void.
    If it was nice outside I would never let them be inside watching tv and it was very interesting to note that the two boys had no problem finding a million other ways to fill their time while the two girls didn’t so easily know what they could do outside…I remember agreeing to move their little table outside so they could at least be outside to color!
    Don’t want to sound like I’ve got it all figured out or butt in where it’s none of my business but don’t forget to get that connecting and special time with your partners as well — it’s so easy to be caught up with all the busyness of bringing up children! Believe me, I know!

  46. Jane
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Andrea, Folks hi,

    Until my daughter got chicken picks at almost three, she never knew a tv existed. It was great. She was able to amuse herself. At dinner time we had to work a bit harder as she wanted to ‘help’ which I was fine with but we had to be careful that she did not get injured.

    After chicken pocks her ability to amuse herself ebbs and flows. Her little brother who is 2 years younger and now 4, is her greatest ally and play mate. They do need a bit of inspiration sometimes but 90% of the time amuse themselves including during dinner making time at the weekends. It is I think practice.

    The biggest challenge is for me to suggest a new activity when they do find that they get bored. For me the key here is having the toys in seperate boxes and they have heir own little table and chairs. The means I can say ‘do you want to do some coloring now?’ and they move from he floor to the table. Sometimes my daughter goes through periods where she is getting too much tv and the whining increases accordingly. In such cases I implement a temporary black out for a week or longer to get the balance back. I use this same thing for chocolate and the like.

    The general rule is max of 30 mins directly before dinner only some, maybe 2, week nights. Plus family video some weekends.

    My other suggestion for this age group is a sandpit or better still sandtable (sandpit but off the ground on legs). Hours and hours of fun. Put further away from the house to lose the sand before they make it inside.

    Most of the tv programmed are good. Personally I think ‘Peppa Pig’ is great. ‘Angelina balleina’ is terrible I think – I can’t stand the nonsense she talks even if it comes good in the end – bad role modeling I think. I switch over if that is on.

    In short, in my opinion llike adults it is a habit and I am provide a life skill in the ability to amuse yourself.

  47. lunaboogie
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    we have a TV that lives in a box in the basement. If we, as a family, want to watch a movie together, then we take it out with the video player (that also lives in a box in the basement), and when we are finished, we put them away.

    My daughter is now 17. We did not have a computer in the house until she was in middle school. Since then, the allure of the computer is enticing. She works so hard in school (straight A.s, national merit scholar) that I have allowed her to watch what she wants during her just home from school snack. So far, that has been reruns of Friends and Buffy, stuff I never knew about, but often it is word or trivia games, or Harry Potter fan fiction. Our guilty pleasure (she and I, one evening a month) is Desperate Housewives. We still are not caught up.

    Our no TV policy has worked out well for us. we are a family of readers and always have one or two read alouds going on. We read in the car on trips too, the non drivers taking turns. Good for you for setting limits, and connecting.

  48. Posted April 23, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    The darn boob tube. I must say, we really have an ebb and flow how tv usage. When we lived in Philadelphia 3 years ago and I was a homeschooling mom, we watched tv only on weekends, and then slightly limited. We recently moved back to the US after living in Mexico City for 2.5 years. There, due to safety concerns, we spent more time indoors, and subsequently watched more movies and tv. We’ve been back in the States now almost a year and I am trying to wean my littles off tv again. Challenging for sure!!

    Love your blog and photography class, btw!

  49. KK
    Posted April 24, 2012 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    Thank you for the inspiration. We’ve broken our 3 year habit of watching a Nick jr show before bed. Our 5 year old is getting to bed earlier and with less drama than before. Part of the solution is never having the tv on until everyone is in bed before I catch up on Mad Men but I can handle that.

  50. Posted April 25, 2012 at 4:00 am | Permalink

    We never had television when my children were growing up. It made for a quiet, sweet life. Plus, I have to very articulate and conversational twenty-somethings…Xoxo.

  51. sarah
    Posted April 26, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    TV is something that we’ve gone back and forth about – not in an overthinking way, but in the practical sense. We watch college sports (living in your college town will do that to you; it’s CULTURE) so we need cable access to those games. It’s either get cable or get a sitter. We also have a DVR because basketball games are usually at bedtime.
    As for “shows” we barely have time to watch any. We DVR them and catch up when we can. Once every other week or so, after the toddler goes to bed.
    I went on a rampage about how TV watching HAD to be purposeful a few years ago & it worked. No having the TV on just for background. We found that we are happier and more connected when we listen to music. Make every night feel like a party!
    As for the kid – I’ve offered him chances to watch a show & he just isn’t into sitting watching a screen. We will watch games with him when they are during his awake times, but he’s usually grabbing one of our hands to go outside. So we’ve made it to almost two with very little screen time. And we used the rule laid out in Raising Arizona: Educational or sports. :)

  52. Emily
    Posted April 27, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    I have two boys also, who are now 10 and almost-12. We have tried several different systems. U have limited the tv and other electronics a lot, but certainly not completely. They have watched cartoons, seen tons of movies, played countless video games, etc. Here are the reasons I am so happy I have, so far:

    1) My kids are awesome conversationalists. They are connected to each other and to other people.

    2) My kids are creative. I do need quiet time and alone time, more than many. Classic introvert. Sure, sometimes they get cartoon babysitter, but more often they get backyard mud puddle babysitter. The blessing of boredom. The opportunity to turn a couple hours of nothing into an elaborate game with costumes and music and laughter… and fighting… and making up…

    3) They LOVE to read. This is huge for me. I grew up without mch tv and loved reading, but one iPhone later and I suddenly read so much less. I have to ban myself from electronics too! My kids like that. :)

    Right now, we do a free-for-all tv / video games morning on Saturdays, until 11:00. And they can play their DS or an iPhone game in the car on the way to school in the morning, but not on the way home. And I let them do more and more computer research type stuff as they get older. They will spend an hour looking at the Monterey Aquarium website or something.

  53. Posted June 8, 2012 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    In my ideal, perfect world, we wouldn’t watch TV. But this is the real world. So I’ve worked to find the happy mediume. My 3 and 5 year old boys watch 1 show in the afternoons around 4/ 4.30 for about 30 minutes. Everything we watch is netflix streaming…and what they watch is more important to me that the amount of time. It is very interest specific….Mighty Machines (SERIOUSLY awesome), Planet Earth, National Geographic dinosaur specials…or Blues Clues/Sesame Street. If the weather sucks or its just “that kind of day” I’ll put on something that is longer than 30 minutes. What I like is that the shows they watch spur play. Sure they are zoned out while watching but once done watching something about building skyscrapers…out come the legos and they start building skyscrapers.

    Anyway, I don’t see us every being completely unplugged, but instead carefully managing both time and content. It probably also helps that we never have the tv on for the adults until the kids are in bed and don’t have cable. So they don’t know what they are missing :)

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