This is National Screen Free Week, it is also Spring Break. I have a slew of computer work to do, and Scout has a cold; she’s on the sofa, limp as lettuce on a day old sandwich. Outside, it’s cold and rainy. ”Can it be a movie day?” inquires Monkey Boy, ever hopeful.
When the children were born, we followed the American Pediatrician Association’s guidelines and kept the television turned off for the first two years. Then, as they seemed just fine without it, and as the purple dinosaur made no sense to my Scottish sensibilities, the TV stayed off. There are plenty of screens in the world though, and Scout and Monkey Boy soon developed a fond appreciation for them all. Given the chance, they’ll gape at sport, politicos or the slice and dice infomercial at the supermarket. Even our dentist’s office now has a flat screen that glides along an overhead track to dispense cartoons to the reclined patient. The excitement of choosing between root beer or cookie dough tooth polish has been eclipsed by the promise of Dora’s obtuse observations – unless the parent chooses to intervene.
I do control my children’s screen time. They need time to create their own world of stories and play in them. It seems so joyless for kids to reenact formulaic plots devised by adults, simulating the sound effects and synthesized soundtracks, becoming frustrated when Yu-Gi-Oh forgets his moves. More knowledgable writers than I have written about the impact of television on children; this article from Time reports on learning consequences, this one is about negative health effects and this one on brain development is by Jane Healy, specialist in learning differences, educational psychologist and author.
But I mostly don’t want my children’s aspirations programmed by the box and the massive advertising budgets that drive it. Never mind thinking outside the box, I don’t want them to be the box; packaged and sold by Neilson et al. And if you think I’m over-reacting, that good TV shows seek to be educational rather than vehicles cynically promoting outsized consumerism, check out Dora the Explorer’s web site and see where those educational priorities fit in amongst the flashing ads to buy more and watch more! My pet peeve about marketing to children aside, television is not what it was when we were kids, consequently parenting isn’t either.
Our family’s TV lives in the office/spare room along with the computer, but the door is seldom closed. I am in there part of every day writing reports and applications, I blog and shop online. The only person I write letters to now, lives where the sun don’t shine and computer access is forbidden; for everyone else I e-mail instead. Little eyes sometimes peer over my elbow as I tap into this grown up world. They watch the black ant letters crawl neatly across the screen. I might hope I am modeling a strong work ethic but I suspect the real message is that the compelling world within the screen is more valuable than the entirety in which it sits. I check my e-mail and Facebook feeds throughout the day, even when there is no good reason to. I live mostly in denial, convinced that one day pixels will be discovered to be as addictive as nicotine. Then I’ll get help.
National Screen free week draws to a close. Outside, it’s still raining; in the office, I still have work to do. I make the best parenting decision I am capable of today and switch off the computer. Then I sprawl on the bed with the kids; we watch a DVD of ‘Lassie’. Peter O’Toole is delicious as an aging aristocrat at the end of his era, and the glorious Scottish scenery does my heart good.