I grew up in a house where we watched a lot of television. My dad and brother liked sports and my mom was a fan of British comedies (Keeping Up Appearances). I was a fan of Titanic, All That, and whatever the newest Disney Original Channel movie was (hello, Cheetah Girls!). I remember being ecstatic when I got a DVD player in my room when I was in 8th grade. My dad finally acquiesced after I made him suffer through watching Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets every day for weeks on end.
My husband also grew up in a household with tv, but he didn’t have cable until he was 12 and even then his parents strictly monitored it. He said aside from watching PBS as a kid they’d rent movies from the library to watch on repeat.
On our own and so many shows to watch
As we both moved away from home we found ourselves always keeping the tv on. Me with classy teen dramas like One Tree Hill and The O.C. and him with sitcoms like Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother. We also would go to the movies at least twice a month. TV was considered background noise to whatever event was taking place. When we got married and moved into our house we had two tvs. One in the living room and one in our bedroom. My husband and I worked different schedules so we’d always watch a show because no one else was home to talk to or do something with.
All of the shows when the baby arrived
We had our first baby in January 2017. I watched so much on maternity leave; Fuller House, Parks and Recreation, and who knows what else. I had to keep something playing during late-night nursing sessions so I wouldn’t fall asleep while holding my baby. As he got older we started watching some kid-friendly shows such as Little Baby Bum and Moana (on repeat…every day). I first noticed around 16 months my son had distinct preferences on what shows would be on. By 19 months if a show wasn’t on he would be so angry. We then started to keep the tv on all the time when he was awake.
The majority of the time he wasn’t even watching it.
He would go off and do an activity, come back for 5 minutes, and run off again. I started to get concerned that the tv was on too much, but pushed it to the side because he didn’t sit staring at it constantly. When I got pregnant in November 2018 I was horribly sick (think vomiting five or more times a day). Ari started watching more tv since I could barely function getting off of the couch after work. I felt guilty but made do. The following summer I kept us busy with going to parks, playdates, and the zoo to keep his mind off of watching tv. This plan worked until we got home, but I was hugely pregnant and was happy to take a load off once we were done running around.
Television survival mode
After our daughter was born in August, tv once again became an even bigger crutch. I rationalized that he didn’t watch tv much at the sitter’s house so he had a lot of “screen-free” time throughout the day. It wasn’t until that December where he was in the middle of a horrible tantrum and refusing dinner that we told him he lost his shows for not listening. He couldn’t handle it. He promptly threw himself on the floor and screamed. I knew something had to change. TV was no longer just background noise or something to kill a little time with, it was an obsession with him. I convinced my husband that Ari would benefit from a Nugget couch. We thought this would be a great way to keep Ari moving and playing. I had requested our family to purchase board games, building toys, and other hands-on activities for Christmas and his birthday. We were doing great! Ari’s tv usage was starting to go down a bit.
And then came quarantine
I (along with so many others) started working from home. My husband was considered an essential worker so he still had to report in person. I now had the job of educating my 5th and 6th-grade students, attending meetings, and wrangling a 3-year-old and an infant. Needless to say, our tv use ramped up again. The only time I could get work done during school hours was during Annie’s morning nap when Ari was watching Frozen 2 or when both he and his sister were napping in the afternoon. I felt like we were sliding backward and then I remembered reading Busy Toddler’s Instagram about how a television usage is a tool for parents, not determined by the child. She also recommended going on a “tv break” for a few days. One weekend in April we did this. It sucked. Ari was so angry he couldn’t watch a show.I structured when he could watch something so he knew what times to look forward to it. He now gets a show in the morning with breakfast, after his sister wakes up from morning nap, and after he wakes up from his nap.
Finding a balance
Some days he gets a little more and some days less. The most important thing is that I feel in control of it. I clearly communicate with him when we can watch a show and when it will be off. Of course, there are still days where he begs for more tv, but with reminders about our schedule and routine, he will typically move along because he knows I’m not changing my mind. Others may think that he still watches too much tv and perhaps they are right, but I know I’m doing what I feel is best for my child and that’s all that matters.