No Background TV Allowed? Pshhhh! (…well, sort of)

I read this article on Monday by Catherine Pearson of HuffPost Parents entitled “Children’s TV Exposure Reaches ‘Startling’ Levels, Study Finds” and expected more of what I had already read in various parenting, education, and child psychology books: Too much television isn’t good for kids. Why? Well, it’s really more about what it takes the place of (quality one-on-one time with a caregiver) than what it provides (singing pets rescuing “an animal in trouble” is common in this household, or the omnipresent and ever-so-DULL talking trains). I completely agree that when the television is on in the background, the kind of interactions I have with my kids change. However, I will not for one second get on a high horse and assert that my kids watch zero television. That would be a lie. I sometimes need to do things like cook dinner, put away groceries, or even pee, and I will resort to a kid-friendly show. Pre-children I would have scolded myself. “Cook with the kids!” I’d say, wagging my finger. “They learn so much from that experience!” Well, I do cook with my kids sometimes, but other times I just want to get dinner on the table and not have anything spilled. The reality is…sometimes my kids watch TV, and I’ve made peace with this.

However, I take major issue with one part of this article. This line, from Dr. Rich, an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and director of the Center on Media and Child Health, really fired me up:

“‘If you look at breastfeeding, for example, it’s not just nutrition, but also the intense bonding that is really, really important,’ Rich said. ‘If a mom is watching ‘Oprah,’ she’s not looking at her kid.'”

Back up. Has Dr. Rich ever nursed a newborn on demand? Has he sat on the couch, alone, day in and day out, with a screaming, red-faced nursing baby, for hours on end? I’m going to guess no. See, I can understand the importance of limiting both direct and ambient television with older babies and up, but I refuse to feel guilty for watching endless re-runs of “My So-Called Life” and “Friends” while nursing my newborns. Would it have been better if I stared lovingly at their little faces the whole time? Perhaps for them, maybe, but not for me. At what point does the mental health benefit of the mother getting a break outweigh any minor damage done by a little “Sleepless in Seattle” in the background while I nurse the baby for the 12th time in one 24 hour period?

When my sons were young and exclusively nursing, I multitasked like a…mother. (Minor pun intended.) I completed a master’s while raising a toddler and a newborn. I used nursing as my time to watch videos for class, read research articles, and write the seemingly endless stream of papers for my courses. Are my sons permanently harmed by repressed memories and/or decreased synapses from me staring into the screen of my MacBook while typing with one hand? I sure hope not.

So while I would encourage parents to consider turning off the tube more often, I’d also say so with the wry grin of a tired mom of a toddler and preschooler and add, “…but do NOT feel guilty for folding laundry alone sometimes and letting ‘The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse’ work its ever-loving magic while you do so, or for surfing Netflix while you pull out that Boppy for the millionth time in the dark.”

Adorable. How could I have not wanted to stare at this face 100% of the time? Sometimes, though, you just want to watch The Daily Show…

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