To TV or Not To TV?

Our son doesn't know how to watch TV.

Whenever we say this to people, we always get an expression of hilarious incredulity. Case in point, here's a typical conversation between me and/or Big C and a friend or relative who asks us about J:

Friend/Relative (F/R): Does he like (insert cartoon character's name)?
Us: He doesn't know them because he doesn't watch TV. 
F/R: What? (with matching expression of horror/disbelief) Why?
Us: Well, based on research, it's not good for kids.
Variety of responses from F/R: "But there are a lot of educational shows now for kids!" or "You should. You'll get so much done." and my personal favorite, from my dad. "You shouldn't restrict so many things for your son, he won't grow up normal. When you were younger, we let you watch a lot of educational videos and you learned so many things."

But do kids really learn from TV? When you view the videos they're supposed to watch, you think, "Yeah, they'll learn their ABCs and numbers. This looks good." And it really does look good. They have adorable animals who sing and dance and zoom around with letters and numbers floating around and it will make you believe that your kid will learn from this.

But recent research has shown that TV, especially a lot of TV in the early childhood years is actually bad for kids. Among other things, watching TV deprives them of crucial opportunities to learn from interacting with people, lowers the value of communication between parent and child, puts them at greater risk for attention deficit disorders, and sets a pattern of behavior that contributes to obesity in adulthood. And contrary to what we are told, educational videos aren't guaranteed to be educational. I recall a few years back, Disney issued a recall of their Baby Einstein videos, because apparently, these videos can't really make our kids smarter.

So, my son is 17 months old, and he doesn't watch TV. Don't get me wrong, he's not completely ignorant of cartoon characters. He loves Mickey Mouse, because his clothes mostly have Mickey designs. (God help us if we put him in plain whites. He'll look for the Mickeys and insist on changing if he can't find it.) He also knows Pooh, Tigger, and Barney because he has stuffed animals which were given to him. He's familiar with Cars, although he only sees them as regular cars and not as special cartoon characters. He's a regular kid in that sense. And there is some exposure to TV, when the maids watch TV downstairs and he plays with them. He loves the music of the commercials, but that's pretty much it. (Although, secondhand TV is also not good for kids, the maids are kawawa naman if I take away the only entertainment they have. Haha..)

Not letting him watch TV was a decision that Big C and I made together before J was born. We read the studies and discussed the pros and cons and decided on no TV until J turns 2, which is when we'll start letting him watch TV. Even then, what he watches will be closely supervised and only Daddy-and-Mommy-approved videos will make it onto his collection. We stand firm on our decision and opted to not have cable TV at home so he wouldn't have ready access to cartoons, which play all day long on kiddie channels.

I do have to admit, there are days when Big C and I question our decision to not let him watch TV. These are the days when he's being especially naughty and won't sit still and we silently wish for a few minutes of peace at the end of a long day. And now, with J approaching the big 2, we're starting to discuss how to balance letting him watch TV and keeping it away from Little C, who will only be 6 months old when J turns 2. We're still on the fence and we're thinking of keeping TV out of the equation until Little C is old enough for TV, but no firm decisions on that just yet. In making this decision, we had to ask ourselves, do we regret not training our kid to sit in front of the TV?

You see, J was an observant baby and we saw that from the moment he was born. At barely 2 days old, he was attuned and alert when it comes to his surroundings and at 17 months, he's become very adept at gauging the moods of the people around him. He imitates adult behavior, loves taking things apart and learning how to put them back together. He's always fascinated when you show him how to do something, and he'll sit still for long period of time to try and master a new skill (such as taking the battery cover off on the remote control and putting it back on). He likes watching Daddy tinker away and repair things, especially his broken toys. Although he doesn't really talk yet, he's learned to sign important words, like "yes", "no", "drink", "thank you", "sorry", "open", and "out" to let us know what he needs and he understands most of the things we say to him. My MIL credits it to his being forced to observe people and entertain himself with the things around him instead of being stuck in front of a TV whiling the day away, and while I don't really know how much of this is due to his being restricted from TV, Big C and I both feel that a lot of the things he knows right now, he learned from observing his surroundings, and we're glad he doesn't spend the majority of his day glued to the electronic babysitter.

So, to TV or not to TV? In the end though, the decision is yours. I still think that the issue of TV, just like issues such as breastfeeding, co-sleeping and attachment parenting are very personal and each family will make the decision that works best for them. In the meantime, here are some links to articles about watching TV at an early age that you can go through:

The Real Reason Why TV is Bad for the Kids
AAP on TV Viewing Time
AAP: Babies and Toddler Should Learn From Play, Not Screens
AAP: Some Children's TV Shows are Bad for their Brains
Watching TV is 'Bad for Children'
The Heart Attack Risk Facing Young Couch Potatoes
Too Much TV can be Bad Nanny for our Kids

I hope you enjoyed the long weekend, mommies!


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