operation: television heist

Kinda rare that I'm ever hardcore, gung-ho about any of the controversial child-raising subjects. I was dead set on breastfeeding, but beyond that, I'm flexible and open to whatever works for us.

Warnings that TV is bad for children are shot at mothers from every direction. I considered this one good ole' common sense. No TV. Got it.

Then I met my newborn. He cried day and night. On and on. He paused to nurse; then picked up the shrieks where he left off. He paused to nap, woke up, realized there was silence and remembered that was because he was supposed to be crying.

Matt and I didn't go in public for months. We were both on edge and at each other's throats. There was no cleaning. No picking up strewn mess. No cooking. Only frustrated attempts to calm the crying.

Carter hit 9 months and suddenly, the television came into focus and offered him a still, silent comfort. Did I let him watch it?

You bet your buttpaste I did.

I reveled in the miraculous workings of the TV, small DVD players and a programmed DVR flashing the chaos that comprises Yo Gabba Gabba and the soothing voice of Steve plodding around looking for Blue's Clues. The older he's gotten, the more permanent residents Brobi, Muno & their friends have become in our house. If you want to send them Christmas cards, you'll need our address.

A happy Carter was all I'd ever wanted. And what? That happiness comes engraved in a silver lining of sanity? Yes, please.

Nine months of crying behind us; life resumed a sort of order. Order? What's that? I didn't even know what to do with myself. I blogged frequently. Tweeted even more. I cleaned. Did laundry. Sat with him and watched, restarting the same show 10 times in a row; occasionally refilling his milk cup and container of Cheerios.

I consider myself sensible and down to earth. I thought moms who annexed TV completely were extreme. I was living for so long just praying for calmness, and I hadn't really considered the whys of TV deficiency. Possibly naive? Yeah. But I'd been a little too consumed with a colicky baby to do internet research.

For the past two or so months, Carter's gotten unhealthily obsessed with his two favorite shows. As soon as he wakes up - and I mean before we can get through a morning diaper change - he asks to watch gabbagabbagabba-gaaaah and has a tantrum if the remote's not in my hand within twenty seconds.

I don't know when it exactly happened, but we'd come to the point where staying home to raise a baby had mutated into just trying to make it through the day.

He never, ever played with a single toy. Didn't open a book. Didn't want to eat. Unless his show was on, his personality was overall angry, violent and uncooperative. And forget talking to him, I couldn't even capture his attention. There was no way he was learning language. I'd been shrugging this off as his personality; he was born a challenge, so it just made sense that he'd be a difficult toddler, too. But hey, he seemed content, which was the closest we'd ever gotten to normalcy. The shows were singing him songs and telling him to be nice to others; there couldn't be anything wrong with what he was watching.


Until one day it clicked - this nice, much-needed break is making my son fall behind. Way behind.

I started reading articles, and found one that hit me. Hard. A few summary points?

♥ Babies/toddlers who watch a lot of TV during their early years are at risk for:
*poor social development
*decreased enthusiasm for learning
*aggressive behavior
*becoming passive & losing natural creativity
*general unhappiness
*difficulty keeping themselves busy

Babies have a very literal view of the world and interpret what they see on TV as true life. Research finds that young children believe TV characters actually live inside the TV set, which can later confuse understanding of the world and make it appear more frightening and unstable.

Babies under the age of 2 see TV as a confusing array of colors and noises without understanding much content. Their brains aren't quick enough to translate each 5 to 8 second scene.

Children have unparalleled physical, mental & emotional growth during their first years of life. Time used to watch TV is time taken away from healthful activities that nurture growth and development.

Last week I conceded to completely rob Carter of his TV lifestyle - cold turkey. He woke up, requested his morning matinee, and I told him no. He persisted with little pleases which evolved into tear-filled sobs. I offered him a ball that I doubt he even knew he had.

We expanded the playtime throughout the entire morning and into the afternoon. He'd pause intermittently to suggest his TV; I'd gently tell him no and propose a new toy. He was being nice to me. He was laughing at my faces and responding to my questions. He was interested in what things were and how they worked. He was patient and quiet while I got things for him. I didn't even know I had this kind of child.

We've gone six days straight without any TV, and I can see an incredible difference in Carter. He seems smarter; he pulls words and instructions right out of the air, commits them to memory and attempts repetition. He's constantly carrying around some sort of book so he can pause exploring to plop down and pretend to read out loud.

It's not that I'm writing this to tell you to turn off your TV. Except that really, I am.

Enjoy your baby. Utilize Grandparents. Take your breaks when you sleep.

I wrote this and left myself almost completely unedited. A lot went through my mind before I decided to publish an incredibly flaw-filled account of the way I'd been raising Carter; it's not easy to own up to a community of thousands of beautiful, baby-loving, internet mothers - especially when there are so many top-notch, sugar coated blogs worth reading. But I'm publishing my story anyway because I consider myself an average mother on the brink of learning to be excellent. I know if just one of you can read this, relate to it and make a change, it will have been worth posting.

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  1. I have always been told tv is bad for them too but never thought to ask why and would have most likely gone the same route! Your honesty is why your blog is one of my favorites! I so appriciate that you blog about what life as a mom is really like! We aren't perfect and we make mistakes but learning with our babies is what it's all about! Thanks for this post!

  2. thank you! i often keep the tv on in the background as it captures my 10 month old daughter's attention and often can keep her from a freakout while i do something (like shower). i think i'm going to be MUCH more careful after reading this. and you are a FANTASTIC mother, NOT average. the fact that you realized this, did something about it asap and owned up to it is something in itself. thank you so much for sharing your journey.

  3. Love your honesty. Thank you for sharing! Television is such a tough subject for me. I have been doing the no tv thing, but more recently, while babysitting my 3-year-old niece, I have been using it more frequently (with lots of guilt!). Thanks for the wake-up call!

  4. Good for you for turning off the TV! My husband and I are very strict about TV watching. Our relatives constantly mocked our decision to restrict TV from our daughter. But it works. She just turned 2 and loves books and playing and is super social. It's SO easy just to plop them in front of the TV. but it's so much better to stay strong and find other ways for them to entertain themselves. I commend your decision!

  5. I had read that children under 2 should not watch more than 30 minutes of TV. I try to follow that. I feel blessed that my child generally begs to go outside, and when I really need 10 minutes to get dinner started, old episodes of oswald and sesame street give me just enough time to get dinner on its way. I commend you for your cold turkey efforts.

  6. really enjoyed this post...thanks for your unedited raw truth...its refreshing...especially to us moms who question ourselves regarding parenting every minute :)

  7. This is exactly why I love your blog! You give information and what worked for you without making us mommas who DO use the tv sometimes feel like horrible parents. All this information has really made me stop and think. My 2 year old has gotten pretty bad recently and I'm thinking cutting it off cold turkey might be best for him! Thanks for sharing your story.

  8. i really appreciate your honesty! my baby girl is still only 7 months and so I love reading about toddlers so that I know what to expect. Thank you for this post! You are a beautiful mother to a beautiful little boy! (ps I LOVE those ears of his! too cute! )

  9. Thanks for this post. Strangely, my son is only interested in the T.V. if either an advert with lots of music comes on, or I put childrens programmes on. If it's just playing the news in the background or something, he doesn't pay attention and reads his books instead. But once those childrens characters appear on screen, he can sit absorbed for a good 10 minutes or more without moving which is concerning...it's like watching a cute zombie staring at the screen!
    I try to limit his viewing time to the bedtime hour at 6pm, but we haven't had the television on at all today which is rare for us. Strangely, the decision was made before I read your post! I'm a little spooked by that actually!

  10. Haha how funny, this is whats going on with my daughter right now to!
    We used to have the TV on all day in the background but like 2 weeks ago she got MAD when I turned it off.
    I think its mostly her age (2) but it still bothered me so I started making sure I turned it off at different times through out the day.
    I dont think Ill ever say NO TV at all, but I am glad its finally getting warmer here so we wont be inside the house as often.
    Congrats on the 6 days!

  11. It's so nice to read a blog that isn't, as you say, sugar coated. We all make mistakes as moms, but not all of us share our mistakes with each other.
    Hence no one learns from them! Good luck!

  12. good for you! love your vulnerablity - more bloggers should take note ;) xo g&o

  13. Hi,
    What a great post! Your honesty is commending, you are not alone and I am sure many parents will read this and feel its about them. I have friends whose children own ipods and nintendo ds,and the children are 4. We are the only family out of our social circle who do not own play stations,x-box and the sorts. Personally I could find other ways to spend that sort of money! Love your blog and your parenting!

  14. Thank you for posting this. These day Harper does want to watch TV more than he use to, I'll fit that now before he gets to into it.

  15. Good for you Meghan! I hope that I would have the guts and patience to do the same thing when we are blessed with a child. Good luck and you are an excellent mom!

  16. thank you for this great post Meghan. just recently I started letting Lily watch tv (mostly when she is having lunch) but you know what? tomorrow? NO tv!

  17. wow! this really made me stop and think. mainly because my 12 week old colicky daughter LOVES that friendly purple dinosaur. pop her in the swing in front of the tube and I can shower, clean, and do laundry. she only watches 1 show a day, but I could see my future baby watching more as she develops a longer attention span. hmmm. think my hubby needs to read this blog. good job on making us stop and think :)

  18. Thanks for this post. I've started letting my year-old watch TV when I need a break from her whining or to get something done. It's sort of astonishing/frightening how she turns into a complete zombie when I turn the TV on. But I don't want to do a single thing to hamper her creativity, which is what made my own childhood so special to me.

    Your honesty is appreciated certainly and it sounds like you definitely are making a difference to other kids, as you intended. Cheers!

  19. @Etosia (e-tasha) i never bothered asking why either - i've done that with lots of things, actually. i assumed it was bc of obesity and didn't consider that a problem bc carter's always been underweight anyway ...

  20. @Melissa thanks melissa! i would use tv as a little background noise too, just hoping he would start watching it & stop crying. it got on my nerves listening to it though, i like silence better :)

  21. @Meg Smith i agree, it definitely feels guilty but is also such a relief. xox

  22. @Christy thanks christy! it is tough to stand by your beliefs with other ppl questioning if you're head's on straight - i feel that way a lot
    i'm hoping our change will spark social skills in carter, just like your daughter's :)

  23. @JKL thanks jenney! we had to go cold turkey to break the addiction, i may use it in moderation (like one show a day) later when i think he can learn that we're not doing an 8 hour day of tv anymore

  24. @Kammy'sMama thanks! i think we all take short cuts, it's just not really a fun thing to admit to :)

  25. @Jessica that's exactly what i was trying to do - i didn't want to sound preachy or like i know better than anyone, because really I don't. i'm just figuring things out & want to share & possibly help, too

  26. @Glitterbug carter only seems to pay attention to 2 shows in particular & doesn't like adult programming at all, just like your son! so that's a plus
    getting rid of tv right before reading this is a funny coincidence!

  27. @Lindsay thanks Lindsay! it's crazy how upset they get when you turn it off!

  28. @Gillian@BuildingBumps thanks gillian! it's easy to make yourself look perfect on the internet ... it's hard to admit you kinda suck! haha

  29. @bruce.catto we hand carter our iphones all the time, it's just such a relief to hand him things that make him happy, i can tell it's going to be tough work limiting video game systems and things like that as he gets older. good for you for staying electronic free! i want to do the same.

  30. @Mommy S happy to help! colic is tough, i don't think tv will cause too much harm, i wished anything would help carter at your daughter's age. but it's good to be aware that habits will start later, & plan an age to start limiting tv so she can develop lots of creativity :)

  31. @Ellen Mallernee Barnes thanks ellen! i think about my creativity too ... i wasn't allowed to watch tv monday - friday when i was growing up, only on weekends, and i think it helped my mind a lot (even though i was older at the time)

  32. Meghann I think ur doing a great thing. It's fir the best. Jacob loves to watch cartoons alot and it helps me to get things done like cleaning, showering, dishes, dinner or excercising ect. So I'm thinking about cutting down tv time for Jacob and even my 7 yr old as well. But any tips as to hw I can find time to get things done and have Jacob distracted without using tv? It takes me 3 hours to clean and usually I let Jacob watch cartoons.

  33. This is so great, Meghann. I love that you dug into the research literature - that's totally something I would do. In fact, have done. Do you know there's actual empirical evidence that (only) Sesame Street and Blue's Clues can have beneficial effects for learning (letters/numeracy for SS and problem solving/critical thinking for BC)? So that's what I let them watch during the few times that I do. You're so brave to post this the way you did. Thank you!!

  34. @Katie thanks katie! I'm glad you mentioned blue's clues and sesame street! Did you know Blue's Clues is actually inspired purposely by Sesame Street? And I did notice these 2 shows are much calmer and easier to follow. I didn't really think Carter would ever learn anything from them, but we watched an episode of BC with an elephant in it, and he now knows how to make an elephant noise, which I never taught him ...

  35. Your honesty is much-needed...too many of these blogs are just cute pictures without pause to mention the difficulties we all face.

    I too have a challenging child (his energy and emotions are boundless), and have used Nick Jr. to occupy him in order to get some stuff done. I too can see a difference in him when he doesn't watch tv and have made a commitment to limit it as much as possible.

    We do what we think is best, until we know better.

  36. @Theresa DiPinto we do what we think is best, until we know better -- I LOVE IT

  37. Hi meghan !!I am from Germany and have been watching you on youtube and then reading your blogs for the last two years. I really love your honesty and individuality as well. My daughter was born just two months after Carter.
    My daughter watched no TV until the age of two. Then now i let her watch twice a week, very irregularly. This way she never gets addicted to it but she learns a few things from it and i get some time for myself :). Each time she watchs, it won´t be for more than two hours. And that is it. She asks for TV now and then but then i just smile at her and say,tomorrow. And she says ok. One thing she hates is a sharp no. She can now spend a lot of time on her own: drawing and building. I am not perfect mother but i found this really ok. Twice a week, a time just for yourself and some TV for her is fair for everyone.
    I don´t believe in stressing too much to be a perfect mother. I want to be a happy mother for her. Who likes to be with unhappy person??
    Greetings from Germany