Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Cult of High Ideals

Every parent is an idealist. I think that it takes a certain amount of idealism and, dare I say, optimism to even attempt parenting. You start out in faith, believing that you can have a baby and raise a child and that it will go well. You believe that the odds are in your favor, at the very least. You look around you and see that all sorts of people raise children and have varying amounts of success and believing the best, you begin.

After beginning, you get smacked in the face with a big case of Pragmatism. I have found that Reality, harsh mistress that she is, carries it in her handbag and freely beats new parents about the head with it. You thought parenting would be difficult certainly, but your baby would never have a pacifier. YOUR baby would know nothing but the close, breastfed warmth of a mother's touch. Fast forward to ScreamWatch 2003 when you've sat in sore nipple misery as Colicky Baby #1 decides that nothing will soothe like some recreational sucking. You find yourself wondering how late Target is open and whether you can get there in time if you ignore traffic lights.

Similarly, you firmly believe that your infant would NEVER partake of anything other than homemade, organic baby food puree. Yeah. . . so you see where this is going. And for the most part I have made peace with the compromises I've made during the course of raising these two babies (as far as we've come, at least). Sure, my son clocked some serious pacifier time with his high need to do something, ANYTHING with his mouth--this really hasn't changed, talker that he is--and my daughter never saw a Nuk until I weaned her. I'm ok with that. Many things haven't turned out the way I've expected. Many, many things have been better.

But one thing that I've had a hard time coming to terms with is "Screen Time". We don't have a television, per se. We have a computer set up in the living room that we use to watch movies on. And, theoretically, I can accept a little video time every day for Thomas. He started watching some videos when he turned two and Anna was born. Mostly he watched the same three or four Thomas the Tank Engine movies again and again. He watched about an hour a day, sometimes an hour and a half if I was feeling overwhelmed. For the last 12-18 months, I've scaled it back to a half hour to an hour a day. I've tried to be very selective about the shows he watches. I pick shows that move slowly, tell a story, etc. He watched Mr Rogers for a while, Blue's Clues, and some podcasts about animals and home improvement. The three movies he's seen have been Mary Poppins, Cars, and PollyAnna. Lately we've started watching a video series called Signing Time. Anna has been watching with him.

It's been great, really. Both of the kids have been so excited about learning the different signs. I almost don't even feel bad about letting them watch. But I keep having this nagging, guilty feeling whenever I see them watching a video. It has more to do with my ideals than with what I actually think is appropriate. I worry that letting Thomas play with Google Earth or watch Blue's Clues is going to turn him into a drooling imbecile. I worry that they are going to loose all intellectual curiosity and that they will never learn to enjoy The Magic Flute. I'm afraid that they will grow up to spend their lives on their couches (or mine!) watching hours of daytime television with no end in sight. I feel comfortable with what I'm letting them watch and I almost feel ok about the amount of time they spend in front of a screen. But there's a part of me that wonders if there might be a better way for them to spend their time, even if it's just eating dried Play-dough under the kitchen table.

What do you do with your kids, and why?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am definitely not opposed to some tv... and for my younger one, I really, really want it to be educational. Our personal favorite right now is Superwhy. It is a PBS show, but you can also download them free from itunes (I think they are under the podcast category).

she learns letters, and their sounds, and has the potential to start to pick up on reading skills. It astounds me how many letters she recognizes and knows the sounds for from watching this show.

I am experiencing conflict (my internal conflict, not WITH him) over what my older child should watch. He is definitely beyond blues clues, etc. He watches a lot of documentaries (walking with dinosaurs, for example and lots of animal planet shows) but also wants to be watching shows with plots, like the other kids his age watch. We are still dealing with this and figuring out how to go forward.