Thursday, October 27, 2011

Screen time

B.A. was not pleased. The girls were off to gan and I was davening. Usually, he plays by himself quietly or eats breakfast while I pray, but today he wanted my attention. He planted himself between me and the meditational print that I use to focus my intention in prayer. He turned his anguished face up to me and howled, “Ima nooooooo, stop daveniiiiiiiiing!.”

At least he’s honest about his motives.

He grabbed my skirt in fistfuls and tugged until he heard threads rip. He stomped around the apartment, raging and sobbing. This is a common scene in our house. B.A. and A.N. have, let’s say, heightened emotional responses. And Y.B. is an epic sulker. I’ve got a high threshold for pint-sized drama.

But it was difficult for me to concentrate. I thought, “Maybe I should start letting this kid watch videos.”

* * *

When I was five, my dad told me that my friend’s family didn’t watch television because “her parents don’t believe at it.” I squinted at our own television set. The tooth fairy and unicorns were one thing, but television? Television pretty clearly exists, right?

 My husband and I don’t own a television, and we don’t put on videos for the kids. One of my favorite bloggers observed that the people who are the most smug about not owning a television are often secretly addicted to streaming sites like Hulu. I hope I am not ever smug about my choices, but I certainly do like watching, well, anything. I try to approach visual entertainment the way I contend with most of the broader culture—I take in what’s joyful and ennobling and provocative and instructive, and I filter out the rest.

My kids watch some things with me on Youtube—viral holiday videos, concert footage of musicians we like, animated videos of shmaltzy Israeli nursery songs, montages of baby animals cavorting. It’s a family pastime. But so far, I have not adopted the practice of turning on a kids’ video and leaving them to watch it.

* * *

Back to B.A.’s tantrum. I kept trying to pray and contemplate, and he kept raging. Finally, he trudged into the nursery and involved himself in play. After I finished, we read books together on the couch.

Now, I write, he is nestled next to me, making a pillow tower and chattering to his sock monkeys about trains. “Sitting with stupid,” he reports happily.

And this is why I don’t put on videos for my kids. My strategic neglect of them usually results in them creating their own solutions. I don’t want to keep them calm and entertained. I don’t want them to see me, or any other outside source, as the key to their happiness. And I want to him to know that his needs are very important, but no more so than anyone else’s. I feel like it’s hard to convey this messages if I rely on videos to smooth things over or keep them occupied.

Of course, this approach has a lot to do with the particular temperaments of my children. They don’t make much mischief. Like me, they veer from serenity to rage with little in between. They are calm, independent, and cautious. I think some of this has to do with our parenting, but I’ll never know how much.

* * *

Earlier this week, we had an exterminator come to help us with a bug problem. My husband and emptied cabinets and tried to contain the ensuing chaos. B.A. he raced around under our feet, observing the massing piles of dead bugs and admonishing them, “Mean bugs, oy to you! Ohhhh, mean bugs tired.”

I plopped him on the couch and put on a boys’ choir video he likes. There’s a time for everything.


mother in israel said...

I know people who don't own TVs, yet let their kids watch "Dudu" videos endlessly. So, yes, hypocrisy. We don't have a TV but I, of course, spend a lot of the time on the computer as do some of my kids.
Sorry about the bugs!
But I think TV is like any other bad habit (of course TV is not all bad, but too much is) as anything else. When you have something, you rely on it, whether it's eating out, TV or smartphones. You can get by without them but of you are used to using them regularly there will be an adjustment period.

Riva said...

I do think TV versus computer videos is an artificial distinction. I tend to prefer the former because I actually think it's less addictive!

But in any case, I think it's fine as a parent to cut yourself some slack, especially during trying times like exterminator visits. All us Imas/Mommys do the best we can.

sm @ the kosher spoon said...

well, i think there is a difference between not owning a TV because of the uncensored content streaming from it and not owning a tv because it promotes passivity and is a waste of time.

Most people who don't own a TV, do so because the content doesn't align with their values and lifestyle.

on the other hand videos which are controlled and predictable can be used as a positive tool (with healthy limits)

so i dont think people who don't own tvs are hypocritical for letting their kids watch dudu (even endlessly, though they are guilty of not having healthy limits).

on the other hand, people who don't own TVs but watch movies and videos on their laptop or questionable youtube videos are blatant hypocrites and sadly they are not uncommon.

having said that, I know dudu's catchy songs by heart! It certainly helps on those friday afternoons when you're slightly overwhelmed with 2 under 2 and only 2 hours until candle lighting and you know a dvd will turn them into instant zombies and 35 minutes of quiet to focus.

Chaya said...

Everyone makes good points. I don't think it's the not owning of a tv that makes one a hypocrite for consuming media in other ways, I think it's the self-righteousness. This is less common in religious communities, where not owning a tv is more the norm, and therefore not something to brag about.

Anyway, I think SM makes a good distinction. Personally, I would definitely waste more time and be less selective if we owned a tv, and I would certainly rely on it to entertain my kids.

Espresso Aroch said...


I appreciate being reminded of how important it is to not be smug. Also to set and maintain, in a happy way, healthy limits for ourselves and our kids.

No TV is definitely easier for us than having one and having dynamic decision making about it be a constant presence. We have enough of that with the computer, which is definitely easier to handle. We use ad-blocking software so have less trouble with commercials, which are one of the biggest problems on TV even if you are watching a decent show.

The "void" created by not having TV (and clear rules about computer use) has enabled us to build much closer relationships within the family and fill our days with healthier activities: playing with toys, helping each other with homework, going to the park, preparing supper together. It's more "efficient" for Ema to park the kids in front of streaming video and make supper and cleanup on her own. It's infinitely better for us to use the time to learn how to do those things together and how to enjoy that. That's alot of our life's work these years.

Chayary said...

I can see how no tv but internet\dvds can seem hypocritical, but although maybe no tv at all is a purer approach, both in terms of sheltering from values and protecting family time and allowing little brains to develop, there really is a difference.
For our family, the benefits are as follows: no\limited commercials, limited selection, an automatic choice process (you have to make a conscious decision to watch something-either search on youtube\netflix, hulu, fox, etc., or rent\borrow\buy a dvd). Less pleasant to watch than a big tv. You can have these benefits with a regular tv\dvr, I am sure, but i think just by setting up that we don't have a tv but we do allow things on the computer we set up for ourselves that we don't use media in the way that many other people do, but that we are willing to engage it on some level. There is no expectation in this house that you can plop yourself down and watch tv, and watching something on the computer is clearly a privilege and a treat. One that we may indulge in more often than we should, but nonetheless, not a given.
By the way, the reasons we do allow this stuff, is because I think there are things that are enriching and engaging and fun for both me and my kids, and I don't feel the need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, when a moderate approach works.
And also, like you said, sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do- that moment before shabbos, when they are clean, the house is clean(ish), and i am not done--I promise they will find the least productive most destructive way to play, better they should watch electric company or dora and learn something, than end up with me yelling and resentful..

From the Trenches said...

I see I am in the minority here! I am in the States and have a limited cable subscription. So the only TV my kids watch is PBS (educational television station). Or DVDs I approve.

I don't think people who let their kids watch videos online are hypocrites. But I personally disagree that they are clearly making the better choice. The truth is, any media is best digested in moderation, kids or adults.

There was an interesting article in the New York Times about a school in Silicon Valley where they davka keep the kids away from computers for most of grade school. We very rarely allow my daughter to play/watch videos on the computer at home, although I am sure she will be online more as she advances in school.

We adults have a hard time tearing ourselves away from the multiple stimuli online and I would much rather my daughter learn to engage directly with the world around her before getting immersed in the digital world.

But truly what I believe is, everything in moderation. Watch those Hulu/Youtube videos on Erev Shabbos. Nobody will be any worse off!

yehudit said...

Hi, is this Videos Anonymous?

I don't have a TV and let my kids watch Dudu endlessly. I guess that makes me a hypocrite? Well, at least I'm a happy hypocrite!!!

Chaya, I like that you attribute your decision also to the natures of your children. I have only "succumbed" due to the nature of my brood.

LIke other wise commenters said, it's about limits and boundaries: just like anything we give our kids.

great post.

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