The Big Experiment

In an effort to simplify our life and downsize our budget, we recently embarked on the “Big Experiment” in our house:  eliminating cable.  Partly as an effort to make sure our time together with our busy schedules was truly a time of connection.  Partly because the cable around here has gotten ridiculously expensive.  And partly because, as a therapist working in a child development field, I felt I needed to at least try to “practice what I preach.”

In general, we didn’t let our daughter watch television before we axed the cable.  But the television was often on during the weekend, tuned to the latest sports game.  At night, after our daughter went to bed, my husband and I would watch a show or two.  After all, after a long day of work, when you really need to relax, some mind-numbing show can do the trick!  But the thing we’ve noticed over the past two months or so is that we don’t really need it.  During the day my daughter is playing or reading books.  And at night, my husband and I can actually talk to each other, and there is always the internet to stream our favorite show (“Parenthood”).  Every few weeks we will sit down on a Friday night for a “date night in” (yes, we are getting old, people!) and watch several episodes of Parenthood.

Personally, I have loved the change.  Yes, I have only one child, so giving her attention throughout the day isn’t as difficult as it might be for a bustling family of five or six.  And yes, I supplement my “screen time” with the internet and my iPhone, but also with books, magazines, baking, and conversation.  My husband has also taken to The Big Experiment, reading, talking, cooking, and getting more sleep.  (As it is, I will have a hard time convincing him that this change should be a permanent one come college football season in the fall.)

My professional reasons for eliminating t.v. time in my house are numerous.  I see too many children with attention difficulties who struggle to entertain themselves, instead needing stimulation to be “fed” to them.  I see children at age four who are not using language but spend five or six hours a day on the computer or in front of the television.  That’s not to say that mom and dad don’t need a break once in a while, especially with a high-needs child.  But it’s important to recognize the reasons you are putting your child in front of the t.v.   It’s a trade-off between the here-and-now babysitter so you can get dinner on the table, and improving your child’s ability and stamina to play on their own.  I want a child to be learning how to keep themselves occupied, engrossed in a toy or a book, and learning how to interact with their world in an unhurried and thoughtful way.  Here’s an excerpt from the “Simplicity Parenting”, by Kim John Payne, M.D.:

“For our littlest ones, neurodevelopmentally speaking, the “rewards” side of the television equation seems to be blank.  Since 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended that children under two years of age watch no television, and that children over two limit their viewing…Television viewing hurts the development of children under three years old and poses a certain number of risks, encouraging passivity, slow language acquisition, over-excitedness, troubles with sleep and concentration, as well as dependence on screens.”  (Side note: My daughter’s pediatrician told us the AAP has revised their recommendation this year to no television under three years of age.)

In my mind, the fact that the average American child watches 40,000 ads on t.v. per year is enough to turn off the cable show and put on a DVD, where the content is controlled.  But young children do not need screen time, and language is built by communicating with our world, not being a passive recipient.

All that being said, I’ll get off my therapist soapbox for a while.  We’ll see how the “Big Experiment” goes at our house, especially as our family grows.  And, when football season comes around, figuring out how we can set limits and manage the screen time in our house.  I’ll let you know…

How do you feel about the television’s presence in your home?  Have you found effective ways to limit your child’s viewing time?

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