Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What TV Is Teaching My Kid

It seems like TV is this shameful topic of discussion amongst parents. Have you ever found yourself in a conversation with another mother and sheepishly mentioned how you let your child watch TV until you determined their side of the fence? I have. Most adults in the world of children (parents, grandparents, educators, etc.) have very strong opinions about children and television -- either they're all about it (bring on the movies!), they don't let their children watch at all (just say no to drugs ... and TV), or a combination of both. To each their own, I suppose.

Andi and I are somewhere in the middle ... probably skewing on the side of more television exposure than less. For us, screen time started around 8 or 9 months with Tory as a way to occupy a fussy child on long car rides to the lake cabin. We are both in agreement that some TV time is fine -- everything in moderation. It's easy to dream of a life with no TV, thinking every moment of a child's life will be spent painting and crafting or doing educational activities together. In reality, that's just not the case, in our household at least. For us, TV usage is heavier in the winter months / lighter in the summer months. If we can be outside playing and exploring, we are. When it's freezing and we've exhausted all the Pinterest-y ideas beyond measure, TV saves our sanity. And frankly, Andi and I both like to watch TV ourselves so it's on in our house at various points in the day.

Anyway, a few comments Tory made recently about children's television shows made me realize: TV is teaching my child in good, helpful ways.

For instance:

In the last six months, I've had a heck of a time getting Tory to brush her teeth. She fought me tooth and nail to brush and I'd tried everything I could think of to make her cooperate. Not a happy experience for either of us. Finally, I sort of threw in the towel - isn't that horrible?  - and only brushed Tory's teeth when she'd let me without a fight. I bought some kids mouthwash and usually could convince her to at least swish her mouth if nothing else.

Then, one day we were watching a Doc McStuffins episode about a dinosaur named Bronty who had stinky breath. Suddenly, a lightbulb went off in Tory's head and she finally understood why brushing teeth was so important. The next day I said, "We need to brush your teeth because you don't want to have Bronty breath!" and ever since brushing teeth hasn't been an issue. Seriously! All it took was Doc McStuffins telling her the importance of dental hygiene. She even called me out on my own "dragon breath" one morning and need for brushing. Thanks, kid.

A similar thing happened with naps. It's no secret Tory is a crappy sleeper (always has been) and naps were such a challenging time of day. She'd whine and fuss the minute I mentioned the word "nap" and sometimes it'd take me 60-90 minutes to get her to go to sleep. We watched an episode of Doc McStuffins where a race car has to recharge its batteries so it can play again and since seeing that show all I have to say is, "We need to take a rest so you can recharge your batteries!" Works like a charm. Now when Tory wakes up in the morning she says, "I have energy!"

When I buckle Tory into her car seat she often says, "Seat belts, so we can be safe!" -- just like Dora the Explorer says on many of her episodes. We'll be driving in the car somewhere and Tory will randomly ask, "Mom? Are you safe?" She wants to make sure I'm wearing my seatbelt, too.

Speaking of Dora the Explorer -- it's easily one of the most annoying cartoons on cable, but Tory can't get enough of it. I'd probably put the cabosh on it except she actually learns things from the show. Tory can count from 1-10 in Spanish. She knows basic colors in Spanish, as well as "up," "down," "open," "closed," "long" and "short," "hello" ... and I'm sure other words I don't realize. Heck, even I'm learning Spanish words from Dora.

The other day, Tory was watching an episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse over breakfast and Mickey identified a crescent shape. I overheard Tory say under her breath, "Pretty sure it's a moon." #smartass

We are very selective on the programming we allow Tory to watch -- not just anything goes. Fan favorites around here are Doc, Dora, Sheriff Callie's Wild West, Mickey Mouse and Peppa Pig. Pretty harmless. I don't worry about television squashing Tory's imagination because as I said, everything in moderation. She still gets plenty of time playing with toys, reading books and being outdoors.


  1. It's so nice to hear this. We love those same shows and they DO learn from them. There should be no shame in TV watching as long as it is in moderation and not used for a constant babysitter.
    Normally I can't take my eyes off of my two year old for a second, but the second I put Dora on TV she is in a TV coma and I can take a quick shower or get things done around the house. I also use TV and books for quiet time before naps and bed time. Otherwise all they want to do is play and then they have a hard time staying in bed.
    Agree with you 100%.

  2. I'm on the same page as you - quality shows in moderation is just fine. My kids usually watch a show in the morning when they first wake up and then at some point during the day they will watch another one, sometimes. I find that it's good for when they need a "reset" of sorts. A little downtime when it isn't quite nap or bedtime yet.
    I will say that I found the girls watching more tv than I was comfortable with when Walker was a newborn - but at the time, I was just doing what I needed to in order to survive. And survive we did, and scaling back on tv was no big deal.
    And I think watching a movie is awesome! I love when they get excited for a "movie night"! No shame about screen time here ;)

    1. Miss A didn't really start watching TV at home until Little J was born, and then there was more than I would have liked. I'm sure the same will happen when Baby #3 arrives, but I'm happy to hear it wasn't a big deal to scale back again.

  3. No shame in TV time here, either! Charley loves Doc and Mickey, and random Play Doh videos on Youtube. Lol. It's a good tool for winding down or just taking a rest and I don't mind it at all. I hate the screen-time shaming.

  4. I'm kind of on the page of whatever equals survival! I had the goal of no tv untl 2, but that kind of went out the window recently. But, for the most part she doesn't like tv anyway. But, she will watch Frozen and if I put that in I can make dinner! I find it to be a fine trade.

    I love love love the "Pretty sure it's a moon" comment. oh man, that is priceless.

  5. I think some of the kids shows are pretty good. Try Daniel tiger, it has lots of good lessons.

  6. I think people just like to judge - it makes them feel better about their parenting. In short, they're jerks.

    We go back and forth on tv. My kids don't really like the great shows anymore, so rather than sit through two dozen episodes of Spongbob (banned in my house although they watch it elsewhere, only banned because I can't stand it), we just watch less tv. There is no judgment here about kids watching tv though - we generally do one show a night because it's their way of winding down (still crap though, Spencer is working his way through The Amazing Spiderman on his days to pick and I don't even know what Henry watches because it changes so much), Friday night is movie night and Saturday on the drive to Disney they get another movie.

    I feel like as long as TV isn't ALL they do, whatever.

  7. I think we're pretty similar on TV at our house too... trying to keep it in moderation. I know we end up watching more TV in the winter, while there are days now that it's nice when we may not watch any. Not because we're taking a stance against it, but because we can actually be outside!

    My older daughter has always been a little more timid about trying new things. Last summer Sofia the First was her very favorite, and there's an episode about Sofia's Buttercups troupe, and how she wants to do things herself. We went to Duluth after watching the episode a few times, and Miss A was way more willing to try new things. She was climbing on rocks (with us there) and tried a few rides that even made me nervous. It was really great! We're also big Doc fans, and I love the positive lessons both girls get from Doc. I think it has made them less nervous about doctor visits in general (and we're at the doctor a lot right now for my prenatal check ups).