Monday, June 28, 2010


I would like to discuss the idea that mothers with small children "need" television in order to get things done. How can you prepare dinner without a TV? Don't you need sponge Bob to vacuum the carpets? I answer with a resounding, "NO!"

In fact, I think this idea is more harmful than the actual time spent watching television. When you place a child in front of the TV, because you need to get stuff done, you are depriving a child from learning how to entertain herself. Learning how to play is a process; it takes time. Every year a child can sustain independent play a little bit longer.

Obviously a one or two year old is not going to be able to amuse themselves alone for two hours while you clean the house from top to bottom or while you work from home on your computer. But as they age, children learn more and more ways to have fun and play. But they need time to develop that skill. And it is a skill. Time to be bored. Time to be a little frustrated.

Children get frustrated, because they are so used to having our undivided attention. Jean Leidoff the author of the book The Continuum Concept explains this (modern) phenomenon :

What, then, is causing this unhappiness? What have we misunderstood about our human nature? And what can we do to approach the harmony the Yequana enjoy with their children?

It appears that many parents of toddlers, in their anxiety to be neither negligent nor disrespectful, have gone overboard in what may seem to be the other direction. Like the thankless martyrs of the in-arms stage, they have become centered upon their children instead of being occupied by adult activities that the children can watch, follow, imitate, and assist in as is their natural tendency. In other words, because a toddler wants to learn what his people do, he expects to be able to center his attention on an adult who is centered on her own business. An adult who stops whatever she is doing and tries to ascertain what her child wants her to do is short-circuiting this expectation. Just as significantly, she appears to the tot not to know how to behave, to be lacking in confidence and, even more alarmingly, looking for guidance from him, a two or three year old who is relying on her to be calm, competent, and sure of herself.

So on the one hand we have much parental attention, and on the other hand, we want to do other things besides make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and dig holes in the sand. Enter the television. It seems like the answer to all our problems, but what it is really doing is compounding the problem.

The problem was children that can't entertain themselves, the solution: turn on the tv. New problem: these kids that can't entertain themselves are getting older, but they are not getting any better at playing than a two year old (in fact, my 2 year old generally was better at playing than the school-aged kids that I babysat for).

If you use TV to replace your attention, you are teaching your child that they are not capable of entertaining themselves, that they need some outside force (parent, teacher, television, movie, video game) to amuse them. And that is how you end of with 6,7,8 year-olds that don't know how to play independently of adults, who can only be entertained by television and video games.

I'm not suggesting that you throw out your TV (good idea though). What I'm saying is we have to be aware of the underlying message implied by our actions (to say nothing of leaving our children to soak up the messages of a consumerist culture all alone-come on, I'm only half kidding).

TV hasn't been around for that long. Lately, when I find myself drawn toward the television (I've been staying at my parent's TV in the van:)), I ask myself what would I do if TV weren't an option. It is always something more interesting, creative, productive, or social. I think the reason I never got into the trap of sitting my son in front of the TV is because I never saw TV as an option. I grew up without a television, and so it never entered my consciousness as a child-rearing tool. What would you do without a TV? What would your children do?

If anyone has any good tips for getting things done with children without a TV, post them here. That is going to be my next blog post. Thanks!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Home and Play

Right now, I'm staying at my parent's house a little while, restocking toys, visiting with my beloved family, discussing politics with my brothers, cashing in on a Nana deprived of her grandson for a few months. There is just something about home.

I grew up on 18 acres, mixed woods and field (weeds, scrubby trees) and lawn, one pond, one damned up little river to make another big pond. It's just heaven to me. Outdoors it is so beautiful. Inside there can be trouble and drama, but outside, I could always escape to wander around for hours by myself. In my head, I herded cattle for hundreds of miles with a willow branch whip. I created whole other worlds to live in. And when I felt the need for company, all I had to do was go inside.

Inside, my brothers could usually be persuaded to play with legos or clay. Each of which was a full scale production in creating miniature worlds. Out of our gray clay, highlighted with whatever colors were still un-homogenized, we fashioned houses, cars, people, money, food, guns, televisions, radios, computers, couches, bridges (to my little brothers high chair island), and whatever else we could think of. When we play legos, each of us would have an island on the carpet housing our personal legos. Each island was it's own country, complete with fortifications (cannons, patrolling gun boats, etc.), and each play time almost always ended in full scale world war, which usually ended with us all mad at each other, because really, you can't tell who got shot (if anyone) by a tiny plastic gun.

Then there was my room. As the only girl (out of six kids), I always had my own room, after my younger brothers were out of their cribs. My favorite things to play with were legos, barbies, marbles, and a mixture of small plastic and rubber animals. When Caleb, my son, found my marbles last year, I could still remember each marble's (they were people) individual or group identity. There were a few different scenarios for the marbles. In one (my favorite), they were a country, and they had to other throw a wicked king, and all the intrigue and plotting that goes into that. In another, they were in school or camp, and the marble run was a waterslide, and there were intricate social structures that went into that one.

Barbies and legos were my favorite though. Legos had more building potential. You could have more of a scene. Barbies, though, you could dress up. I was heavily into making clothes for them. Gymnastics were a big theme for barbies. I was (still am, for that matter) enamored with gymnasts. With the Barbies and the legos, each character had their own personality. They all had names, and these things never changed. Alec, the former pirate, amazing jockey, (modeled loosely after Alec from the Black Stallion book) was always Alec, and he always loved Christy, another jockey, a tomboy with freckles and red hair. The lego setting was a horse ranch. I had stables, bunkhouses, a mess hall, private rooms for the owner and his family. And the best thing about legos was that I could constantly redesign these things.

I loved playing. I had so much power to amuse myself. We didn't have a TV. My childhood, in regards to play, was amazing.