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.
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 house...no 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!