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I didn't grow up watching a whole
lot of television, for reasons that were mostly circumstantial. My father was
in the Air Force, and we lived off and on in countries where I didn't really
speak the language and English-language television wasn't available.
In college I had a TV, mostly to enable me to watch VHS
tapes that I'd quaintly rent from a shop in town, but that was kind of hassle
and return fees were expensive.
During the times when I slept on futons and lived on
ramen—we'll call them my twenties—television was an incredibly low priority, both
time—and money-wise. Hence I never knew what people were talking about when
subjects like "Melrose Place" or "Friends" dominated the small talk I'd partake in.
I expected fully to be the kind of parent who never
permitted their children to watch television. I read studies showing that
toddlers who watched an excess amount of TV had a higher chance of being
overweight, bullied, inactive, poor at math, and prone to bad behavior in school with
higher rates of dropping out later.
When my first child was just a few months old, a friend gave
me his TV when he moved back to Australia. By my standards, it's size is
enormous. For the first time, I have that kind of living room where all the
furniture points to a screen, instead of a bookshelf, fire place, turntable or
just at each other.
I accepted the television for a few reasons, mainly
language development (mine and my children's—we live in the Netherlands and
watching Dutch TV is helpful for all of us—and English is good for our kids). Plus, with a newborn in the house, my husband and I were going out less, staying in
and binge-watching HBO DVDs more.
My son himself did not start watching TV until
he was nearly 3 (It wasn't ever on before he went to bed—not as a rule, just
because neither my husband nor I thought to turn it on until our son was
sleeping, and we were too tired for anything else).
At that point, I had two more kids and found that
television was indeed a handy way to keep him distracted as I put his sisters
to bed or gave them a bath. But then I discovered something else: television,
in the right amount, actually has some developmental benefits.
I'm not advocating for television to replace conversation, crafts, reading or imaginative play, but I have been surprised to become the kind of parent who feels OK with my kids watching a movie on a rainy day at home or looking forward to a "Bob the Builder" episode before bed.
I believe I was driving somewhere when my son asked me
from his carseat whether I knew why flamingos were born white and later turned
pink. I did not. "It's because they eat algae," he explained. "That's why they
He was enormously proud to have presented me with
information that, to his mind, he had acquired not from me or another adult, but all by himself. Actually, it was from watching Diego the animal rescuer. To
my son, though, it was a fact he'd picked up all on his own.
This kind of curiosity and eagerness to find and share
information feels, to me, like a pathway to learning to read rather than
something that prevents their literacy development. And I've found studies
to support that moderate amounts of TV viewing were found to be beneficial
It depends a lot on what they watch and how much. With
programs like "Dora the Explorer," my children have improved their skills on how
to explain directions in steps and how to problem solve. Plus, they now speak
a little Spanish.
From "Octonauts" they know fun facts like daddy sea
horses carry babies. When my daughter recently had her eyes tested, she was
presented with a panel of drawings of things like tea cups and keys. One
drawing—it was supposed to be the profile of a dog's head—was, to my daughter's
insistence, actually an alpaca.
I'm not advocating for television to replace
conversation, crafts, reading or imaginative play, but I have been surprised
to become the kind of parent who feels OK with my kids watching a movie
on a rainy day at home or looking forward to a "Bob the Builder" episode before
And so far, although they certainly enjoy their time
sprawled out on the couch in front of the television, they are still just as
interested in their other activities. Television is still not my
favorite pastime, but I've learned to enjoy it as a tool for learning and a means for some post-dinner downtime after a
And I have certainly learned a lot more about animals.