My husband and I have gone to great lengths to keep Miss E’s screen time to an absolute minimum, and while there have been a very few exceptions – we tried and failed to distract her with The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh on a long flight, and she snuffled her way through a few classic episodes of Sesame Street when she was sick with a debilitating fever – mostly, neither television nor tablet PCs of any kind are among her regular entertainments. She’ll take a puzzle over PBS any day.
But her second birthday is right around the corner, and the dreaded influence of children’s programming feels inevitable. And yet, just because it’s slightly more “okay” after her second birthday doesn’t mean I feel okay about it. It’s not like her dad and I don’t enjoy watching television or movies, or that we don’t have fond memories of enjoying them as children, too. I dressed as Punky Brewster for Halloween three years in a row.
I remember friends and family joking before Miss E was born that before too long we’d be stuck marathoning Care Bears or Curious George, and my feeling now is the same as it was then: why? I don’t remember my parents slavishly attending to my whims when it came to the remote control. My brother and I got to watch cartoons on Saturday mornings and very occasionally an episode of Duck Tales after school. We spent a whole lot more time reading, pretending, coloring, and playing outside, and I don’t see any reason why Miss E’s childhood can’t look like that.
I am also all too aware of how aggressively children are marketed to, and that’s something my parents never had to contend with, and I’m in no hurry to. Commercials during children’s programming, and often the programs themselves, are notoriously rich not only with cultural messages I’d rather avoid, but consumer ones, too. While I can’t – and don’t intend to – shelter my daughter from the world she’s going to inherit, I do think it’s my responsibility as a parent to mediate her exposure, and more importantly, talk with her about what she sees and hears. And if she’s going to watch, why not the good stuff, and in moderation? I want her first princess to be Princess Leia. Give me Miyazaki over Disney any day. And if we’re going to watch Nick, Jr., can we skip Dora and opt for DJ Lance Rock and Weezer, instead?
Ultimately, we haven’t needed television, and it’s my hope that in the coming years we won’t suddenly start needing it. It was a treat for me growing up, and I’m going to try my best to see that it’s the same for my children, too.