The Toddler and the Television

The Toddler and the Television

This morning I was lying in bed with my eyes closed, still awake from Anna’s goodbye as she left for work, when Tucker started to stir. And by “stir” I mean I could hear through the baby monitor that he had started that still-sleepy whine all parents come to know.

It was a little earlier than normal, so I thought I’d give him a few minutes and maybe he’d fall back to sleep and allow me to get a little bit more as well? Then the monitor went quiet, and I hoped for the best, but shortly after he started chatting.

It’s unusual for him to wake up and go so quickly to talking (I can only assume he was conversing with Pooh Bear), so I took the chance to just lay there and listen to what he was saying. I won’t recount everything, although I thought it particularly funny when I heard him say “Where Bunny? Oh… Bunny sleeeeeping.”  Adorable.

A few minutes later the actual crying and pleas of “Up? Up?” started, so I went to rescue him and we started our day.

Anyhow, what struck me though were the very first words out of his mouth that morning:

“Elmo? Where Elmo?”

Tucker doesn’t even have an Elmo toy, unless you count the smiling face on his bubble bath bottle. Elmo is merely the engaging TV star who instantly stole his heart a few weeks ago. Most parents have something of a love/hate relationship with Elmo, I know. I’ve personally never found him quite as annoying as some — in fact, I think I do a pretty great impression — but for many parents Elmo’s voice is like nails on a chalkboard. And yet, it can be hard to hate something your child loves.

But it concerned me that Tucker’s first words when he woke up were basically a plea to go watch television.

Tucker has only recently really given anything on TV more than a few minutes of his time, particularly if it’s not something he’s watching while snuggled up with my wife or I, and we are actively interacting with the show. The same went for Jeopardy! as much as it did for Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or Little Einsteins.

That all changed when Tucker fell head over heels for Elmo, and discovered the wider world of Sesame Street. There are some segments he has no patience for, but he’ll happily sit alone on the floor or couch and watch Elmo for as long as he’s on the screen.

No parent wants to be one of those “let the TV babysit” types you hear everyone tsk-tsk about, but the truth is that having your toddler sit in one place, happily distracted for half an hour, so that you can do the dishes or laundry can be a great help. And I cannot deny the fact that, since starting to watch Sesame Street, Tucker’s counting, alphabet and general vocabulary has gotten better and better. It’s not like I have him sitting there watching Adventure Time, or the latest incarnation of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, right? This is good, educational stuff!

And yet.

He doesn’t actually watch that much TV, but if I’m honest with myself, I know he already watches too much for his age, and it will only get worse. It HAS become a short-term distraction provider, more than something we do together to help him learn or be engaged. There are no fights when we tell him “No Elmo right now,” but will that last? Unlikely.

I know what the various studies say about kids who watch too much TV when they are really young, that they are at increased chance to struggle more both with both school and their health. I’ve always told myself that those numbers reflect less the actual effect of television itself and more the effect on kids of having parents who let them watch too much TV amongst other things like providing a poor diet, not encouraging exercise, or not reading together. Surely not the kind of thing we’ll be doing, so a little TV can’t hurt, right?

And yet.

Why do we always feel like we have no time to get things done around the house, but somehow manage to find time to watch the TV shows we love? Why do we, despite giving such lip-service to its importance, forgo dinner together at the table so often and instead eat sitting on the couch watching television?

Television isn’t the devil, but are we becoming “those parents”?

I just got off the phone with my wife, and we’ve made a decision.

This week we’re unplugging the TV.

I’m not going to even kid myself that we’re becoming a “no TV” household just like that. That isn’t going to happen any time soon.

But for now? We’re starting No TV Week, and we’ll see how it goes.

I’m sure there will be lots of requests for Elmo, and tonight perhaps we’ll have to sing Tucker the theme to Jeopardy! without watching the show. Sometimes I think we forget how well he adapts though. He’ll be fine.

A new season of Survivor just started though, so wish us luck!


  • I wondered about Survivor… 🙂 Good luck and way to go!


    • Luckily, TiVo has our back. It will be waiting for us. 😉

  • Commendable. Have you ever watched “No Impact Man?” One of the things they mentioned was that they got more things done without television to fall back on for entertainment, and they had better quality family time. I would love to hear how this week goes and your thoughts about it. I look forward to another blog entry detailing this! lol

    We don’t have cable, and only recently got an antenna for local channels (for football!), but Netflix is our downfall. Okay…Netflix is Brady’s downfall. Because he can sit and watch all day. I have to do other stuff, then enjoy it in the evening except for those rare days that I make the DECISION to watch it all day. For Brady, it just comes natural.


    • I’ve never seen it, but I think I might have seen him on the Daily Show or Colbert Report or something. Definitely sounds familiar.

      I am planning on writing a post about how the week goes, though I am not anticipating a great eye-opening revelation after just a week. At the moment it’s mainly making it tougher to keep Tuck occupied during the day, and giving us a little more productive time in the evening to get the house cleaned in time for Mark and Pam’s upcoming visit. 😉

  • Vivian (our daughter) usually wakes up asking for one of us, then if she’s going to work with my wife (a no tv zone), she’s fine, but the minute she figures out it’s a weekend or a stay home with dad day or she gets home from work with my wife, she goes straight into this little spiel.

    Viv – “Elmo?” Us – “No, no Elmo.” “Shrek?” “No, no Shrek” “Minnie?” “No, no Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.” “Buzz?” “No, no Toy Story” “Jessie?” “No, no Toy Story 2” “Balloons….Dog?” “No, No Up” “Homer?” “No, no Simpsons”. “Zombies?” “No, no watching Daddy play Dead Rising..”


    “Elmo?” and it’s back into it.

    We went back and forth about it, and all those no tv at all people do make you feel guilty, but we stick to a similar rule my parents have, she has to be doing SOMETHING while watching TV. building with blocks, doodling, rocking a baby doll or cuddling with us. She is learning a lot from these things and is developing a cool sense of humor around them, but when I realized she can name more tv protagonists then extended family members I got concerned 🙂


  • […] can read my ruminations that brought us to the decision here, but I thought it appropriate to give a little update on how things […]


  • […] the time he was, like most 1-year-olds, absolutely off his rocker for Elmo. So much so that we actually cut him off from television for a while. But I have to be honest, I […]


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