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!
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?
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!