TV: Magic Box or Box of Trouble?

Is TV really *that* bad for kids? Come. Share your thoughts. (Who are we kidding? Like you really need an invitation.)

Editor’s note: Today’s feature is the next installment in our parenting column written by two sets of Richmonders: Jorge and Patience Salgado (veteran parents of four gorgeous children), and Ross and Valerie Catrow (total parenting rookies who have only been doing this “raising a child thing” for a few months). Check back fortnightly to watch them discuss/agree/disagree/throw down over all kinds of parenting issues, Richmond-related and beyond.

Today’s question: How do you feel about kids and TV?

The Salgados

By the time a child leaves elementary school, he or she will have seen 8,000 murders on television. My husband’s response? “Well, what kind of murders are we talking here, are we including cartoon murders?” he said.

“Ummm, I don’t know what cartoons you are watching, but, dude, even Tom and Jerry don’t actually kill each other.” This sort of humor makes parenting fun and interesting for us but seriously, this statistic is just scary. Don’t you think? 79% of people believe TV violence helps precipitate real life mayhem. So I’m wondering, who lets their kids watch all these murderous shows or even the news for that matter? Am I lost in my PBS Pollyanna life and job? Tell me RVANews readers, are your toddlers kicking back a cold one and watching any of the ten CSI shows with you?

Before I get all self-righteous and climb on the awesome parenting soap box I’ve constructed, the next statistic blows in. The average child watches between 3-5 hours of television a day. Ouch! If I’m honest, we are total bingers at our house. I mean, I could easily watch 6 hours of Kim Possible with my kids, no problem. There may have even been a few times that Jorge and I watched 10 hours of Weeds or Six Feet Under only stopping for bathroom breaks and to pay the pizza delivery guy. All of this happening while we completely ignored the children, of course.

The television has served as babysitter in moments of desperation, and by desperation I mean the need to take the Facebook quiz which will tell me who my celebrity look-a-like is. After the binge comes the purge, and so then there may be an entire summer without the magic box. This time has come for us and surprisingly, my children have actually agreed to this proposition. We did it a few years back and the first week was brutal. Once we survived a month, all kinds of lovely things started to happen. The house was cleaner, we played outside more, we wanted less stuff, it was good for everyone.

The number of minutes per week that parents spend in meaningful conversation with their kids? 3.5 This has to be the biggest motivating statistic yet. Television or no television, parents have to do better than that. We’ll leave the computer obsession for another day. Baby step, baby steps.

The Catrows

As we have an infant at this point, we can only approach this question armed with our own childhood experiences and what we plan to do with our kid when/if it becomes an issue.

Both of my parents worked, and my brother, sister, and I were the epitome of latchkey kids, left to our own devices (within reason) until 5:00 rolled around and we heard the tires of my mom’s car crunching on the driveway. Before any of us could drive, our entertainment options were left to reading, playing outside, and watching television. Which one do you think we picked? So, I grew up watching a lot of TV. A. Lot. Most of it was probably highly inappropriate for my age as well, considering my brother was almost six years older than me. Meanwhile, Ross, was definitely NOT a latchkey kid but also grew up watching tons of TV. Tons! In fact, he can’t remember not having a TV in his bedroom.

And yet, here we are. Neither one of us violent. Neither one of us is promiscuous. We like to think we’re both reasonably intelligent and socially adpet. We departed our TV-soaked childhoods unscathed and morally intact. Granted, different time, different programming, but our experiences have definitely shaped our opinions about TV when it comes to our own offspring.

Our approach to most things in life is “everything in moderation” (except when it comes to watching hours and hours of Battlestar Galactica or eating Oreos). I doubt we want our kid to watch as much TV as we did growing up, but we’re not going to limit his exposure so much that it becomes a forbidden fruit of sorts for him. I feel like the more we squawk “NO TV!!!!” at him, the more likely he’ll be to spend hours upon hours at friends’ houses staring at that glowing box with trickles of drool coming out of his mouth.

I like to think that we’ll do our best to incorporate a balance, meaning that TV time must be paired with equal or greater amounts of time spent running around outside getting dirty or staying inside reading, building forts out of pillows, and what have you. Like with anything with your kid, you need to keep yourself aware of what’s going on. If you choose to let your kid watch TV, you need to make sure you know *what* they’re watching and being exposed to. And don’t kid yourself: that goes for books, too. I used to teach upper elementary school, and you’d be surprised (shocked and maybe even appalled) at some of the scandalous things going on in the world of youth fiction. But are you going to keep your kid away from books now?

I didn’t think so.

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Patience Salgado

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