Yes my kids watch TV. Alert the authorities.

king arthur and morgan le fayOver the past few weeks, by some strange coincidence, I have ended up in several discussions with parents who either never watched TV as kids, or don’t allow their own children now to watch it at all.

Not “no commercial TV”–but no TV, period As in, none.

Or ahem, that they know of.

In some of the discussions it just came up over the course of conversation, but a couple of times it felt like Textbook Sanctimommy 101, especially when coupled with a gratuitous make-your-own kale chips reference. And honestly, I’m just really not used to that anymore. I suppose I’m lucky to live in a community where once your kid hits school-age, most parents could give a crap whether someone else makes chicken nuggets from scratch, co-sleeps, or stocks the pantry with organic peanut butter.

Then again, it is possible that they’re just talking about it behind my back and I’m completely oblivious.

(Actually, I do make chicken nuggets from scratch.  But you’ll pry my Skippy out of my cold, dead hands, organic peanut butter people!)I’m all for parents making their own choices for their kids. We are at least entitled to that much, provided it’s not hurting their kids or mine But what I’m not down with is a parent claiming moral superiority with the no TV thing, telling me “we’d prefer him to use his imagination instead.”

Clearly I am still learning new parenting stuff every day. Because I had no idea whatsoever that television and imagination were mutually exclusive.

Frankly, I’m tired of the stereotype that every kid who watches TV is some pathetic zombie child, neglected by uncaring parents, and left alone to learn about high-sodium Happy Meals and the side-effects of Viagra during breaks. I’m exhausted of the technophobes suggesting that every preschooler tapping on that iPad game on the subway is atrophying brain cells by the second. And God, I’m completely over the judgey accusations from so-called experts on TV who get more airtime arguing that a child engaged in screen time is squarely on the path to mediocrity and despair.

And the next thing ya know your son is playin’ for money in a pinch-back suit. Listenin’ to some big out-a-town Jasper hearin’ him tell about horse-race gamblin’ Not a wholesome trottin’ race, no, but a race where they set down right on the horse!

Are there some parents who stick a screen in front of a kid indiscriminately and without limit? Of course. But since when do we point to the lowest common denominator as examples of parenting as a whole? I mean, aside from Dr. Phil.

My experience hearing from hundreds of parents about tech and children over the last few years, is that the great majority of parents are curious, interested, and actively seeking the balance of media in a media-saturated world.

In other words (cliché alert)… all things in moderation.

I have my own TV rules of course as I’m sure you do. Bratz and Monster High are on the blacklist for sure. Thalia has begged to watch Homeland with me and I told her to ask me again when she’s 24. Also, we try to avoid the local news. Some of you make take issue with that, but I even cringe a little putting on 1010 WINS for the traffic report in the car, knowing that we’ll have to get through a lead story about babies falling out of buildings or a teenager shot by their grandmother first. I feel like there’s time later to understand the evil in the world; I don’t mind starting with fantasy evil first.

And a lot of that comes from TV and movies.

dorothy and ozma

Dorothy and Ozma, halloween 2011

samwise and frodo

 Samwise and Frodo, Halloween, 2012

After noticing my little Frodo and Sam continue their hunger for  fantasy and adventure, they fell madly, deeply in love with the TV series, Once Upon a Time.  It’s probably a little dark for some kids (I know mine, like you know yours) but it’s enchanting and fun and captivating and I really love that we can watch it together. It also gives them the opportunity to work through important if difficult themes that are  missing from most kids’ entertainment these days, films being so perfectly sanitized for our protection.

In fact, it’s jam-packed with teaching moments, opportunities for discussion, and even (gasp) creative play.

After each episode, we entered into the most wonderful Socratic conversations about all of it: Good versus evil,  free will and choice, the power of love, the cost of happy endings, and the possibility of magic in the world.

Ask my six year old to define symbolism, foreshadowing, character arc or cliffhangers and she’ll school you good. Plus, it’s awesome that every time an apple appears, they scream SYMBOLISM! in unison.

(Eh, I’m a writer. Literary devices make me all tingly inside.)

I’ve watched them bring the characters into their imaginative play in ways I could not have conceived: role playing the characters, creating sketches and plays, writing songs, drawing pictures, penning scribbly graphic novels about Red Riding Hood turning into a wolf. Just last night they created some sort of Olympic style competition with teams made up of the fairy tale characters from the show complete with score cards. Spelling not withstanding.

But man, A for Effort on “Rumpelstilskin,” right? Even autocorrect doesn’t seem to know that one.

fairy tale olympics

Once was a gateway to the British series Merlin which we found on Netflix, and it now has my girls smitten with the legend of King Arthur. They’ve asked to research Camelot on the computer, battled with pretend Excalibur swords, made paper dolls of the characters with fully functioning helmets and swords (as far as paper can be functional in medieval battle) and  one night with my parents, made us spend an entire dinner in character.

king arthur in armor

Lucky me, I was Merlin. Their Papa had it a little tougher as Uther Pendragon.

(And weren’t they shocked when he “guessed” Uther’s last name. “How did you know that?” Sage asked with wild disbelief. “Well,” he said with a smile, “I was reading about Camelot before your mother was even born.”)

Merlin in turn lead to the Princess Bride–and, hallelujah Jebus, for I have counted the hours until they were old enough to love and appreciate what is pretty much the very best movie ever created. They were so taken with it Thalia wrote out her favorite lines on index cards and made us walk around wearing them all day just because it made her laugh. She also ran around yelling, “anybody want a peanut?” for weeks.

princes bride name cards

So I guess the first question is, would they have fallen in love with fantasy, mystery and adventure from their Oz books and Harry Potter books alone? It’s entirely possible. And books still factor into our free time to a large degree.

The second question: is TV taking away from “other things” they could be doing? Sure. Of course it is.

Yet how can I deny them the special effects, the evocative costumes, the nuances of dialogue and language, and the glorious spectacle that captivated me as a child too?

I admit it: we’re a TV family. We started with “Melmo,” we tore through Dora and Super Why, we got excited about math with Team Umi Zoomi, we learned the dancey-dances from Yo Gabba Gabba, and now we’re hitting the fantasy series for older kids, with a little X Factor thrown in until they’re old enough for Glee.

Now admittedly, it’s not all quality television. I think I die a little inside every time they ask to watch My Little Pony Equestria Girls. But when Sage dresses up in crazy clothes and informs me “I’m Rarity, the fancy one, and her element of harmony is generosity!” I have to smile. I don’t entirely know what that means but learning about generosity just doesn’t sound so bad to me. Even if it is coming from a squeaky-voiced pink horse with false eyelashes.

And hey, if your fifth grader watches no TV, sleeps with handmade cornhusk dolls and play only with rocks and sticks and the occasional lichen, more power to you. I have no doubt you’ll get it into your kid’s college application form somewhere.


56 thoughts on “Yes my kids watch TV. Alert the authorities.”

  1. I have three grown “kids” who watched tv and played video games…for shame! One is a very successful veterinarian, and the two girls are both teachers, with masters degrees. All very successful, self-motivated and highly artistic. They’re going to have to show me better evidence that it’s bad before I’ll believe it. Might be bad if ALL they do is watch tv or play games, but you’re talking about general bad parenting in those situations, not the evils of tv. And I’ve seen quite a few adults, with children, too busy on their cell phones to even know if the kids are there.

    1. You make a great distinction between bad parenting and bad TV. We’re probably all guilty of both from time to time; hopefully though the good wins out more often than not.

  2. Excellent post! Thank you for putting this up. Are kids do watch a fair amount of TV, but I’ve never noticed their imagination stifled. My oldest is enamored with Greek mythology (she’s asking to red The Odyssey at 11).

    1. Wow, apparently I shouldn’t comment on blogs that early in the morning. Sorry for the errors.

  3. I love this post so much! We’re also a big TV/movie family (I work in TV and husband is a comedy writer/filmmaker) and there would be NO WAY that we’d ever raise our (future) kids without our “stories”. Another great post for the record books! 😀

  4. We’re a TV family too. I’ve never apologized for it and I never will. It’s also never been fully age appropriate. Ha. If anyone questions it, I’d show them my Amazon book receipts. Or the amount of art projects on every surface of my walls. Or introduce them to my three kids with HUGE imaginations. Each with a zillion interests, love of reading and yes, favorite TV shows.

    I’ve never been a fan of the all or nothing way of life. There is a middle ground in everything. My kids have mini iPads. I have lax rules about it the majority of the time. We watch TV and I have lax rules about that too. However my kids turn off/put down/unengaged from it better than most kids I know. Shrug. It’s always allowed, so maybe they aren’t obsessed with it? I’m unsure.

    My best friend grew up in a NO SUGAR/NO TV house ever. She’s a sugar aholic who can’t not be engrossed in the TV if it’s on. The never way of life doesn’t seem to work so well later on. Or at least that’s how I see it. I’ve met others like her. It tends to be the same thing, they can’t not eat sweets if it’s around and they can’t do something else while the TV is on. Am not saying every kids without TV will grow up and be like that, just those are the ones I’ve met.

    I have found it interesting how the judgy parents fade away once all of your kids are in elementary school. Or I just could care less what anyone thinks about me now. Hard to say.

    ps. My girls LOVE Once Upon a Time.

    1. I think there’s a great topic on what is “age appropriate.” It seems to change over the years.

      Look at the original Disney films–age appropriate? Eek. Peter Pan is rife with racism, Pinocchio is boozing and smoking, Alice’s Caterpillar is attached at the hookah, and the Snow White queen is terrifying. At least by today’s standards.

      In Once Upon a Time, the queen “takes people’s hearts” but they’re like glowing pretty glass LCD lights. Compare that with Elmer Fudd’s gun-crazy ways, and Tom and Jerry beating each other over the head and honestly, I’ll take the hearts.

  5. Thank you so much for this post. I’d put my kids’ creativity and imaginations up against anyone’s, and they watch TV. We don’t even have any particular rules about the TV. They are somewhat sheltered children, but they do it to themselves, so we don’t even have to monitor what they watch because all we have to say is “Family Guy isn’t for kids” and they switch it off on their own. I actually make them watch on occasional movie or show that has darker themes just because I worry they aren’t tough enough.

    I tend to do a lot of parenting from an “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” point of view. Until my kids prove to me they can’t handle something I let them navigate it for themselves, and most of the time they impress me. There are cultural points of reference on TV for my kids that I don’t see why they should miss out on, they watch nature programs that are highly educational, and they are fairly savvy about advertising at this point and unlikely to be taken in by overblown claims. There are days they watch more TV than I’d like, and days they never turn it on. Seems fine to me.

  6. AMEN!!! But, you know, I used to make children’s television for a living. Was even responsible for helping shape scripts so that they offered teachable moments, meaningful connections and the kind of content, of which there is quite a bit, that TV is good at promoting.

    Not to mention that I know some hella creative peers and, damn, we watched a LOT of television. Like a lack of car seats and blowing cigarette smoke in our faces, I think that our parents thought that hours of television was no big deal. We’re fine—well, fine enough!—and I’m assuming that our Voice-watching kids will be, too. (What? is 7yo too young for the Voice?) Well, except yours, Liz, thanks to that Skippy crap. 😉 LOL.

    1. Someone out there has to grow up so enamoured of video games and movies and shows that they make them! Just like I’m sure a few cops were raised on CHIPS and Adam 12. In fact my dad used to tell me that tons of advertising candidates he interviewed, now 40+ said they went into it because of Darren from Bewitched.

    2. PS X Factor? Thalia is now saying “My favorite show ever!” (That is, until the ponies come on.)

  7. Whoa dude, there has to be some sanctimommy-like word that insufferable limited-media types can use for people who are TOTALLY in the media-consuming majority who think it’s some revolutionary act to stand up to them and admit permitting what is a totally standard cultural norm. uberdefensiveMiss? Nah. Liz, why even write a post like this if you’re truly secure in what is a perfectly socially-acceptable decision made by the vast majority of American parents?

    My guess is you’re not totally secure, which is just fine. I’m not necessarily either. I do really respect parents who keep their kids away from all media influence, even though I have failed myself. But when I see a thesis like this bolstered by anecdotal proof taking down straw sanctimommies I have to wonder: who are you trying to convince here? I see the comments are typical attagirl praise, so I’m here in my usual devil’s advocate asshole robes. . . could it be possible that sometimes other parents’ decisions aren’t actually about you [not you specifically, but you generally] but simply about the values that are important to them? think of it like you’d think of some other parent raising their kid in a different religion. maybe it works for them, but there’s no way you’d ever do it, and it’s all good.

    I see a lot of judgment here, in the post and the comments, in the guise of mocking or even judging so-called judgmental parents. At some point don’t we all need to get past feeling judged and simply learn to live with our decisions, popular or not?

    1. Hi Jim! I miss you.

      I don’t think it’s revolutionary to watch TV; I’ve been doing it way too long myself to make that claim. But I am seeing an increasing torrent of judgement and shame directed toward parents who check email in public, hand over iPads to the kids, and yeah, watch shows with them. So…here’s the backlash to the backlash? If a little snarky? There’s a difference between making a choice and condemning me for my choice–something I heard twice from very real, very non-straw people in my life recently and it pushed buttons. You called it.

      I truly mean this: if your kids are media free, that’s awesome. When my kids come to visit they will be taught that other parents make other choices for their kids and that’s okay. Then we can sit in the other room and be insufferable together.

      Also, because I keep thinking about your comment Jim, I think I do have a personal issue with absolutes: All/nothing/always/never. Not sure why but I should think about that. I once dated a guy who said he never read, ever, and that bugged the daylights out of me.

      1. well, I apologize for showing up only to challenge these days. but this is a reaction that I have seen a few times and it always puzzles me. I don’t assume even the most strident anti-media people are really judging parents who allow their children access media to varying degrees. Do you really disagree with a parent who prefers a child to “use his/her imagination” rather than consume media (that can, as you suggest, later be incorporated into imaginative play)? Or is it that you agree, but feel judged by that statement? Personally, I would always prefer my kids to play outside to watching television. I would always prefer my kids to work on a craft project or read a book to watching a movie. I would always prefer my kids to be doing just about anything kids do over staring at some screen. But sometimes they do all these things. And I’ve learned to live with that, despite the admiration I feel for parents who are able to protect their kids completely from media influence.

        How? Sometimes letting them stare at a screen allows you to do the things you need to do in order to be a better mother/father. And that, in the long run, is better for the kids. So absolve yourself of the guilt, parents! But let’s not make a case that television itself is somehow a good thing. That rings false.

        Liz I disagree that the act of consuming television requires imagination or works a kid’s creative muscles. It requires no more than a pulse and a minimum level of brain activity. It is a pure act of consumption. now, reading a book or going to an art museum are also acts of consumption. You can consume trash novels or literature. You can watch garbage TV or watch a film that qualifies as art. You can let kids watch commercials—the lowest form of television (in that their only purpose is fostering greater consumption) or you can do your best to limit it and ensure that whatever time they spend in front of a screen is with engaging programming. Or you can just let them watch whatever they want all day— it probably won’t make much of a difference. But you shouldn’t assume that other peoples’ values about such matters have anything to do with you. In your case, television provides a wonderful springboard for your kids to go out and use their imagination. But the act of watching television as they say “captures” the imagination. It provides parameters for later imaginative play based on someone else’s ideas. That’s what all stories, do, really. Some of us, I think, are just less comfortable with the addictive qualities of television/screens as a means to deliver stories, and there is just so much fucking horrible fucking crap out there it’s hard to draw a line that fits with our values.

        1. Hm, okay…

          My personal experience is that parents I know who don’t let their kids watch TV, yes, have judged me in clear ways for making different choices. As I wrote, it’s not just parents (there are only a handful) but the media at large. I could link but you’re a good googler too. Other commenters here have said the same, so I am not alone in believing it’s become a choice parents feel compelled to hide or defend, no matter how secure you are.

          I suppose you could say the same about any parenting choice (lord knows my CIO post brought out the “YOU’RE ABUSING YOUR CHILDREN” commenters ages ago), but if I don’t personally experience it, I don’t write about it. For example I have many friends and acquaintances who homeschool and I have never once felt judged by them for sending my kids to our local public school. Other parents have said they do feel judged by homeschoolers they know–so it is a matter of personal experience. I can only relate my own.

          As I said somewhere in comments, I love when my kids would rather be playing than watching TV. They often turn down movie suggestions to play or read or cover my floors in rainbow loom rubber bands. I just think that (like you, it seems) that it can be a part of a balanced activity diet if selected discerningly, and while it doesn’t require imagination, it informs it. I’m okay with it being other people’s stories. I want my kids to have some pop culture literacy and shared experiences with their peers, and that includes media.

          And in a large part, it’s selfish. I am not sure if this came across, but I love so much that we can all settle down together on a rainy Saturday and catch up on 3 consecutive episodes of Merlin. I love that we can watch Princess Bride together and then talk about it for weeks. It’s so nice to have kids at the age where they share your interests, and for me, movies and good TV definitely count among them. I even like getting to talk to them critically about advertising they see, and I have a pretty good background to be able to do that.

          Also, come back other times Jim! I like knowing you’re still reading after all these years, even when you’re not here to disagree.

    2. I know a lot of parents who did no TV before the age of two or three, but I don’t know very many at all who did no television at all, ever, at any age. I do know one family though who does that, and the mother admitted it to me, in hushed tones, because she seemed embarrassed that it might be seen as sanctimonious and/or over the top. Not sure which one.

      My kids watch television and I appreciate that they are now at an age where we can enjoy some things together (I never did truly appreciate the effort Sesame Street puts in to appeal to adults watching with their kids and if I’d known about Caillou before I had kids he would have been on the banned list along with Barney and the Teletubbies, for annoyance factor alone). But I’m also okay with my choices and completely okay with the fact that people who go against the mainstream may need to do a bit of pseudo bragging to make themselves feel okay about doing something that is different. I’m sure I did back in the days when I was feeling defensive about co-sleeping and breastfeeding my toddlers.

  8. We tried really hard not to allow our son to watch TV until he was 2. Then I would think, “how bad could it be if I’m watching TV while I’m feeding him, he’s only 6 months old and can’t possibly be watching?” Then it all went out the window shortly after that. We’re a TV family. We just are and that’s the way it is. We pay attention to what shows he watches and there are some he’s not allowed to watch (when we’re around – with a babysitter or at a friend’s house, not much we can do). He wasn’t allowed to watch Star Wars when he was 4 even though he wanted to (but got the 6-DVD set for Christmas/Hanukkah when he was 6).

    At the end of the day, I’d rather fill his day with other things than put a hard limit on TV time. He’s required to go to school, eat meals, do homework, and play one sport per season. If there’s time for more than 45 minutes of TV a day after those requirements are met, then he can have at it. Sometimes there is extra time, and I encourage him to play outside or with his rainbow loom, or even read a book or magazine. But I won’t tell him the TV is off limits. If we did that, i feel like he’d grow up and never, ever turn off the TV just out of spite. (My husband was denied soda his whole life and in college I once watched him drink 3 liters of Mountain Dew in one night. It wasn’t pretty and I haven’t forgotten it.)

    1. I think this is a wonderful perspective. Thanks, Jen. There are times I ask my kids, “want to watch a movie?” and they say “Nah…we’re having fun playing.” Then again, they’re not teens yet. I wonder how the limits (or lack thereof) will evolve as our kids get older.

      1. Wonder no more! –> Limits never get successfully tighter as children get older.

        Many parents try that — they suddenly realize, crap, these kids are already past where I intended, it’s the cusp of the years where mistakes get more costly, so now I’ll yank them back. It doesn’t work on adolescents. It’s exactly how to get major rebellion. (Not that I think you are in this category — but you know what I mean, right?)

        It’s much easier to be most limitin/controlling in the younger years so that with each year of growth you can give more and more control to the kids. Not to say there won’t still be limits in adolescence, but if you do it right, it feels to them like they are getting more and more control, because you trust them more and more to make good decisions. (Even if you don’t totally feel that way!)

  9. We don’t have a TV so I guess we are not a TV family. We don’t have money to pay for cable and where we live, that means we would get pretty much nothing anyway. And my husband and I just don’t really care about it. We have computers and watch a few shows on Hulu. Since the TV isn’t there, our girls don’t ask about it. But occasionally they watch a little clip of Caillou or something on Youtube.

    I don’t think it really matters whether kids watch TV or not. It just depends on the family dynamics and everything else going on in the kids’ lives. Just because some of us don’t have our kids watch TV doesn’t mean we’re all doing it to be superior or write it on college applications, some of us just don’t really like it much so don’t have it around for ourselves either. Simple as that.

    (And related to the previous comment – My parents severely limited my TV watching, and I never ‘binged’ later nor watch it now… just an example that not having something doesn’t always lead to problems with it later!)

    1. Thanks for the alternate perspective, Kate. I agree completely that whether you watch TV or not is totally up to you. Great kids can come out of all sorts of situations, and I really hope that came across.

      Psst…my stepfather only watches the Weather Channel. Also, he has no email account and only uses a typewriter. Different people make the world go round.

  10. This is great. I love it! I wrote a last week post about how much I enjoyed my own childhood despite the fact that structure was nonexistent and the TV was always on. I loved your point about starting with fantasy evil first. There’s just something a little different about a child listening to a news story regarding a local murder and reading about good wizards slaying evil wizards. Thank you again for your candor and wit; I always love waking up to one of your posts.

  11. THANK YOU! Just because my son watches some T.V. does not mean he will grow up to be a serial killer; we just moderate what he watches and how long he spends in front of the television. Plus sometimes we come across that rare show that we can all watch as a family, and that’s really nice.

  12. I got so hung up on you making homemade chicken nuggets – I was sure that was an urban myth….

    This TV thing was so big when I first had babies, which was pre social media days/before ipads and itouches – so, TV watching was even more of a focus. Now of course, we can debate all types of screen time – apps, games, movie watching on the iphone while at brother’s game, etc.

    The bottom line is this – cliche or not – you are dead on balls right with the moderation thing. Back in the day, I used to notice kids who were not allowed to watch would only beg for it at my house. Other kids who were allowed to partake, could have cared less when their buddies were around.

    As for the nuggets – I just buy the Bell and Evans and call it a day with a guilt free conscience.

    1. Dredge in egg, roll in panko, fry in half butter-half olive oil.

      They ask for thirds. THIRDS, RACHEL.

      New post coming soon on rediscovering cooking.

  13. Love this post! I have littles & we adore PBS. To me though, the problem isn’t whether parents choose to encourage media time, it is that we (as parents) feel entitled to judge one another on such choices & allow ourselves to feel judged. Parenting makes even the most sure-footed of us insecure & I suppose by judging others we can validate the job we’re doing. But the fact that we, as parents, feel that we have to defend the most mundane of our family decisions to our friends & families (& blog fans) shows what a struggle parenting in a global community is. Thanks for sharing so openly & encouraging discussion on such a relevant topic!

  14. There’s been a natural evolution in our house regarding TV for our 2.9 month year old. And, WHAT WORKS? That “cliche” word again: MODERATION.
    But gone are the days when we could poor a glass of wine and tune in to Brian Williams. Just as she began to hum the Nightly News theme song, the massacre of Syria showed up on the screen and I never ran so fast in my life as for the off button! So now it’s NEWS-NO, DISNEY-OK.

    1. I understand completely. I have strong memories of watching Watergate when I was SUPER young and not understanding. But things have changed so much with the 34-hour news cycle. Then networks necessarily need more content, and more sensationalist stories to keep your attention. It’s not sitting with your kids watching Walter Cronkite or Jane Pauley any more; it’s like the God Awful Horrors Channel, all day and all night.

  15. My kids both gave up naps early. If we hadn’t already accepted TV, that would have done it for us. But we already watched TV. My oldest learned to read at age 4 from Leap Frog DVDs, with some reinforcement from us. We watch a mix of educational things and fluff, and I’m fine with that. After all, I don’t spend all of my time on pursuits that will expand my mind. Why should I expect that of my kids? My oldest is too freaked out by real plots to let us watch anything like The Lord of the Rings or even Princess Bride. Or even most Disney films, really. But that doesn’t mean I think parents whose kids are less frightened by those sorts of things are bad parents. I just think they have kids with different quirks than mine.

    1. We used the leapfrog videos with my son, and he is the top reader in his class, and reads way above grade level, they have a wpm count they want the kids to be at by the end of the year, and he passes it with the first test of the year, and my daughter refused to watch any of them, and she isn’t scoring well in her kindergarten class with knowing letters and sounds, even though I have worked hard with her on knowing them with other ways, like books, and posters, and other things. Oh how I wish she had been willing to watch them. Aiden watched them on repeat, including the math ones. Of course, she preferred play to tv, while he preferred tv to play. Kids… so different.

  16. I grew up watching TV and movies, and if anything, I felt that it enhanced my creativity. I remember watching something and then running off to play for hours. It inspired me. Moderation is key. My kids watch TV, play outside, create, pretend, read. I think they’re doing OK.

  17. We all have our buttons, and we react accordingly when those buttons get pushed. CJ said “ain’t” last night, and I kind of lost my mind. I also have such an involuntary sanctimommy reaction to juice, you’d think that apples and oranges were filled with poison. But I’m sure there are plenty of things I allow my children to do that would make others cringe. (And yes, I’m purposely not giving examples.)

    I do think that TV and movies provide a measure of cultural literacy. When I finally saw Animal House for the first time, I realized 15 years after the fact that my college boyfriend had been imitating Eric Stratton. That knowledge could have kept me from getting involved with him in the first place. Sigh.

    1. Eric Stratton! That is hilarious! (Also, Animal House was my first R rated movie. I was with my dad and I was 10.)

      Re cultural literacy: You know, one of the moms I talked to this week, one who told me she wasn’t allowed to watch TV as a kid, feels left out when cultural references come up and it bugs her. I know that’s a focus group of one, but it really struck me that if I make a Tootie and Nathalie joke she has no idea what I mean. That’s not necessarily a reason to allow your own kids TV if you have reasons not to, but I found it interesting.

      I also noticed in my girls’ school that kids in her kindergarten were subdividing based on who was into Star Wars and who wasn’t.

      1. I didn’t have cable as a kid, just like 10 channels or something, and I remember feeling left out when other kids talked about Rugrats and the other shows they were watching on Nickelodeon and Disney (this was the 90s…). My parents let us watch 30 minutes a day and it was always cartoons on PBS, like Arthur (which I still liked). We tried to sneak more but could never get away with it. My grandparents had cable tv, and my sister and I were always so excited about watching Nick when we went to see them… after traveling 6 hours to visit, that was what we looked forward to.

        And I watch way too much TV now! I don’t have kids yet, but there’s definitely something to be said for not limiting things.

  18. I also had a “no nap” first born. She would sleep 20 minutes in the morning, 20 minutes in the afternoon when she was even 4 or 6 months. By age 1, she would fall asleep for two hours in the afternoon if I put her on the couch with a movie. I will never apologize for that. She needed the rest, and as a work at home mom, I needed the break. At 2, she was watching Annie, Grease, and Shrek. Shudder. But she has developed into one of the most creative kids I know. She is a tremendous singer, loves musical theater, and writes and draws well above her age level.

    Her younger brother benefitted (?) from the same parenting techniques. We watch some Disney Channel, movies we think are appropriate or harmless (even with some bad words or nudity here and there), and they have iPads and iPods. Evil, perhaps. He is a bright, well behaved kid with a tremendous sense of humor.

    The two of them together though? I think they are going to be a brother/sister team like David and Amy Sedaris. They have created an entire pretend world called “Mel and Kanichiwa.” There are probably 100 characters with children, full family trees, and accents, and story lines. They have been doing this routine for probably 3 or 4 years. And it is funny. Like really funny.

    So my point is not to engage in motherly bragging, but I surely don’t think it has harmed them. They are well behaved, creative kids who socialize and get along just fine. I try to limit what they watch before bedtime and we rarely turn on news of any kind b/c I think that is entirely more harmful than seeing Beverly DeAngelo’s boobies.

    I just can’t get into rigidity in any facet of parenting. It’s ridiculously unhelpful for everyone.

  19. I like TV because it has an end. An episode ends. A movie ends. 30, 60, 120 minutes and you’re out. You are watching a story that has some sort of narrative arc that concludes. And you go on with your life.

    Video games, on the other hand, have no end. They are built for obsession and time suck, and seem to quickly be confused with or eclipse one’s own life.

    I really do believe those games, and their unending a-social abyss, are creating a lost generation of tween/teen boys who are either disoriented or underwhelmed when confronted with real people in the relatively boring physical world we actually inhabit (i.e., me in the Piggly Wiggly). So I think a lot of the “screens are bad” discussion needs to really be focused on games, not shows/movies.

  20. THANK YOU. I’ve always felt like my kids’ tv habits were something I needed to hide. Yes. I let them watch tv. We watch the usual suspects, like Good Luck Charlie and Phineas & Ferb, but we also gathered ’round the tube to watch The Princess Bride (which, yes, is pretty much the best movie ever made). We watch Pawn Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, we think Gravity Falls is hilarious, and sometimes we watch old shows like Little House on the Prairie.

    The only thing keeping us from watching shows like “Once Upon A Time” is a certain smaller person in our household who will barrage you with questions while you’re trying to hear the dialog.

    My attitude toward tv is this: “Am I using this as a babysitter, or am I actively engaged with them?” You can usually tell when it’s time to shut it off.

    1. I am really fascinated (but not surprised entirely) to see how many commenters feel like they have to hide TV and media consumption.

      Once Upon a Time gets a loooot of pauses and rewinds at critical moments in our household. I’ve gotten so used to watching shows that way, it’s weird to watch them straight through.

  21. My personal motto is “Eat Less Kale”. Seriously, kale has had way too long of a run, can’t we switch to something like cauliflower soon enough? Or arugula? A kale chip (or any leafy green for that matter) will never be a ‘chip’, it will always be a shriveled up piece of dead leaf. Fritos (or even organic blue corn chips) do just fine when I have a hankering for a salty chip. And, yes, I eat organic peanut butter, as do my kids.

    I feel like putting on my resume that I watched ALL of the CBS soaps starting from 3rd grade until college, and admit that that is probably the number one reason why I flunked out of freshman year. Why would anyone bother to go to class between 12:30pm (when The Young and the Restless was on) and 4:00pm (when Guiding Light ended)? And, look at me now, a college educated (with Masters) soccer mom out to save the world…or something like that. There were so many life lessons learned from those romantic dramas and I am proud of it. I can’t say that I suffered from imagination deficit disorder watching only soaps, but I can say that I’m a pretty well-rounded functioning member of society, which is what matters to me most and why I get so defensive when other sanctimommies act like no TV produces our future model citizens.

    I shudder to think of what my life would have been like without TV. I think my kids will be okay if they have a wide range of things in life, including TV. And, the fact that they are doing great in school, have nice friends, and are respectful, kind and compassionate is what really matters to me.

      1. It is time to stop the madness with these kale chips. I now see them for sale in stores. Crushed up dead leaves with salt in a bag. Who are they kidding? I say we Karins, Karens, Kerrins, Caryns, Karyns (or any other way you spell it) start the revolution. Who’s in? Do we have any Staceys or Stacys, or Allisons or Alisons? Come on America! Do you see other countries calling a dried up leaf a chip? There may be a kale king in Germany, but I highly doubt there is a chip.

        1. Karin and Karen,
          Come to my house and eat kale chips. Seriously. You’ll love them!
          Kelley(with an extra “e”).

  22. I love this post so much. No time right now to read all the comments but I will…
    And my favorite phrase may be “gratuitous make-your-own-kale-chip reference.” Because it made me laugh and because I do, in fact, make them. I may start throwing that in everyone’s face.

    We watch TV! And it’s often crap! We also play Dragon Vale and Subway Surfer and Candy Crush and Major League Baseball on iphones.

    A mom at the boys’ school once told me, in response to another parent claiming they watch no TV…”when I had thyroid cancer my daughter watched TV for 8 hours a day. TV saved my life.” That sort of threw things into a whole new light, right?

    Thanks, Liz, for a great post! And will have to check out the show, too!

  23. TV was a lifesaver for me growing up. My family life was a bit…messed up, if you will and watching hours of Growing Pains, Full House, Family Matters and all the other TGIF shows made me happy and taught me about moral issues that my family may not have.

    Then there were the Disney movies. Oh boy. I could recite most of them by heart I watched them so much. And just like your girls, those characters factored into my play time. My friends or cousins and I would pick a character and act out alternate versions of the story – completely made up as we went along of course. So when people say TV stifles creativity and imagination, I have to disagree. It inspired it for me.

    Yes, I’ll police and limit the amount of screen time my boys watch/play, because I do think physical activity is important too, but I’ll never be a “no TV” household because I think kids can learn a lot from TV. Good TV, that is.

  24. I just have to say… I am madly in love with the relationship with Merlin and Arthur in the BBC Merlin series. LOVE. Every scene they were in together made me happy.

  25. Because I fear that I’m surrounded, without my specific knowledge, by families who don’t watch TV, I worried this morning that a pop culture-reference Halloween costume would go unappreciated. Who, in Berkeley, would watch Duck Dynasty? Then I had to coach myself that it’s their problem if they don’t keep up with current media.

    I was moved to comment, however, because that snapshot of your dad (stepdad?) with the Inigo Montoya nametag on it is priceless. I urge you to print it out, mount it, or commemorate it in some way. I love everything about it, the words, the framing, the relationship and interaction it represents, and especially the convergence of Thalia’s handwriting and his white beard, both capturing a certain age of the participants that won’t be here forever.

    1. My daughter was Ozma of Oz a few years ago, and is still so grateful for the one (well-read) neighbor who knew who she was right away. The next year, the same neighbor identified Thalia and Sage as Frodo and Sam.

      Thalia now tells her friends, “do you know there’s a lady in our building who can guess ANY HALLOWEEN COSTUME?”

      Though she might not know Duck Dynasty.

      And thank you so much for the kind words about that photo Whitney. That means so much right now, you’ll never know.

  26. I love this writer. I am however jealous she got to be Merlin

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