Small Hands in the Big World

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Unplugging.... almost

Nothing like a power outage to get us thinking about unplugging...
It started innocently enough, back when I was desperate for 30 minutes to throw dinner together, I’d let my 3- and 5- year olds watch Curious George. Then PBS changed their programming and George was no longer airing when I was prepping dinner so a handful of DVDs were introduced. Along came pleads of “come on, can we watch just one more, Momma?”  Thirty minutes quickly became an hour, then eventually turned into about 90 minutes of screen time before dinner.
The computer counts as "screen time" too, look at those zoned out eyes...
No, they don't stand this close to watch TV... they were posing for me
While the television was on, I’d spend that hour and a half picking things up around the house, washing dishes, drying and putting them away, doing laundry, checking email and surfing the web, choosing something to cook, setting the table then I finally dive into the business of making dinner. Dinner still only took about half an hour to make, but I sheepishly realized that the kid’s 90 minutes of television had actually become something I looked forward to. This didn’t feel right.

Did I think these 90 minutes a day were going to ruin my 3 and 5 year-old children? No. Did I think it’s wrong to allow kids to watch a limited amount of age-appropriate shows? No.  I am aware, however, that what was once a tool for me became a crutch. And what was once a treat for the kids became a daily expectation.

What didn’t feel right about an hour or more television was how the kids wouldn’t acknowledge Daddy if he arrived home from work while the TV was still on. Not even a quick “hi” or glance away from the screen… nice homecoming, eh? Worst of all was the kids’ irritable mood once the TV was turned off and it was time to come to dinner (more evening fun for Daddy and all of us for that matter). Their moans and groans made their words so unintelligible that I’m still not sure what they were unhappy about. 

Actually, I don’t think they were unhappy about anything. I think their brains had gone into sleep mode from too much TV. Naturally, they came away feeling tired and cranky. This television-induced state can’t be good for brain development and it certainly wasn’t good for family dynamics.

So what’s a Mom to do? Had we gone too far down this road to turn around? Of course I knew we hadn’t but I felt serious trepidation about how evenings with little to no TV would go. Would dinner ever make it to the table? How many scuffles would I have to break up? How many more messes would be created in the process of keeping them happily occupied while I prepared dinner?

So how would we go about making this change? Faking a broken TV was my first idea. Cowardly, I know, but I could just pull the plug and it would be my little secret. Who’s going to argue with “I called the repair company but they can’t get a technician out here for another few days?”

Instead, I decided that a sincere discussion was the right thing to do. One night at dinner I mentioned to the kids that I noticed how grumpy they were after watching TV before dinnertime. I shared my theory about how sitting in front of the TV makes your brain almost go to sleep so it’s no wonder they felt tired and awful when they had to get up. There were no threats of completely unplugging the TV but I did say that I thought it was too much and we should start experimenting to find the perfect amount.

Do you know what? Those little geniuses agreed with me! As much as Mom and Dad didn’t like hearing their whines and complaints, the kids didn’t like feeling so crummy! More discussion followed about what is important to each of us and we brainstormed about more worthwhile ways to spend our time instead of watching television.

Now, on most days we’re back to just a quick half hour show in the early evening. I use that time to get organized but the TV is off well before Dad returns home and they have a chance to shake off the tired state that even 30 minutes can induce.  The kids are back to helping me peel, slice, pour and stir the various components of dinner which is more fun for all of us. Making such a conscious effort with the kids inspired the grown-ups to keep the TV off after kids are in bed too and we're both enjoying good books instead of watching another episode or American Choppers or Gold Rush (yes, my husband is was a Discovery Channel fan and I was a willing bystander). Recovery feels great.
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