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How much TV do your kids *really* watch?

kids TVAm I the only one out there who sometimes fudges the truth a little bit when it comes to how much TV (or DVDs, etc.) my kids watch on an average day?

The girls had their annual checkup recently, and when the doctor went through her somewhat annoyingly passive-aggressive questionnaire (“What do you wear when you ride on your bike?” “What do you put on when you’re out in the sun?”) and got to “do you like to watch any TV or videos?” I cut in — because I knew what her next question was going to be, directed to us — and said, “No more than an hour a day.”

This isn’t exactly a lie. I mean, it’s not like when I used to tell my doctor, back in my twenties, that I had “about one drink a day,” when, in fact, I was having more like two, sometimes three.

But I think if you averaged out the actual amount of TV/videos our gals watch over the course of a typical week, it might hit closer to an hour and a half per day. Not that this is a horrible amount of TV to expose children to. It’s probably well below the national average. And we are extremely selective about the kinds of shows and videos we let the girls watch. (We almost never let them watch Real Housewives, for example.) But it’s still 50% more TV than we admit to.

I feel like TV is this giant parenting taboo. I have no idea how much of it my friends or acquaintances let their kids watch. It’s like we’re all afraid to admit it first, because we don’t want to look like terrible, lazy parents. (And — God forbid — what if we spill it first and they tell us they don’t let their kids watch *any* TV?! And what if you’re going to admit this to me in the comments, and I end up feeling like a terrible, lazy parent!)

Plopping the kids in front of the tube is definitely not our knee-jerk solution when it comes to keeping the girls occupied if we need to do something else, or just need to, oh I don’t know, eat our breakfast. In fact, I find that most of the time when I say “no” to their requests to watch something, within minutes they are engaged in drawing, or reading or some kind of crazy imaginative play on their own. This happens more and more, in fact, as they’ve become more independent, and we’ve gotten a little more strict in trying to curtail TV watching. (In fact, I think we’re probably edging down closer to that hour-a-day-or-less goal of late.)

But can’t we all just admit that, look, sometimes when your kids are cranky and whiny and you’ve been stuck indoors all day on a Saturday, you just really need to put on a freakin’ movie, even if they’ve already had a shot or two of Dinosaur Train after breakfast? And that when it’s the end of the day, and you’re trying to make dinner, and they will not stop bickering or badgering, TV can be a very, very helpful tool for maintaining peace and harmony (and ensuring that the onions don’t get charred to a crisp because you had to leave the stove to go break up a fight, or re-explain the golden rule)?

I daresay the bigger issue is what we let our kids watch. Educational, non-frenetic stuff. And that sometimes we ask them about what they learned or liked about a show, rather than just washing our hands of it entirely.

All this being said (and kvetched about), I occasionally remind myself that I survived two-plus hours of Smurfs and Superfriends and Pee-Wee’s Playhouse most Saturdays, viewings of Mary Poppins and Annie on VHS ad nauseum, and a very healthy helping of Sesame Street, Electric Company and Three-Two-One Contact when I was a kid. And look at me! I’m a freakin’ writer!

So, come on. Give it up. Loud and proud. (Or not so proud.) How much TV do your kids really watch? I won’t judge you. Or be too too jealous if you say none. Promise.

 

DOUBLE TIME, my memoir of parenting twins and battling depression (among other things) is available for pre-order! Order before May 8, and I’ll send you a free signed bookplate. Click for details.

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Photo: Chris Koerner

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