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My Daughter Watches Up to 6 Hours of TV a Day

I wake up to a remote control being bounced off the bridge of my nose. My daughter’s voice has reached fever pitch, and it’s only 6:30 in the morning. “Mom, Mom, can I watch TV? Please, please, please?” Now she’s bouncing in the space recently vacated by my husband, who’s off to work. Sure, it’s early, but as far as I’m concerned, he’s escaping. He doesn’t have to listen to these piercing squeals.

If I give in, I won’t have to either. I slip my hand out of the warmth of our comforter and slide it across flannel, feeling for the spot where the remote landed when it ricocheted from my nose. I point it in the general direction of the TV on our dresser and press “power.” “There you go, honey,” I mumble, but it’s muffled, my head already burrowing back into my pillow.

My daughter goes from sixty to zero. Mommy’s stint as a human trampoline is over. Jillian is already curled in a fetal position, her head on Daddy’s pillow, her eyes fixed on Cookie Monster as he once again devours the letter of the day.

“Cookie Monster’s funny,” she says through a fit of giggles. Apparently, that joke never gets old. But I have.

Two years ago, I called my husband at work, horrified. My friend had dropped her three-year-old off for the day, and he’d spent the morning demanding the Disney Channel. “Can you believe it?” I asked Jonathan, full of righteous indignation. “I had books I picked up at the library yesterday. Boy books! Books just for him! And all he wants to do is watch TV. What are they teaching him?”

“It’s okay, honey,” he said. “Just let him watch a little TV. He’s fine. I watched TV, and I’m fine, right?”

“Yeah, fine,” I muttered to our then-infant daughter as I got off the phone. “Daddy’s fine, but his world revolves around SportsCenter. And God forbid the cable goes out . . . oh, noooooooo.”

I was darn sure my baby wasn’t going to go down that road. I wasn’t going to use TV as babysitter. I wasn’t going to park my kid in front of the idiot box. I wasn’t going to be a cliche. And my position had some extra credibility, because I, ahem, didn’t have television until I was seventeen. Yes, that’s right, folks, step right up and see the ’80s child who never even had the chance to figure out just what Willis was talking about.

When I was pregnant, I sported that fact like a badge of honor. The fact that I’d spent most of high school begging my parents for a cable hook-up so I could get in on all the talk about Ross and Rachel was quickly forgotten.

“I love to read,” I’d tell people, rubbing my belly. “And this one will too. I’m going to limit how much TV little Squirmy watches. We’re going to read books every night before bed, and every morning. You know, I didn’t have TV, and I could sort my parents’ mail when I was two and a half.”

Jillian’s two and a half now. She can’t sort our mail.

She can tell you Curious George airs after Sesame Street. Then we switch the channel. What she watches next depends, really, on when I rouse myself from my cocoon and head downstairs for my morning caffeine injection. If it’s time for Pinky Dinky Doo, the TV in the living room is tuned to Noggin while I putter in the kitchen. If The Upside Down Show is still on, I’m open to negotiations.

Cars or The Little Mermaid?” I ask.

“How ’bout . . . um, this one?” Jillian counters, grabbing Blue’s Clues Shapes and Colors off her shelf at the bottom of our DVD collection.

I don’t even blink. Whipping the disc out of the box, I do a quick switch in the DVD player, and she settles on the couch with a yogurt drink and plate of toast.

By the time she wanders down the hall to my office thirty minutes later, I’ve made three phone calls and answered a host of emails. I’ve checked in with my editor and scheduled two interviews – one face-to-face, one on the phone, set for fifteen minutes from now.

So I couldn’t be happier to see she’s brought another movie with her. This time, it’s Thomas’ Trusty Friends, and she wants to watch it in the office. Not a problem – that’s why there’s a DVD/VCR combo sitting beside my printer and a TV on top of the shelving unit filled with coloring books and puzzles. It’s looking like this might be one of those days when Jillian watches something like six hours of television.

Somewhere, the me of two years ago is holding her head in her hands. After all, all the media reports will tell you kids shouldn’t be watching television at all, let alone all day.

Television commercials – isn’t that ironic – are aired daily with suggestions of outdoor activities to get your kids away from the tube. Mommy magazines are full of numbers from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) – zero hours of television recommended for children under two and all that. The AAP says, “Research has shown that children who consistently spend more than four hours per day watching TV are more likely to be overweight.” Their experts say, “Kids who view violent events, such as a kidnapping or murder, are also more likely to believe that the world is scary and that something bad will happen to them.” And let’s not forget, the AAP says, “Research also indicates that TV consistently reinforces gender-role and racial stereotypes.”

So, let me get this straight: I’m raising a fat racist who’s afraid of everything, a girl who’s going to fall all over herself to let men be the boss.

Tell that to the little girl playing in her toy kitchen in the next room. Her pants are falling off her skinny hips. Tonight she’s going to beg, as she does every other night for repeated readings of her favorite bedtime story, Georgie and the Noisy Ghost.

When I finally get her to bed, she’ll tell me she loves me. And when I say it back, she’ll smile. “‘Cause I’m the most beautiful, most smartest girl in the world. I’m smarter than Daddy and everybody.”

Oh dear, what am I going to do about her self-esteem?

The truth is, I’m not crazy about all the TV watching in my house – whether it’s Jillian or my husband in front of the screen. But I sacrifice to the TV gods in exchange for a work-from-home job, one that lets me spend more time with my daughter but requires me to offer her a smaller piece of my attention during the day.

It’s not a daycare provider parking her in front of the screen; it’s her mother, the same lady who curls up on the couch for a solid hour in the afternoon, reading Make Way for Ducklings and Goodnight Moon. It’s the same woman who spends bath time giving voices to the rubber duckies and spelling with foam letters on the wall. It’s her mother, who will kiss her goodnight and tell her she’s the smartest and most beautiful girl in the world, and that yes, she can watch Elmo in Grouchland in the morning.

Photo Courtesy of Wendy Sellers

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