Is it Smug and Pretentious to Shun TV?

children and television pop cultureWhen it comes to media and kids, it doesn’t matter: whatever we parents are doing, it’s wrong.

If you opt in to letting your little ones watch TV — thinking they might learn something — you’re a total boob. Recall the Baby Einstein/Baby Mozart DVDs and what people said about parents who bought those.

If you decide to give pediatric recommendations of no TV before age 2 a whirl, you’re being a snob, not living in reality, clearly a martyr who doesn’t value showers, quiet phone calls or even 20 minutes of “me time.” Whatever your house rules are, they’re an implicit criticism of how some other family is doing it.

Just look at the comments on film critic Andrew O’Hehir‘s piece over at Salon. He and his wife have kept their homeschooled kids away from Dora the Explorer and Barney and all other TV. The world at-large thinks he’s just being pretentious.

O’Hehir and his wife have their reasons. They avoided any kind of media until their 6-year-old twins were 2. And after that, they wanted to introduce media slowly, preserve childhood as long as possible. What ever “slowly” and “preserve childhood” mean, of course. As parents, though, they get to define all that for themselves.

O’Hehir’s piece is interesting and his family’s media-viewing habits probably aren’t all that unusual in this day of Netflix and Hulu, etc. etc. Because while his kids aren’t parked in front of Sprouts network, they have experienced repeated viewings of movies like “Cars,” Disney’s “Winne the Pooh” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” They play games on the computer. If staring at the screen for more than 20 minutes a day messes with a child’s executive function, his Dora-less babes have been messed with. If watching the same movie over and over chips away at creative abilities, consider his kids chipped!

Which is really all the critics want to know, right? The reason some people go after parents on the no-TV end of the kids-and-media spectrum is because, deep down, they’re worried about their own choices and how they’re letting Dora and “iCarly” and “American Idol” screw up their children’s brains.

I’m guilty of it too! I know when I started reading O’Hehir’s piece, I felt irritated. “Oh, good for you,” I thought insincerely. When I got to the part about all the movies the kids have watched and the computer time they have, I thought, “Ah-ha! Cheater.” Because I’ve been all over the map with TV and pop-culture exposure and media for my kids. I can remember times when my oldest watched hours and hours of TV at a very, very young age. Before we lived in Southern California, some winters just stared down at us like prison wardens rattling a billy club against the bars of our apartment-jails. Sometimes TV makes the day go by, period.

But I’m also vigilant about merchandising and commercials and I’m unwilling to let corporate advertisers have my kids’ brains and opinions and self-esteem. So I’ve kept and open mind and read what I can about TV and childhood and that sort of thing. A few years ago, we cut back a lot. And now, thanks to the fact that we get neither cable (I’m too cheap) nor good reception (we live close to an airport), TV isn’t much of an option. And DVDs are just a pain enough to set up (I’m lazy as well) that there’s actually more incentive to tell the kids to go outside (again, the Southern California option).

What I like, though, is the discussion about families’ viewing habits and I wonder what yours are. I know folks who love the family time of watching “American Idol” or “Glee” together, others who let their kids sit in on episodes of CSI and still others who would shun all of that and the DVDs and … and … and …

How much screen time do your little ones get? Do you think it’s too much but allow it anyway?

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