Tuesday, May 26, 2009

On Children, Television, and Freedom in General

(Originally posted at Rational Jenn)

When I took Ryan and Morgan to their respective pediatric appointments some weeks ago, I was asked by the nurse if I limited their television and computer time. I answered in the vague affirmative (“Yes, we monitor it.”) because I know from experience that providing any answer that starkly departs from the expected “Yes we are extremely strict about television.” will result in an unwelcome lecture to me by the nurse and/or doctor. I hate getting lectured. Especially when the subject is really none of the lecturer’s business.

The honest truth is that we have no restrictions about television or computers here. We handle this issue in pretty much the same way as the food issue (see yesterday’s post On Food and Freedom). As we provide them with a healthy stash of food to choose from, the kids also have a huge stack of parent-approved movies and tv shows from which to choose, and they can watch them whenever they please.

The only reason I ever really need to get involved is when they are having a dispute over movie or computer time. On those occasions, I help them negotiate a plan for using the Big TV on the Wall (see Kids Handling Conflict for information about how I do this.) or the computer. Sometimes, they’ll settle on a system for taking turns. Other times, one of them will choose to watch something on the computer, or upstairs. Every once in a while, someone will be scared by a movie, and we’ll stop it and figure out a new plan. (It’s not kind to watch something scary to someone else on the Big Wall right in front of them.)

And here’s the thing—which my pediatrician would maybe not believe—my kids do not spend every waking moment watching movies or playing on the computer. Complete freedom to choose what—or if—to watch movies does not result in children who never budge from the lure of the Big Wall. (And this happens to be one area where Ryan doesn’t seem to need any parental assistance—yay.)

I’ve noticed their electronic media moods ebb and flow. Sometimes, the movies are playing all day long, or the kid is parked in front of the computer for hours (that kid would usually be Morgan). This will occasionally last for days. Then there are other times when nobody thinks to turn on a movie—for days. And many days we’ll watch a show or two and then move on. Sometimes if the movies have been playing too much and it’s driving me nuts, I’ll suggest a walk or something else. But I’ve come to trust that their interests will change to something else if I just give them a bit of time. And you know what? They always do move on to something else.

I personally very much enjoy the fact that I don’t need to set timers or pay attention to their electronic media usage, since they make very good decisions about how often and what to watch.

What happens at my house is another example of kids being free to make choices within some very broad limits set by their parents (in this instance, we approve the movies they are allowed to watch) and they not making bad choices over and over. These kids are not slaves to their whims because there are no restrictions on tv. Instead, they have learned to manage this activity on their own and are in no danger of their becoming couch potatoes.

Besides, I really dislike how electronic media is portrayed as somehow inherently bad for you. As with most things, I suppose, overindulgence over a long period of time would be unhealthy. But it’s just interesting to me that the doctor doesn’t ask me if I limit the kid’s time playing outside or building in the sandbox or reading books. Watching movies and playing on the computer is entertaining and sometimes—frequently, actually—educational.

Combine the idea that tv and computers are somehow guilty pleasures that overindulgent parents allow their children to participate in with the idea that kids will tend to make bad choices when given the chance to make any choice and that would explain this little bit of interrogation I get to experience when I take the kids in for their physicals.


And here are a few more posts about free-range kids and positive discipline that might interest you:

Letting Go of your Children at Portland Family Currently Speaking


A Positive Discipline Moment at Principled Parent


Tantrums and Principles at The Little Things


Positive Discipline John and Ansley


A conversation about parenting I took part in over the weekend on Noodlefood’s Sunday Open Thread.

Good stuff, so go read those posts!

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