Mom Confessional: My Toddler Watches TV and That’s OK With Me

Mom Confessional: My Toddler Watches TV and That’s OK With Me

One mom talks about why, when it comes to TV and her 2-year-old, she ignores the experts.

By Leah Maxwell

My first kid didn’t watch TV at all when he was a baby or toddler, and it made my little rule-following heart puff up with pride to know I was so diligently following the recommendations of the child-development experts. (The American Academy of Pediatrics’ most recent report says to “minimize or eliminate altogether media exposure for children under the age of 2.”) As for my second son? He just turned 2, already knows how to work the touchpad TV remote, and whenever he sees the logo on our favorite video stream, he bursts forth with cheers of “Moosey! Moosey! Moosey!” (which is toddler-speak for “movie,” of course).

So what changed between Kid No. 1 and Kid No. 2? In a word: everything. Bringing a second child into the family meant extra work, more chaos, and less energy to turn each moment into a magical childhood memory (and therefore created greater need for the occasional push-button distraction). But probably the biggest difference is how much more relaxed I’ve become about the so-called rules of parenting. These days, I’m more inclined to do what works , even if it’s not what’s “best.”

Yeah, I let my toddler watch TV. Some days I can get him to sit still with a puzzle or book or another more socially acceptable activity that doesn’t require adult participation or supervision, but some days he won’t, and rather than fight that particular battle (of the dozen I’m likely to fight that day), I just let it go. From a purely practical angle, I could argue that it’s actually better/smarter/safer for my son to be plopped slack jawed in front of the tube instead of roaming the house bent on destruction while I’m taking a shower, but to be perfectly honest, there are also times when TV is simply the easy way out AND THAT’S OK. Although TV is rarely my first choice for a kid activity, I can’t deny it’s the foolproof choice. It works every time, without fail, and I refuse to feel guilty about using it because let’s be real: Sometimes Mama needs to make dinner without children climbing her legs like monkeys up a palm tree, and sometimes TV is the only option that doesn’t involve locking them in a cage.

If I needed to, I could wrangle up statistics that say it’s not so bad to let a 2-year-old watch TV, or that there are plenty of positive aspects to it, and that there are even programs that are good for toddler brain and behavior development. But for me, here’s what it really comes down to: It’s OK for kids to indulge in brainless slacking now and then. It’s OK for them to watch stupid shows with no educational merit (goodness knows I do it myself) and to learn how to peacefully coexist with media instead of pretending, here in 2014, that it doesn’t exist.

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Also OK? A little slacking on the parenting front. Sometimes I don’t have it in me to play a board game for the frillionth time, and I refuse to believe I’m a bad mom for not only admitting that but offering up some coveted TV time as a replacement. Contrary to what social media might have you believe, childhood does not have to be an unending smorgasbord of enriching activities; downtime is healthy, and television is not the devil.

Of course, let’s not fool ourselves. Watching TV isn’t going to have the same effect on our kids’ intellectual, physical, and emotional development as one-on-one time with an actual human being, but as I said before, what’s “best” isn’t always what works. If you feel a little guilt when you reach for the remote, just consider the reassurance that you’re keeping things in check and being mindful of how you’re using TV as a parenting tool. Indulge but don’t overindulge. Let them watch TV, but don’t let them only watch TV.

So how much TV do my kids watch? On average, an hour or two on weekend mornings while the grown-ups sleep (no guilt!), an hour or so as needed in the early evening once or twice a week, and then a family movie night two or three times a month. The trick for us is that TV is always considered a special treat rather than part of our daily routine. You might say it’s the difference between having dessert after dinner versus dessert for dinner.

In the end, what’s truly “best” for us is what keeps everyone safe and sane -- both children and parents -- and there aren’t enough experts or statistics in the world to convince me otherwise.

How do you feel about toddlers watching TV?

Leah Maxwell is a book editor, freelance writer, cereal addict, wife, and mom to two young boys. She has been blogging at A Girl and a Boy since 2003.

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