My son was 13 months old when I first succumbed to using the TV as a babysitter. I pumped exclusively for him, and as he grew more mobile, so did his need for distraction and entertainment. But trying to chase a toddler while hooked up to a double electric breast pump multiple times a day was a disaster waiting to happen, and that liquid gold was too precious to jeopardize. With every suction of the pump, my desperation for peace grew greater than my fear of what TV would do to my child’s brain.
So, I clicked on the TV.
I tried a few educational shows geared towards infants and young toddlers. My son wanted nothing to do with them. He promptly turned the TV off after a few minutes, signaling “all done” when it failed to gain his attention. In a moment of desperation, I turned on Jimmy Fallon, and three bars into The Roots opening, he was hooked. He danced, he clapped, he laughed at all the right moments. And when it was over, he turned off the TV and went back to creating toddler mayhem, as toddlers do.
But that 40 minutes allowed me to pump in peace without entertaining my son. I actually felt grateful.
As my kid grew older, he caught onto the whole TV-Is-Awesome thing and developed a deep and abiding love for all things Daniel Tiger. Of course, I worried about what all this TV exposure was doing to his brain. Because TV is basically like dousing your child’s brain in gasoline then lighting a match and watching it melt into meaningless goo before your eyes, right? (The Tigers also decorated their home with skins of their own, which I found worrisome as well. What kind of message was I sending my son? That it’s okay to grow up and become a comedian, or part of a badass band? Or, more shockingly, that it was okay to use the hides of your forefathers to shut out the prying eyes of nosy neighborhood friends?)
But I was more tired than worried, and my son seemed to be handling his TV watching with a maturity that I still do not possess. So, I laid my worries mostly to rest and laughed away my mom guilt with the Tonight Show audience members.
My kid was OK.
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In fact, he wasn’t just OK — he was great. His speech, which was delayed due to medical reasons, made tremendous improvements as he answered questions Mr. Rogers asked him. He repeated letters and numbers with Big Bird and mimicked Curious George and the Man In The Yellow Hat. We sang Daniel Tiger songs together, using them as a tool to transition from one task to another and to work through big toddler feelings.
And when his dad and I couldn’t get a minute alone, we would turn on the TV and sneak off to our bedroom and lock to the door for a quickie. Not only was TV working as part of my parenting routine, we also unashamedly used it as a babysitter so I could get my sex on when I actually had the energy to enjoy it instead of trying to muster up the energy an orgasm requires at the end of a very long day after parenting. TV saved our sex life during those brutally long, exhausting, monotonous toddler years.
Four years and another kid later, we have made peace with the fact that we are unashamedly a TV family.
We watch American Ninja Warrior once a week with our dinner plates in our laps and have pizza and movie nights on the weekends. My son, who is now five, rides a bike without training wheels, sounds out nearly every word he reads and grasps early mathematic concepts like simple division and multiplication. He is imaginative, funny, warm, and kind.
Our almost one-year-old daughter has grown up with the sounds and sights of the television playing in the background and shows zero interest in it, just like her big brother at the same age. She’s a smiley, social baby who refuses to sleep at night, as babies do.
As it turns out, both of my children possess remarkable attention spans and have hit all of their developmental milestones. They eat a varied diet of whole foods, including plenty of vegetables. They form regular emotional connections and attachments and are genuinely happy kids. I’m pretty confident neither of them will become hardened criminals or lazy couch-dwellers, although I still have my reservations about what kind of home decor they will choose.
TV didn’t ruin my kids, and it probably won’t ruin yours, either. But it just might save your sanity. And your sex life.