We Mamas have such a Love-Hate relationship with the TV, don’t we? PLEASE watch thirty minutes of Daniel Tiger so I can cook dinner!
Please STOP ASKING me to watch the TV because I don’t want your brain to maladaptively wire your neural pathways in such a way that you are addicted to screen-induced dopamine highs.
But there’s the human relationship component too. Choosing to veg out instead of engage in connection. And don’t get me started with kids fighting over the remote! We have one TV in our house and adults don’t watch it until kids are in bed. So that leaves our three young daughters to fight for remote rights for either morning cartoons or pre-dinner hour. Let’s face it, the oldest is the strongest and was the first child to learn how to use the remote, so naturally she feels entitled to have it. Oldest siblings, you can be real stinkers to us little ones. 😉
One afternoon, our oldest daughter was watching TV. Our middle daughter, in her innocent and happy little world, walked up to big sister and asked, “Will you play babies with me?” Big sister didn’t hear. Middle asked again, “Will you pleeeeeease play babies with me?” Big sister says no. Middle steals the remote and runs to the babies and THAT gets big sister’s attention FOR SURE.
Big says “GIVE ME THE REMOTE!!!! GIVE IT TO ME RIGHT NOW!” Big sister steals the remote back and runs to play the TV again. The crying, the tears, the wailing!
Ding ding ding! Teachable moment: time for Mama to step in. This was no longer about the remotes or the TV, but about relationships. We teach our girls that they are each other’s best friends for life and it is their job to protect and love each other. The scenario that was playing out was not within our family values. So here’s what I said,
“Sweetie, stop the show and look at me. Which one is more important, the TV or your sister?”
At the time she was only 5, but she knew this answer and I saw it in her face as her young and delicate walls fell. “My sister” she replied.
“Ok, then what do you need to do to show her you love her more than you love the TV?”
“Play with her.”
I don’t always make my kids sacrificially give up their free time and force them to play with each other, but this moment was a culmination of moments. I knew days before that something was feeling off about screen time and in this moment, it all became clear. They have to know, experience, and practice putting not just their sisters, but humans entirely, above electronic entertainment. This is a cultural decision our parenting generation will either screw up collectively or we will have the foresight to sacrifice easy parenting to teach our children how to be in touch with humanity. I’m not talking about all electronics all the time, I’m talking about teaching our children to recognize the moments when they are about to communicate with their behavior alone whether the person next to them is more important than a nonliving screen…or not. It’s the value we have to connect this behavior to – what does our family value? Do our children know what we value?
What’s even more significant is that we teach it in our little moments, too. When it comes to motherhood and our kids are asking us to watch their “new trick” attempt for the tenth time, we must also ask “Which one is more important in this moment, the screen I’m on, or my child’s understanding of my priorities?”
For me, I usually work during nap/rest time and when they ask for my attention, I click off my phone or set my laptop aside and look them in the eye. I’m not perfect, but this is the decision I’ve made for myself. Our generation of children are not starting from “not knowing life without smart phones” like we did, they only know smart phones in the hand, face, or pocket of an adult. It’s too easy to answer without looking up, but I think it’s dangerous for the hearts of our little children who at their very core need to be loved and accepted. We have the responsibility to recognize the addiction of screens and be wise enough to model to our children that they are more important to us, and then teach it with words. “You’re more important to me than this message, show me your drawing!” “Sister, what’s more important, your brother or your tablet?”
It’s amazing that because of a very helpful invention, we have to step up our parenting game and teach such a basic tenant of humanity – how you make other people feel is more important than an object.
But on the flip side, TV and gaming can be something that bonds people. One of my best friends reminds me of this story: My family had theirs over for dinner one night and afterwards, my husband turned on America’s Funniest Home Videos. Her sons have a clear memory of this night, as does my friend who describes it like this, “I will always remember my younger son sitting in that little pink car, your oldest draped over the top laughing at some video hysterically. Similar to a family movie night, there was organic connection and it wasn’t planned or forced. I love that memory.”
You CAN tie TV or tablets into your family values…educational apps, You vs Wild, Nat Geo, PBS Kids (I have almost all the Daniel Tiger songs memorized and you better believe I sing them in real time problems for our kids), Bucket List Family, baking shows, etc. My best advice is to appreciate the great tool we have in technology, but as in all good things, setting limits and boundaries can teach our kids so much through our lifestyle they are watching and feeling with every breath.
What about you, is this something you already teach in your home? How do you communicate this to your children? What other values do you think our generation of parents needs to be collectively teaching in light of the current culture and times?