Sunday, June 12, 2011

They Are Practically Amish.

In a classic case of "Do as I say, not as I do," we do not allow our kids to watch television. After nearly two years of being a mother I find myself saying, "Why on earth did I ever agree to this?" I believe Steven got me at a weak moment. It was probably during our adoption process, I had probably been watching bad television for six straight hours, while eating Hot Tamale candies and feeling sorry for myself. Sugared out, brain-dead, he probably looked at me slumped on the sofa and said, "You don't want your kids to ever feel this way do you?" No I didn't.

Whenever I tell people this, they tell me about all of the great programs available for kids these days. I don't doubt them. There have been so many evenings, usually around 5:45, when I have wanted nothing more than to plop them down on the couch and turn on the TV. So far I have resisted. (Disclaimer: in no way is this a post about what a better mom I am for not letting my kids watch TV. Surely you have read some of the blog and you know this is not the case? There is no judgement about this).

In a way, I feel like I may be contributing to my children's feelings of being different. The no TV thing makes them a bit strange. When I taught at the Waldorf school, I really loved the fact that the students didn't watch TV, and that they were not allowed to wear TV characters on their clothes. Their imaginative play was remarkable. Meazi and Melese act out all kinds of amazing scenarios, the most popular one involving their travels to Russia to adopt two children. I love watching them play. Occasionally they'll ask me to be 'that airplane person who passes out the drinks', and I do.

It is amazing to me that you don't have to watch TV to know about Dora and Elmo. They are ubiquitous.  It is hard to purchase everyday things for the kids that don't involve television. Happily Melese calls his Diego toothbrush, Domingo.

Melese's friend Domingo...
 We are definitely movie people though. Steven and I both love movies. We haven't taken either child to a movie in the theatre yet, because we haven't seen anything advertised that we want to be their very first movie in a theatre ever.

Then there is that whole sensitivity issue. We have shown them a few movies here at the house. It has pretty much been a debacle. They loved Toy Story 3, but still talk about the scary incinerating part. Pippi Longstocking was a hit, but we had read the book first. When we got a different Pippi Longstocking movie from the library Meazi became terrified of the villain and cried hysterically whenever he showed up on the screen. We turned it off. I thought the animated version of  The Little Engine that Could would be a safe choice. Not so much. The nightmare train was, well, a nightmare for her. Next up, The Jungle Book. Great for Melese. He loved the elephants and now marches around the house shouting, "Hup two three four! Keep it UP two three four!" But he does correct me, "Mom, it's The Jungle, not the book. It's the movie mom. So, we call it simply The Jungle. Meazi couldn't watch it, she was too afraid of the tiger.

This past Friday the evening seemed to drag on and on. Steven was nowhere close to leaving work, so I thought it would be nice to have another movie night. I had recorded Ramona and Beesus on our DVR. I thought Beverly Cleary based entertainment would be a no-brainer. It was, until the girls walked into their basement and found their cat dead. Yep. Dead. Family. Pet. Oh and there was kissing! A young girl with a love life, which Meazi now refers to as a 'Lovin Life'.

Enter world's greatest website: Kids in Mind. Someone at work told Steven about this site, and it is great. We will be using it before we choose our next movie.

So yeah, another post about how I am struggling as a mother.  How do I make sure that my kids aren't those weird kids who aren't allowed to watch TV? How do I help them retain their beautiful imaginations? Why does Meazi already know who Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber are? How do I make sure I don't traumatize them with my poor viewing selections?

For the record, Pippi Longstocking's mother is dead and her father is the king of Cannibal Island.

"What's a cannibal mommy?"



  1. I relate to a lot of this! We adopted a ten and a thirteen year old from Ethiopia. Almost three years later, they still don't have cell phones (and won't), and our nearly-thirteen-year-old doesn't have Facebook access. We don't have cable. Yep, we're weird. We DO have Netflix instant streaming, so our battle is keeping them from watching movie after movie. I like that there's an end to a movie. It's so easy to channel surf. (I do miss my reality television viewing.)

    They have honor roll grades and time for sports, band, and reading. If they want to be tv junkies, they'll have to do it after high school. We didn't want to nurture a bad habit they didn't have when we met them.

    My husband is from rural Pennsylvania, and he's practically Amish. When we were dating ten years ago, I was watching a 90210 rerun and he said, "Which one's Brenda?"

    I love your blog!
    Sarah in NC
    mother of three, including two great Ethiopians

  2. I kept that up for over a year. Selam didn't realize that there were shows for kids on the TV. (She had, however, watched the videos of Elmo's world, so she knew who those folks were.) My reasoning behind letting her watch those DVDs but not the show is that there's no sense of urgency with a DVD-want to take a break to pretend you're a kitty having a birthday party? No problem. Too sleepy? hit pause, take a nap and come back. You run your life, not your TV. parents watched her for a weekend. And told her about PBS kids. I came home and she not only knew that PBS kids existed, but she also knew the names of the characters for 3 different shows, and that it was located at channel 13.

    It's been a few months now. I hate it.

    But you know, kids can come up with inappropriate stuff almost anywhere (re the Pippi comments). My kid asked me what a virgin was (around Christmas time) and I told her a woman who was not married. (She's 4). The next day she came into pre-school and said, "Miss E, my mommy's a virgin."

  3. Yes, they are going to be different but that is OK. We watch very little television but none of it is 'good' because I simply do not believe television is good. It's not. It's a babysitter. I've loved Kids In Mind and have used it for several years. Quinn is afraid of many many many things that other children are not so it's been a great help.

    Do you have books on tape at your library. That has been great for us. When Quinn was three he loved Denzel Washington's 'John Henry' rendition so much that he used to walk around the house saying "Mama, I'm a Man Now!" Oh my, I loved that cd for that! You want your children to feel very very comfortable being different and odd by the time they get to highschool because there is going to be a great deal of pressure to 'conform' and some of it is pretty bad. We are always talking to Quinn - Now in second grade - about how it is OK he doesn't know all the different cable channel characters.

    Hang in there Mama, you're doing a great job!

  4. Teague likes to talk about how I NEVER let him watch TV; he couldn't watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Power Rangers like all the kids, he had a lavender bike (hello hand me down from sister), wore a purple hand me down 1 piece snow suit in Kindergarten and everyone called him Barney (news to me!), and on and on. Then came college application time and personal essay time and my 18 year old son waxed eloquent about how he's his own guy, makes decisions about life from a space of his own sensibilities, and had parents who encouraged him to be his own person. Oh, and at 18 he's one of the nicest kids I know, loves his hippie sensibilities, rolls his jeans up in a signature "look", and carries a beautiful guatamalan purse that is purple with needlepoint (he insists we NOT call it a 'murse'). Plays LaCrosse, soccer, has a girlfriend who wears a Gandhi necklace, speaks Spanish fluently.... got it? Freaky kids are cool. And if they leave the house they know lots more than you want them to know about popular culture. I never demonized the stuff, I just refer to it as 'junk culture' and deemed it unecessary. Just my 2 cents.

  5. Little Bear! You can't go wrong with Little Bear. Really

  6. Oh, and listen to what KN says. She's one of my mothering gurus.

  7. Yes, KN rocks. Scootle watched "Nacho Libre" with my brothers while at my mom's. Ugh. I love that movie, but it is not appropriate for a 4 year old!! We've had to do so much unpacking. He also watched "Toy Story" and is now running around the house falling down flat on the floor whenever one of us sees him. He's going to be one bruised toy! We don't have a TV, so they don't "watch TV" but they watch Sesame Street and Elmo on Netflix almost every day somewhere between 4 & 5. I caved. Though the cute little dance and huge smile that Boo does when he hears Elmo's song does me in.

  8. We took out the tv from our living room. I hate the five o'clock hour before my husband gets home. Which is when our son used to watch tv for an hour. No more. No tv at all. We got rid of our cable a few months ago and did not miss it. When our son started fooling with the dvd player we had to get rid of that. Which left netflix. And sesame street. Which I thought was awful. Sooooo, that's that. But every day at five pm I think about going back.

    You know what strengthened my resolve? On Friday I put a cd on and our son stared at the player for over ten minutes waiting to be entertained. Then he wandered off to play.

  9. Shaun the Sheep is the only thing I've let Maeve watch so far (its crack for her)... and that was when I buckled for hair time necessity. I'm sure I'll falter from time to time, but I too believe that TV takes away from forming creative minds... I'm not better than others either, its just a choice I've made. Maeve doesn't know any different at this point either... that's helpful.

  10. The TV thing is so tricky. I didn't let R watch it until very recently at home, same with E. One of our sitters let them watch it more than I would have liked during this school year, so I feel like I have to ween them from it now that summer's here and I'm off.

  11. You absolutely are a better mother than me. We did no tv For PJ for two years. Enter Little Dude, our move and her second birthday, now PBS kids plays for more than an hour everyday in our house. Do I think it is "good", kid friendly tv- yes. My kids are learning positive things and it has already helped with things like getting vaccines. Do I wish I never turned it on? YES. Is one morning show becoming two, plus one when she doesn't feel good and one when Mommy needs a little break? Yes! They are not addicted yet, but I am. I don't know how to put the cat (in the hat) back in the bag. Good job, Mama.

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  13. I grew up with no TV, and SWORE I would not do that to my kids because it *is* tough being the one who doesn't know what's going on at school.

    But now, here I am and hey, I *am* doing that to my kids. We have DVDs, but no TV. I like it because it's more intentional - I can't just flick it on, and I always choose what we watch rather than just let the programmers decide (ther'es no grownup TV in our house either).

    I think it partly depends on personality. I'm lazy at heart and if the TV was there, I'd just watch it all the time, so I'm glad it's not. But I miss it, and I do worry about the social stigmatising of my kids, because being the transracially adopted twins from Ethiopia just doesn't feel like enough, right?

    But who knows. Different decisions in a few years, maybe. And yeah - Dora is strangely ubiquitous. Our kids have never seen her, but they have watches with her face. Go figure.

  14. thanks for writing this ... other people think we are so strange because we don't have cable. Our daughter watches DVDs .. at first it was only supposed to be during "hair time" but it's become what she does when supper is being made .. that time of day when everyone has low blood sugar. I tell myself that at least she is not being bombarded with advertising. Joanne (

  15. I caved. I swore I wouldn't but then M. turned 2. It's limited but I won't lie and say it's not a crutch/babysitter. I admire you so much. Hearing you talk about M&m's imaginative play make me want to pull the plug. Completely.

  16. We're a no television family, too. Our t.v. broke in half 16 years ago and we took at as a sign. We haven't looked back since (*and how the heck do people even have time to watch television? seriously?)

    I got into this weird mindset with Dew Drop, though, that went like this: I felt sorry for her during hair time. So I let her start watching things on the computer that I liked (Old School Sesame Street from the 1970's that I remembered, Pee Wee's Playhouse, and Yo Gabba Gabba). Long story short: everytime I let her watch something she would find a reason to freak out. She'd always want me to skip through the scarey stuff, but I couldn't because my hands were full of product. The whole scenario would always leave her with a foul mood. Then I realized, "of course she's in a foul mood. She's not used to being a spectator on life. She's used to DOING and MAKING things happen."

    I get grumpy when I watch the boob tube, too.

    But I do think about what a Super Freak my kid will be. Then again, at least her imagination and humanity will be intact. :)

  17. I was going to recommend Shaun the Sheep, too. I let my kid watch more tv than he probably should. But most often I am sitting with him and we watch together. I can't tell you how much Shaun the Sheep cracks me up. BTW, The Sound of Music just about sent Manny into catatonia, all that music is so sweet, but the story is just too much.

  18. what to do about this? I have been thinking that we have to have some more tv because it is our culture.

    Currently we only watch "Kipper" on netflix streaming during hair time.

    They love it and I don't mind it. It is gentle and sweet little stories.

    We tried movies and other shows but they have all been too sad or scary or weird or mean or snotty kids or etc.

    I do think that pretty soon we gotta branch out and give them some more exposure to tv and movies. I hate to do it and think I will se if kn and M and M have blogs because I like their advice.

    anyway, try "kipper" if you want something sweet and gentle.


  19. Man, I just read all these comments and wonder if I shouldn't think of implementing a t.v. intervention in my family. I may be slightly addicted myself. damn it! Well, I just wanted to tell you I admire what you are doing for your family....I think it is great. And who knows, maybe our televisions will miraculously stop working when the sun is shining this summer. ;)

  20. I swore I'd never let my little guy watch TV. That lasted 'til he was about 20 months old and I was insanely desperate for a wee break here and there. I LOVE, love, love Sesame Street so was actually kinda happy when my son finally got into it. Now there's way too much PBS Kids on in our house (we DVR a number of shows), so I'm trying to take it down a notch, because, really, putting that thing on is pretty selfish on my part.

    I do wonder, though. Many parents who don't let their children watch TV are pretty openly judgmental of those of us who do. Yet the children of many of those TV-forbidding parents regularly watch movies. I get that there are slight differences between the two, but in the grand scheme of things, not really. Am I missing something?

    Interestingly, my four-year old son ADORES Spider-man. He has never seen a moment of it on TV or elsewhere, yet he is obsessed.


  21. I absolutely hate TV. When my child was born, I was still an avid watcher. He spent his early years watching Thomas the Tank Engine, Sesame Street, Dora, Blues Clues, etc. He still watches TV now, but I think he's kind of following my lead at this point. When I'm home, the TV is never on. I'd rather listen to music. When he and I are home alone, we often have the TV off. Unfortunately, it's dad who enjoys the TV and feels it should be the background to our lives.

    I say this to say that I'm steadily deprogramming the child. It's the same thing I do with respect to the Catholic school he attends. Since I can't throw the TV out the window, I have, instead, tried to use it to my advantage. So I'm often using it to help me teach him critical thinking. I'll often discuss what he's watching with him, asking him why it didn't make sense, why something like that would never happen, what something like what he just saw would really mean in the real world.

    If nothing else, I've got the kid questioning and critiquing what he sees. At this point, that's the best I can do. (But I'd be more than happy to never watch TV again. Frankly, the adult shows are pointless. I do believe the shows for kids have some redeeming value—the operative word being "some").

  22. We are t.v. watchers...or we were.

    Now, we never seem to watch it and I don't miss it one bit.

    The main reason we don't watch it anymore is because Ade has no interest in can be on something for kids and he will pause, look and then run away to do anything else.

    So, he has been a good influence on us.

    As for the T.V. geared clothing...I'm with you on that one. In fact, we received a few items as gifts and just yesterday I took them out of the closet and put in them in the donation bin. I haven't been able to put them on him and so instead of sitting there in a closet full of clothes they might as well go to someone who NEEDS them.

    And what's with kids shows/movies and death? Always someone dies like a cat or hello a mother?

  23. I say go with your gut. And not the frustrated one... the one that watches them sleep.

    My daughter will be 15 in October (ahh, I cant believe it!) and we've never done the TV thing. We watch movies and when we do its a special time. Im not crazy strict about it and as Kiana has gotten older there have been things she has been able to see via netflix- like Glee. Although there were times I caved into my frustrations over the years, I think in the end its been a good choice for us. My daughter is a foracious reader, loves to walk around singing and is super creative in so many ways.
    Ive never really had issues with "bordom" with my kids.

    How about trying scholastic series dvd when desperate? We have lots of these (they are relativly inexpensive) which is different readers reading books you may already have. The books are animated but only with the pictures already in the book. You may be able to get one at the library and try it.
    Or you could try some of the Rabbit Ears DVDs or books on CD/tape. Theres a great one of Robin Williams reading Pecos Bill- too funny! These may be "softer" choices than disney movies.

    For me its really all the advertising I dont want my kids watching, more than the shows themselves. Even the pbs shows- you need to pick which ones will work for your kids and which ones wont. Its too easy to get addicted to I have found. Id rather just send them outside- or challenge them to find something creative to do with themselves. Kids can amaze you when they are left to occupy themselves with all the wonderful tools we provide them with.

  24. Great post Julie, the last part especially made me chuckle. I think it's awesome that you are so mindful of what your kids are and are not watching.

  25. I have to laugh through this entire thing cause that 'scarey stuff' is what we are experiencing too. Last year- fearless. This year- E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. not only is the giant from Jack and the beanstock too much- but also the princess and the pea... why? Cause that pea hurts the princess. All those things you mentioned that I 'thought' were ok- not so much. Who knew 'the little train that could' would scare little boys. Warning: Diego- the puma is scary and my biggest gripe is the recurring theme shows up in imaginative play and conversation "baby is scared and lost and we need to bring baby frog/sloth/jaguar back to his mommy and daddy." annoying.

  26. We're a no TV for the little one household also. I can't even keep track anymore of the number of comments about how our daughter must be missing out or how on our next road trip we surely must buy a portable dvd player. Oy! In the meantime she loves to read about Elmo and Dora and has a great imagination. I think they'll all be okay even if they are different!

  27. Turo is very plugged in over here -iDevices, Wii, PBS. He has access to technology - in moderation with limits.

  28. I don't own a TV - mostly because I don't want to spend the money on one, or pay for cable, and also because I know I would zonk out in front of it if I had one! We do watch a lot of videos on the computer though, and there have been a lot more issues to deal with than I ever thought there would be. Elfe loves the Jungle Book too, but the first time we watched it I realized that it is essentially the story of an adoption disruption (fortunately we watched it after our adoption finalization, so I could reassure her that we are a family forever - the judge said so!). Dead mothers, evil step-mothers (who are kind of like adoptive mothers when you really think about it...), all sorts of racism and sexism in those old-school Disney movies - it's way more complicated than I ever expected it to be! But I'm a "face your fear" kind of parent - I'd rather we watch this stuff and talk about the issues than pretend those issues don't exist.

  29. I LOVED reading this post...especially since we've been living in a mennonite community for the last 3 years! :) We only get 2 channels and therefore we don't have much to watch! We do watch some Andy Griffith and dvds in the winter, but we've always had no-tv summers. I've found eliminating tv much easier than having to keep track of time, having them beg me to watch, etc.

    My oldest is 11 and is sometimes frustrated that he doesn't know what other kids are talking about at school (from tv shows), but it's really not worth it to make us consider letting more tv into our/our kids heads.

    There is so much other fun stuff to do in the world than to sit and watch other people living! Thanks for opening up this conversation.

  30. p.s. We talk a lot around here about "tv-brain" we feel after we watch something...usually sluggish and crabby, just like with junk food, so why I go back to both?!

  31. That is wonderful. My kids don't watch TV at all, and I never, never watch it at home myself either. However, their dad puts on way too many movies (imo)for them, but at least the movies are in Spanish (or Chinese for the big girl). But the 7 year old has a Nintendo DSI from the grandparents, which is probably causing him some damage, who knows... It is tough swimming upstream, but keep it up. Great that you two are united in this.

    Oh, yeah, and the "lovin life" cracks me up. Funny girl. And Domingo the toothbrush is hilarious. Domingo the friend looks awesome, too!

  32. My daughter (8) watches a movie on Friday night. I think this is fine -- she's tired from her week. Hair time is where this movie watching limitation all breaks down in our house. I have no other way to get through it all. I think for her, she didn't know how to play very well when she first came home at 6, and she was so exhausted from trying to function, that a little movie/PBS kids was ok. However, turning it off has been a major problem, although it's getting much better.

    I use Netflix, mostly online. I like it, but not the surfing aspect where all kinds of dumb Disney tv shows and other inappropriate stuff pop up in the list. She's old enough to want to control the remote.

    While she does watch movies and a little TV via netflix, I check in about what the story is about, etc. because she is young and her comprehension is still limited at times.

    We have yet to make it through many Disney movies -- too scary: Jungle Book,Princess and Frog, Sleeping Beauty, Nemo,some Pippi, etc. She spent over a year just wanting to watch Dora, Barney, Diego, Kipper etc. because they were formulatic, not scary, etc. I had to work on "what was real" -- Dora?

    I need movies to get through hair time, for relaxing on a weekend late afternoon/early evening. I have admittedly used it as an electronic babysitter a few times.

    It's a good topic.

  33. My son was freaked out by the majority of Disney and/or Pixar movies. Especially anything involving predator/prey type sequences - the sharks in Nemo, the hyenas in the Lion King. This is a kid who grew up in a region where fear of predators was real, after all. Plus when they've never been desensitized to that stuff, it's all scary, especially for imaginative kids. Not to mention the fact that parents get killed off pretty regularly in these movies - Nemo's mom in the first 5 minutes, the dad in the Lion King, Bambi's mother....

    What was safe? Cars, Pooh's Heffalump Movie, the Muppet Movie, Barney goes to the Zoo. Kipper DVDs were also popular (who doesn't love a dog with a British accent?), as was Super Why. TV on DVD might be your compromise... you can be very particular and it's much more intentional to sit down & put in a specific DVD rather than just flipping on the TV to see what's on. Yet still buys you 25 minutes or so to make supper....

  34. I understand the no judgment thing, but I think you should totally take credit for no tv as an awesome and very hard thing for a mother to do. I was going to be a no tv mom too, but I failed. I don't think I'm going to hell for it, but wish I had been stronger in that department. My kids current favorite imaginitive play is pretending they are are baby dino[saur] or baby jauguar from Dora. And re-enacting entire sesame street scenes verbatim. You rock, and inspire me to do better.

  35. I think you empower kids not to feel "different" by making them proud of their family values. My kids have heard the "different families have different rules" speech a million times.

    The reality is that we have to do what we feel in our gut is best for OUR family and many times that goes against the grain of what most of their peers are doing.

  36. @ Ted and Lori, oh my, of all the things I most cherish about when my son was little watching Little Bear has to be in the top 20, such a sweet program.

  37. So true,and why are so many kids movies full of the romaiticized orphan theme? We have given up on Disney movies, PBS though....