Tuesday, October 17, 2006

It's officially time to throw the remote in the trash...

We all had a vision of how we would parent before we actually had kids. My vision involved homemade baby food, cloth diapers, co-sleeping through the night, etc. Oh, how things change once the baby arrives. Things seem unrealistic, expectations are lowered, we feel some guilt but not enough to change it. Part of my perfect vision also involved no tv watching for Sam. Before he was born I didn't understand why anyone would want their baby watching tv, and I admit that I saw it as a type of laziness in parents. Then Sam came and I needed a way to fill up hours and hours of time, just the two of us. When he was very young he was all colic, all the time, so tv wasn't an issue. Eventually though he settled and every so often we had some down time by watching a Baby Einstein video. As he got a bit older it turned into the occasional episode of Teletubbies, and as of late Sam has discovered the joys of Elmo while mommy has discovered the joys of getting to take a shower while Elmo babysits.

It was never a lot of tv, about half an hour so that I could get ready for the day. And maybe if he wasn't feeling well and wanted to cuddle on the couch...and maybe if he needed to be still to settle down for a nap...you get the picture. And I did this, knowing full well that the American Academy of Pediatrics did not recommend any television viewing for children under the age of two. And I did this knowing why they would make that recommendation. Certainly nothing good was coming from Sam's tv viewing other than some down time for me. He wasn't learning anything from it since we all know babies learn by doing, not by watching a 2 dimensional screen. I could see him sitting there totally zoning out as I thought to myself, "this is not right." He was engaged but not in a good way. When asked if he wanted to watch Elmo though, he would smile and run to the tv waiting to see his friend sing that incredibly annoying song, and he would dance, which I could rationalize as "interaction". And so I continued - a bit of tv, every so often when I needed it, like to shower for 5 minutes without Sam standing there opening and closing my shower door. I had become that "lazy" parent but I didn't care, not enough to change it anyway.

About a month ago a writer on Slate suggested that there might be a possible link between the increase in children diagnosed with Autism and the rise of tv viewing among children in the past 25 years. On first read I thought the idea was interesting, but not very convincing. He had very little in the way of hard evidence to support this theory and acknowledged in the article that it was little more than speculation. I actually was a little pissed off by the article after thinking about it a bit because I think it's dangerous to insinuate that Autism might be linked to something that a parent can control when you have no evidence to support you. Parents of Autistic children, I am sure, already beat themselves up enough wondering if they did something wrong or could have somehow prevented this from happening to their children. For us, it hits close to home because my husband has two autistic half brothers. The idea of my Mother-in-law berrating herself for letting her boys watch too much tv was too much, especially if there was no basis.

Yesterday a follow up article was posted on Slate discussing a recent study done by Cornell University, potentially linking Autism to tv viewing by children under three. If you've not yet seen this article you really need to go and read it (it links to the previous article I mentioned above, which is also worth your time to read as it gives a lot of background on the potential connection between the two). Reading it was enough to make me jump from my seat, grab the remote and delete every episode of Teletubbies and Sesame Street we had. The researchers are not suggesting that tv is the sole cause of the rise in autism, but they, and the writer, believe there is a link, that it is one factor among many. What it comes down to for me is this: no one knows the real cause of autism and why it has become so widespread, but this study has found that tv might play a role, potentially a big role. And since I already know that tv does nothing good for my child and that his time would be better spent doing...well, just about anything else, then that's enough for me. I find the article to be extremely compelling in its case against tv for children under the age of three, not perfect, not without holes in the argument, not to be taken as fact without further scrutiny, but compelling, compelling enough to make me stop doing something that I know wasn't really good for my child anyway. And so the Teletubbie and Sesame Street season passes have been cancelled and the remote has been hidden. We are officially a no tv household, at least before Sam's bedtime we are - Hubby and I are working hard to get through the first season of Lost on DVD and there's no way we're stopping now! I think it's a good decision whether or not this study proves true (and there is already some major backlash and criticism of it). Sam and I have already had more tickle fights, read more books, and done more dancing than we would have on a regular morning. The question is: how am I going to get my shower?


Blogger smartmama said...

You know I am death on the AAP rule no Tv before 2 rule (to me if mothers across generations and history could get things done without tv babysitter so could I) (thats what you get for having an MS in child devel- and teaching classes on media effects on children) My ds is 5 now- and still watches no TV- when he hit 2 I thought why introduce it now? he is so creative and loves to play has a long attnetion span, adores books,art, building, (for me it is also about teaching your kids to be accountable for their time and what they do with it- not that there is no place for leisure and entertainment)-- He now occasionally gets to check out a video from the library (usually eyewitness nature or pop. mechanics for kids) but watches less than 30 min a week- to some people that may seem freaky, extreme, or cruel- but you know what he doesn't complain or ask to watch more-I lvoe that he isn't addicted to it (and as I used to ask my parenting students what is the value in seeing cinderella for the 200th time?) there was a really interesting article in newsweek about 3-4 yrs ago on this subject that was so interesting- people claim their kids are learning from it- but i say not learning anything they couldn't form a book or activity- it also talked about how when they test market the episodes if kids start to lose attnetion they make the characters break out in song, juump up and down- flash stuff on the screen- to try to pull them back in- ick! Yes thats why its so overstimulating- I also see alot less aggressive play with my boys than with many of their peers and I believe I can attribute it to that (and the research backs me up!)
okay I'll end my novella- but yes I think cutting back- cutting it out will only develop new skills and abilities

2:26 PM  
Blogger amyjane said...

I confess--Patrick loves Elmo. I justify it by watching with him and talking about it (usually while I dress him for the day since it comes on so goshawful early).
I am a little troubled as well by all the attempts to make links between TV and autism, non-organic foods and ADHD, etc. I just think we all have enough to feel guilty about every day.
As for us and TV, I've decided to employ the principle of moderation in all things. Do I think 5 hours a day of PBS is ok? No. Do I think 20 minutes of Elmo's World will cause Autism. Also, no. That's my lil opinion on the subject. Thanks for making me think about it again!

4:01 PM  
Blogger Lei said...

I too was death on the no tv before 2 rule but Drew sees what his big bro and sis see. So I do believe it is best to jsut not have it on at all. I have been giving this so much thought lately! Thanks for the links - it just might be what pushes me over the fence.

11:07 PM  
Blogger New Mama's Nest said...

Thanks for the post and the links! X has to this point watched no TV. We are/were guilty of letting the TV drone in the background so that we could listen to Oprah or Dr.Phil or some other wholesome tidbit, but I noticed I would space more and if he would catch a glipse of that bright screen out of the corner of his eye he'd immeadiately zone out.... so now we keep the tube off during the day (thank God for TIVO!)... if I need "noise" we crank up the tunes which just puts me in a better mood anyway.

The ONLY way I've found to take a shower before noon is to bring X along with me, so I'm afraid I'm no help there!

11:18 PM  
Blogger Allie said...

Fortunately for me, my son has not shown a huge interest in TV. The only character that he is interested in is Barney and we have 2 different videos that he occasionally watches and I can say for certain that he has learned something from those two videos.

I personally do not watch much TV, but my husband on the other hand always has some kind of sports on at all times when he is at home. This has certainly shaped my son as he is a sport-a-holic at the age of 2. Am I concerned about this? Absolutely not, in fact, I am happy that he is interested in playing sports 24/7. It keeps him active, he learns how to interact with other kids and he is constantly getting stimulated.

I grew up in a household where TV was off limits with the exception of Walt Disney on Sunday nights. We (my sister and I) were expected to go outside and play irregardless of what the weather was like. It certainly allowed for many great adventures between the two of us and I look forward to encouraging that with my children.

11:11 AM  
Anonymous katie said...

Jack watches one show in the morning BUT he almost always plays with some sort of toy while doing it. The television is off the rest of the day and we have CBC Radio on in the background much of the day.
Jack is such a busy, interactive, imaginative child that his minimal tv viewing doesn't concern me. I am off to read this article and maybe it will change my mind!!!

11:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We don't allow much TV either. Cam doesn't like it and won't sit still for a movie unless he is sick or something. In the morning he gets a little Sesame Street as we all cuddle in bed together. And he gets a Signing Time video every couple of days. We don't regularly turn on the TV with him around. I figure the small amount he watches won't hurt him. But I am totally going to have to read that article!

1:08 PM  
Anonymous Lynanne said...

As a medical scientist/dr. and mom of two children with autism, I read the article with great skepticism. I worry a bit when economists start doing medical research. Many of my concerns are echoed in the comments for the article.

First there is the issue of confounding variables...Cable TV is a marker of an affluent society. Numerous conditions are higher in countries that have access to cable TV. Diabetes, asthma...the list goes on. Is TV the cause of these conditions also? Probably not.

The argument that the Amish do not watch TV and have low rates of autism falls apart also. Several diseases aren't as prevalent in the Amish population. Many of these conditions have a genetic component. Autism is one of these. In a population with a relatively stable genetic base, it's not surprising that the rates are low.

I'm not saying that it’s not plausible that there could be a link. But you have to be cautious - the vaccination and autism link sounded plausible when it was first proposed. Since then it has pretty much been discredited (though some groups still adamantly believe it). This is sad - mercury has been removed from childhood vaccines, yet people still fear having their child vaccinated.

I guess the key is “everything in moderation.” I don’t think letting your son watch Elmo for 15 minutes while you take a shower is going to be harmful. Sitting him in front of the boob tube for 4-5 hours a day might be. Likewise, it won’t hurt him to have a few M&M’s once in a while. Yet, if you feed him a huge bag every day, his weight may go up and with it his risk for childhood type 2 diabetes.

This probably doesn’t apply to the under 2 crowd, but my husband recently got me to read: Everything Bad Is Good for You by Steve Johnson. He provides some convincing arguments for how TV and technology may actually have benefits.

That being said, my family doesn't watch TV much either. It's not a rule (we know that banning something makes it more attractive). We moved the TV out of the main living area and everyone lost interest. We didn't even have cable when the boys were young.

1:54 PM  
Blogger Nikkie said...

I've always been very leary of letting my little guy watch TV. I've been wating for him to sleep and nap to watch my shows so he doens't see me doing it. His daddy isn't so good about doing that too. I've let him watch cartoons when I shower, and Curious George every now and then but I've been trying to curb it. I've been having music on more. If I put him in his play pen, give him his piano and turn on some tunes, he's just as entertained. I don't know what I'm going to do when he's too big for his play pen though.

4:19 PM  
Anonymous Mir said...

I'm with AmyJane and Lynanne (hey there!). All things in moderation. Chances are, if Sam doesn't have any of the signs of Autism now, he doesn't have Autism. I believe that these factors CONTRIBUTE to a child who is already at risk.

And you know, they DO learn from television. It might not be the best teacher, but some of the programs you mentioned are meant to teach young children. Teletubbies, though, THM?! Ick...how can you stand them!?

My daughter watched one video a day of her choice. That's all, just 30 minutes. And she's gifted -- nowhere near Autistic. Now, she watches one movie on "early dismissal" school days (tues and thurs) and one on Sat and Sun.

My son watches one Baby Einstein every 3-4 days. He could care less about the TV.

They were just different kids. If Sam enjoys TV, I say let him. Just use moderation and good judgement. If you can, sit with him and interact during the program. I will tell you, the HUGE downer about this is when they get older, and they learn to ask questions, they will continue to "interact" through movies. Including those you want to see!!

Good luck!

4:21 PM  
Blogger kate said...

we're a pretty staunch "no tv" household as it pertains to our son. last year one day when he was REALLY sick and miserable we let him watch some of Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas (a CLASSIC. if you haven't seen it-do!) and it was the perfect thing because he was so miserable. that's the only tv he's had.

i found the article interesting, but i'm also not worried about the autism connection, personally. i avoid tv w/ bb because i think it stunts imagination. and i don't like seeing kids zone out like that. vacant stare. checked out. scares me.

for my shower bb has a "rest." he sits in his room or in his crib and listens to music and reads book. it's what we do instead of tv. he loves to listen to stories on CD. he could listen to the Frog and Toad collection all day. he's occupied and happy, but also his imagination is engaged. and he's not being talked down to, either.

5:32 PM  
Blogger bon said...

Hm. I have some great BIG FAT problems with this kind of "link." I have been there for the babyhoods of three autistic children... babyhoods that included not one iota of TV except for one boy. Regardless, these kids were different from day ONE, and I am talking about at least two very HIGH FUNCTIONING kids that came out of the womb... autistic.

I'll buy that TV might have the potential to push some borderline individuals over onto a more extreme manifestation... but the main thing we need to remember about autistics is that their brains function and process differently than neurological "normals." What damage TV does to them cannot necessarily be a one for one correlation with the brain of a "normal."

That said, I am never in a big hurry to indoctrinate my kids into TV land; we don't have cable etc... but I do let my kids watch morning PBS as I get the day rolling, the occasional video and frankly? What damage may be occuring to their little noggins is offset by the fact that I have enough sanity to let them live yet another day. They can sue me when they turn 18.

6:43 PM  
Anonymous Goslyn said...

Interesting link. I keep the TV off as much as I can, but I have been guilty of letting Tom watch 15 minutes here or there so I can get some rest.

As to showering, is it possible to grab a quick shower before your husband leaves for work? That's what I do. At least I'm clean for the day, then.

10:28 AM  
Blogger Adventures In Babywearing said...

A great link- and something very good to be thinking about & looking into...

I will comment on the vaccine issue (as that is my usual platform!) that people need to do more research and *get it out of your heads* that mercury is the only problem, and that autism is/was the only thing that people feared. Do you know what other ingredients are in vaccines??? Do you realize that there are other damages vaccines can do?

Of course, we're all trying to do the best parenting possible, reading up on "the latest" to protect our kids without putting them in a bubble. The more we are informed, the better, then a good decision can be made from that.

As for the shower thing, Gray still does the shower in the sling with me. Not sure Sam would be up for that! Be sure to keep us posted on what you end up doing!

2:29 PM  
Anonymous abc momma said...

I guess I'm the only one that uses PBS as a babysitter/entertainer/preschool. I grew up with the tv on ALL the time. I'm sure it affected my creativity and attention span. Hmmm. Maybe TV causes depression too?

I could turn the tv off more, but I'm far from going cold turkey.

6:13 AM  
Blogger Gina said...

Now that I have the new 'do, I shower and do my hair at night long after the boy has gone to bed. If you have to shower in the morning, sit Sam down in there with you and let him play in the water. When you are done, scrub him and you are both ready for the day. I have only done that once with Liam and he LOVED it! He sat and splashed in the tub while I dried off even... then I rinsed him off and got him out.

I am agreed with most of what everyone has stated on the no TV rule. We've witnessed that stare... it's funny, but scary! The Hubby will never give up the TV, so as long as Liam isn't actually watching it and playing with his toys instead... that is fine with me.

2:41 AM  
Anonymous Poopydigs said...

Oh my. After reading this, I too, have been weaning Ella off of the television. We're bad parents. We've used the television as a crutch when feeding Ella (since she's such a fussy eater). We took advantage of the "zombie" mode, in that she can eat a whole gallon of baby food, if she's watching Blues Clues.

That has stopped now. It's rough, and I'm sure my daughter will lose a few ounces in the process, but it's all for the better.

thank you.

11:12 AM  

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