I remember, when I was 3 or 4 years old, sitting in front of the television watching the test pattern waiting for my local public television station to begin its broadcast day. I liked the pretty colored stripes. Finally they would disappear, the station information would be displayed along with a drawing of a scissor-tailed flycatcher (the state bird), and an authoritative voice would announce, “This is OETA. Public television for all of Oklahoma.” Then I would hear that cheerful song about sweeping the clouds away and going where the air is sweet, and for the next hour my television would show me a wonderful world in which fuzzy monsters and real people of all colors live side-by-side in a place where you can find a friend just by stepping out of the house.
My daughter Lydia is 18 months old and has never seen an episode of “Sesame Street”. Why do I deprive her of this experience I loved so much?? There are two reasons.
One is that children under 2 years old should not watch any television at all. The American Academy of Pediatrics still says this and has updated its statement to include the use of computers and tablets–no screen-time for toddlers. I know, a lot of my parenting peers think this is simply impossible. I agree that it’s impossible to avoid any screen exposure at all, in a world where electronic screens are incorporated into many public places and most adults are constantly poking some kind of PocketFox. (Just yesterday, I was in a hospital elevator with a wall-mounted screen relentlessly playing hospital publicity videos!) Still, it’s worth the effort to save our babies’ eyes and hearts and brains by keeping them away from the screens as much as we can and certainly not encouraging them to watch TV. I’ve explained how we kept our first child off the screens until he was 2 and phased it in carefully after that.
Everybody told me it would be harder with the second child. Yes, it is, because her big brother loves to play computer games, and our computer is in the living room. It’s true that Lydia sometimes toddles over to watch what he is doing, so she’s probably had more total screen-time than he had by this age. But when we rearranged before she was born, we placed our L-shaped computer desk such that the screen is turned 45 degrees toward the wall, instead of facing the center of the room; that makes it less eye-catching. Our television set faces the couch, but we hardly ever watch it when Lydia’s awake. Neither parent has a smartphone, so she’s not seeing a screen while we’re holding her. I try to keep my iPad out of her sight; if she climbs into my lap while I’m using it, I finish up as quickly as I can. Most importantly, we never turn on a video for her or let her play with the iPad herself.
But “Sesame Street” is so sweet and charming and a rich source of cultural references in our family and the wider society! As I said in my previous article:
But then, when I was 7 months pregnant, an odd sound made by the elevator at work reminded me of the “Rubber Ducky” song from “Sesame Street”, and I suddenly felt devastated–how could I deprive my child of the joy of knowing Ernie and Big Bird and…and LOVABLE FURRY GROVER?!
Well, here’s what we learned when raising Nicholas: Read more of this post