January 28, 2011

Preschoolers: TV or not TV?

At-home parents of preschoolers face few issues as troubling as television. On the one hand it's convenient entertainment. On the other hand every expert claims it's going to turn your darling child into a fat, maladjusted, sticky brat with an IQ in the double digits.

If you aren't familiar with the arguments against TV this article sums them up nicely.

Obviously I'm not an expert on anything. I'm just a parent trying to juggle caring for my child, paying bills, cleaning house (sort of), and my own sanity. But, for what it's worth, here's my take.

Most of the arguments against television are actually against bad parenting. Television is not the monster. Allowing your child to "zone out" and snack on fatty foods, avoid exercise, and watch inappropriately rated content and commercials is the monster. Not encouraging your child to read or do their homework is the monster.

When television becomes a replacement for life, it's a problem.

My daughter (2.5) watches a lot of TV. My daughter also goes to several play groups each week, reads at least five books per day, plays in the yard when the weather permits, eats three balanced meals and one small snack only, and is showered with affection 24/7 by her mom & dad. She adores her music classes and will be enrolled in gymnastics when she turns three. She doesn't watch commercials (hello, DVR? The article says 97% of television watched by kids is live). A parent is always in the room while she's watching TV, usually sitting near her reading a book or interacting with her and the show. She only watches age appropriate programming (Dora, Team Umizoomi, Max and Ruby).

I just don't see that it's negatively impacted her life. If TV is dumbing her down I'm glad because I can't afford Princeton for my fifth-grader. She speaks in complete sentences: people often remark on how advanced her language skills are. She's known the entire alphabet (and the accompanying phonetic sounds) for a long time now. She can count to twenty (and recognize the written numbers) in English and Spanish. She sings all day long. She plays nicely with other kids her age in small groups. She knows the animals, shapes, colors, blah blah blah.

I'm not bragging, I'm just making the observation that I don't think TV is the culprit for the downfall of our society. The majority of arguments against it are preventable: TV takes the place of reading, exercise, homework etc. Kids are permitted to snack on junk food while watching TV, or view commercials / violence / sexual content.

This is not to say that I think the TV should be running constantly. When our television is on it is for the purpose of watching a particular program. It's not yammering in the background during meal times, play time, etc. If she expresses interest in doing something else the TV is turned off.

I'm nine months pregnant now (read: exhausted), so even I think she's watching too much TV lately. But my worry is that she's probably bored, not that she's losing IQ points. Maybe I should buy her an Xbox.     -Kim

January 9, 2011

Competent Dads and Other Mythical Creatures

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Article recently appeared on The Good Men Project. This is the original.

"You're such a great dad!"

My husband hears this all the time. This, or the slightly more puzzling "Bethany is lucky to have such a great dad!" If I post a picture of me and my daughter on Facebook I hear how cute she is, or how nice my hair looks, or what fun the activity must have been. If I post a picture of Jerry with my daughter the comments are about what a terrific father he is.

I've spent quite some time reflecting on why this bothers me. Is it jealousy? After much introspection I can honestly say no, definitely not. I devote every waking hour to my daughter and I worship the ground she walks on. I have no insecurities about my own parenting ability nor do I think anyone else considers me to be a sub-par mommy.

Is it the implied sexism? Well, yeah. I guess it is. I (of course) don't think any less of the friends who make these comments, rather I'm troubled by our society which still perceives fathers to be absentee buffoons. A couple hours on Google revealed many touching articles written by dads who are even more pissed off about it than I am.

Sure, our society has its share of deadbeat dads, but there are plenty of crappy moms, too. So why are the dads saddled with a Neanderthal image? Why does having a penis preclude the ability to comfort a crying child? Or help with homework? Or give a bath?

It is an injustice to men to treat parental competency as some sort of monumental achievement. If I were a forklift operator it would get pretty old to have good ol' boys patting me on the back all the time, winking, and telling me what a great job I was doing. Same principle.

Conversely it is an injustice to women to make the assumption that parenting is somehow easier for us.

My parents divorced when I was two years old. I stand before you today at 35 and solemnly swear that I've never seen those people have an argument. They never once undermined one another or even disagreed about anything. God could not have created two less similar personality types if He spent hours trying. Did they have different parenting philosophies? I'd bet my firstborn on it. Did it show? Never. My father was at every school play and parent/teacher conference. Although my mom had primary custody my dad still took me camping, introduced me to some of the most delicious food in the world, and dug in his heels and handled my teen angst like a pro.

Having a child is deciding to take responsibility for someone else's life. Good parents everywhere, of both genders, deserve rewards and riches for what they do every day.

I dedicate this post to my husband: the best co-parent I could have possibly hoped for (and good lookin', too).     -Kim