An AP parent on the benefit of no-media children

While reading a Waldorf education related mailing list, I came across this thoughtful and interesting message from Kimberley Weaver, and, with her gracious permission, I’m reproducing it here for your reading enjoyment.
I had a similar experience with my kids when I was pregnant. I had severe morning sickness through most of my pregnancies and during my third my husband was working full-time *and* doing his PhD. So, my kids watched more TV than normal while I was pregnant.
That being said, they still watched a bit every day until we noticed problems two years ago with my 4yr old daughter and her reaction to media. That coupled with a switch to Waldorf education lead us to walk down the no-media path.

It was a fairly rough transition at first and my daughter (4 at the time) rebelled against it quite heavily. I even noticed it was rough for my 2yr old who really didn’t know how to play on his own when his sister was at kindergarten and the two of them seemed a bit lost for the first few weeks.
BUT, the good news is that it’s pretty wonderful to see everything that happens on the other side of the fence. I’d had some resistance from my family over the no media decision and they would try to sneak in TV for my deprived children when we were around, but my mother quickly came around to our side when she saw just how different the children’s play was. All of a sudden my kids didn’t need to be entertained. There was no sense of panic when we didn’t have plans outside the house or the weather outside was bad.
My kids had to go through the withdrawal pains of being entertained by the tube towards a new path of being able to entertain themselves. There’s nothing like a little boredom to bring out some ingenuity and my kids quickly realized that if they didn’t figure out something to do, they’d have nothing to do.
So, I absolutely do not believe that the opportunity is EVER lost for anyone to reap the benefits of no-media. I am seriously considering getting rid of our TV completely because the kids can go weeks without watching anything but I need to check in with a few shows a week. I don’t like the example it sets for the kids and I feel like I’m being hypocritical to tell them that they aren’t allowed to watch TV while they know that some nights I put them to bed and watch it myself.
Yes, it’s never too late for any of us to benefit from the opportunities. All I can say is that I’m glad that we persevered with the kids because it was the best thing we ever did (aside from finding our local Waldorf school) as my kids are so much happier and better adjusted not watching TV. They know how to play and how to communicate with others kids in a real way instead of just regurgitating what they’ve watched on TV.
In taking away the TV, it’s given our children the gift of knowing themselves and being able to answer the question “What do you want to do” with any number of ideas, none of which include whatever’s on TV at the time. Hang in there!!!
We’re AP’ers too. Our 2.5yr old still sleeps on a crib mattress on the floor beside our bed every night. I think that Waldorf education is a natural fit for attachment parents as it respects many of the lifestyle choices that are made. It’s not uncommon to have extended nursing, cosleeping, etc in our Waldorf school where we’d be looked at as monsters with three heads in the public system!
We were AP long before we had any experience with WE or a media-free lifestyle for our kids. Something never quite gelled for me when we’d let the kids sleep in our bedroom at night and then just dump them in front of a TV during the day (not all day, but still…). At that time, I just didn’t have all the information and experience for it to crystallize into an understanding until we felt the pressure from the kindergarten teachers at our local Waldorf school when we went for the kids’ interviews to join the school.
At that point we didn’t watch a lot of TV but I felt like we wouldn’t belong or fit in if the kids watched TV so that was the main impetus for us to go cold turkey. I swear to the fact that I have different kids a year and a half later. They can make an adventure out of collecting sticks in the backyard to make a bonfire for gnomes, chasing the dogs around the living room and listening to stories we tell or books we read with much more enthusiasm than they ever watched TV.
By far the most important thing is the difference it’s made in their sense of fear. They just weren’t able to process all the images on TV and it would give them nightmares and make them very scared that the bizarre pictures on the screen could actually happen in real life.
My kids aren’t scared any longer from what they’ve seen on TV. I find they’re much more compassionate too as they have real interactions with other human beings instead of learning how to treat others from the “role models” presented by today’s children’s programming.

8 comments on “An AP parent on the benefit of no-media children

  1. I agree that the media can be damaging to just about anyone who experiences it. However, I believe that we ALL experience it on a daily basis, whether or not we plan to. What we need is to learn how to deal with it, to think critically, not the shelter ourselves or our kids from it.
    We’ve gone back and forth on whether or not to even have a TV in our house. At first, we had one and kept it in the den with no antenna connected, just to watch movies when we wanted. Now, though, we have it in the living room, and we all have things we like to watch. It has been important to us, though, that we not plan our day around a show’s time. If we feel like watching, we turn it on and see if there’s anything we want to watch. Often, there’s not, and we turn it right back off.
    Also, I taught my boys at a young age to push the “commercial button” (mute button) whenever a commercial comes on. I think this alone has been a huge contributor to them not wanting everything they see in the stores.
    But, looking at the big picture, we just felt that it was important not to shelter our kids from anything in reason (porn, for example, is not allowed). We do expose them gradually, though. We’re in tune with what our kids feel they can handle and what they can’t. We feel that they will have to learn how to face the media and deal with it someday, and we want to help them develop the tools to handle it critically. We talk with them (actually, they do most of the talking) during a show, about what happened, if someone was doing something that was mean or nice, if something is real or not, etc.
    My boys are capable of having real conversations, and rarely are they based on anything they saw on TV. I’ve gotten comments just about everywhere we’ve gone on what wonderful, compassionate boys we’ve got. They’re deeply empathic, and voluntarily share just about everything they get.
    I just don’t think that sheltering from the media is the answer. Helping them learn to think critically is. And, if they don’t have anything to be critical about, it’s a tough lesson!

  2. Alex, your children are darn lucky to have you as a Dad. I think that some of the blanket zero media policy is a reaction to the ‘tv as babysitter’ where people assume that, for example, if their kids are watching Nickelodeon, or Disney, that it’s all perfectly age appropriate and instructional or, at least, entertaining. Both channels have some good shows, but for every child that watches any TV with their parent and talks about how they’re being manipulated there are at least 1,000 children who just sit and let it all flow in, not distinguishing between program, advert and anything else that might appear.
    There are studies that show convincingly (to me, at least) that TV does affect brain waves and attention span, among other things, and anecdotally I can tell which children watch lots of TV versus those that watch little or none just by observing their behavior in a group setting. There are other studies that dispute this, but as with any research, it’s informative to know who has funded it and what their agenda is.
    Finally, you’re exactly right that you can’t shelter the kids completely. We aren’t luddites, we don’t go out of our way to avoid highways with billboards or avoid restaurants that have TVs on. But with younger children, I absolutely believe that less media = more imagination, less media = more active play, and less media = healthier children.

  3. I’m also a believer in no tv for my daughter. She’s 10 months old now, and I don’t plan on letting her watch ANY tv until she’s three, and then only in tiny increments.
    That said, I found this statement by Kimberly Weaver off-putting: “It’s not uncommon to have extended nursing, cosleeping, etc in our Waldorf school where we’d be looked at as monsters with three heads in the public system!”
    I teach in the public school system, and I don’t view extended b/f or cosleeping as monstrous at all. The desire to associate with people who share common parenting practices is understandable; you don’t need to constantly explain yourself or your motives. Still, there’s a fine line between simple association and exclusivity, and implying that the “public system” is a single entity with a single mode of thinking denies teachers, parents, and students like those I work with the humanity they deserve.
    Not just a cog in the wheel,
    Joanne

  4. Good point, Joanne, but if I may, you are quite the exception, not the rule in my experience, at least. There’s no question, there are lots of excellent public school teachers, but would you not agree that there are a lot of teachers and administrators in public schools that are skeptical of anything that’s not directly in the mainstream?

  5. Actually, I’m the Mom, not the Dad! Don’t worry — I get that a lot!
    I wasn’t meaning at all to discredit your views. I just wanted to share what decision we’ve come up with on this issue. And, this brings me to a terific point — most parents don’t give two seconds to their parenting decisions. When you ask many parents — new or otherwise — what they plan on doing in a particular situation (i.e. watching TV, spanking/discipline, education), they have no idea. They just figure that it’ll all come to them. Well, coming from a childhood which didn’t provide me with the role models that I can accept, I have to make EVERY decision as if I didn’t have any previous knowledge of it.
    So, yes, we’ve thought and talked at length on the subject of watching TV. We’ve come to the conclusion that, just as the Buddha taught, the middle path is the way. That it’s all about balance. I really hate to bring out this worn-out, tired comparison, but, my husband and I both grew up watching loads of TV, went to public schools, and had very little in the way of good-quality, imaginative toys. We had Barbie, GI Joe, and the like. And, we both grew up to be pretty good adults, if I do say so myself. We’ve both gone to college, my husband went on to be a Software Engineer, and I’m going to medical school to be a Naturopathic Physician. We discuss almost every parenting decision we make. We discuss religion/spirituality/philosophy virtually every day.
    So, we really thought about it. What if the TV alone isn’t really the problem? What if leaving children alone to deal with something so decidedly grown-up is the real problem? So, we talked about what would be a necessary accompaniment to our children watching TV. And, since we both decided that we had shows that we watched as kids that we fondly remembered, we wanted our kids to have that option, too. So, we came to the conclusion that, if our kids were to watch TV, they needed to also develop the critical thinking skills to not be completely absorbed by it. So, we frequently talk with them about what they see on TV. Personally, I think it’s the only way to watch TV — with a critical eye.
    Frankly, the shows my boys enjoy the most are on The Discovery Channel — shows about astronomy, dinosaurs, and machines! And, not the kids’ versions of these informative shows — the regular ones!
    We can’t and don’t take complete credit for how wonderful our kids are. We feel very lucky that we got these two incredible boys!
    I hate to drag this out, but I just have to comment on another factor in our decision to let our kids watch TV. We don’t know where they’ll go to school, yet, but we know that most kids do watch TV. We don’t want to ostracize them by forcing them to live their lives so differently than their friends’ lives. It’s all a part of our philosophy that life must be a balance.
    Thanks for letting me post our views!

  6. Thanks again for posting, Alex. I assure you that I don’t expect everyone will share our views on eating, media, discipline, etc etc and that on the continuum of completely permissive and unplugged to hyper-restrictive and ridiculously involved, we’re, um, somewhere on it. 🙂
    But life isn’t black and white, and short of buying an island and banning airwaves, it’s well neigh impossible to completely eliminate media from our lives and that’s why we aren’t 100% anti-media, as much as it may come across that way sometimes. During the summer months we’ll occasionally let our children watch a DVD, we watched some of the Olympics (though TiVO helped us skip the ads) and so on.
    I think it’s more a matter of degree. Your children are absolutely blessed to have you as a mother, Alex, but the vast majority of kids are not taught anything about discerning media intake, and they’ll watch four hours of worthless violent age-inappropriate garbage without blinking an eye (literally). It’s no longer the case that the label of ‘children’s tv’ is helpful either — the ads during childrens shows (particularly for other shows) are sometimes shockingly inappropriate.
    Life must be a balance. I couldn’t agree more, but as a parent of young children, I’m still going to try and tip the scale in my favor and to be consistent with my views, ethics and morals. Don’t you?

  7. Hi Dave,
    Thanks for the comments. I think there are *lots* of people – not just teachers and administrators – who raise an eyebrow over anything that deviates from mainstream childrearing practices. I guess I’m just lucky to live near San Francisco. AP philosophy is just not that big a deal where I live and work.
    Best,
    Joanne

  8. What about older kids? We have an 8 year old boy, and he watches almost no TV – just Jamie Oliver (cooking show, movies (family movie night once a week – mostly classics that I – a film buff – pick out)and the occasional documentary. Probably 3 hours a week average.
    The real media concern we have is with computers and computer games. Both his mother and I work on computers at home, and he has gotten into computer games (which I also have been known to play) – and ALL his friends are into them (PC, XBox, PS2, Game Boy, etc.). We limit him to 2.5 hours a week – half hour on Thurs when he has a friend over, and then a half hour morning and evening Sat and Sun…
    But his mother doesn’t like it much – too many of the games are violence/conflict-centered – and I worry about physiological effects – I have RSI, and worry about his eyes, etc. Which is why he gets no more than a half hour at a stretch…

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