I once proclaimed that I wouldn’t let my child watch much TV, if any at all. Then again, I also once swore I would never let my kid eat junk food, but this morning I totally let him order a pancake covered in crushed Oreos. So.
I managed to hold out on the junk food thing for a while. The TV thing, though? That is a self-imposed rule that got broken before the kid could even walk.
It seems like every couple of months there’s a new study about young children and TV watching. And like the junk food thing, we have built a stigma around it. It’s generally regarded as taboo to plop your child in front of the television. It’s viewed as neglectful.
But I can’t think of anything else, parenting-wise, that we demonize so publicly yet practice so widely. Every single one of my friends with children has employed the use of the Robot Babysitter (a term coined by my ex way before the actual robot babysitter became A Thing; feel free to steal it).
Oliver was a curious, active baby. He did not want to be in a playpen. He did not sit quietly and look at fabric books or play with toys. He wanted to touch things and explore.
Let me put it this way: minutes after he was born he looked straight into my eyes, and just a week after he was born he was using his little muscles to lift his head up. He just had to be in the world. This is still his personality. (His teacher last year said he has an “active soul” which is 100% accurate). This kid is going to climb mountains someday, and I mean that in the literal sense.
I love this about my son. But there were times when he was a baby, and then a toddler (and even now), when I just had to get something done other than constantly engaging with him.
On top of this, he refused to nap. When he was a baby, the only two ways he would nap were 1) if I danced him around the living room to Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (he liked "Refugee" in particular), or 2) in an automatic baby swing, with one of those creepy, mesmerizing Baby Einstein DVDs playing in the background. Who knows what subliminal messages were transmitted to his little developing brain by those sock puppets.*
Thank the universe for those creepy sock puppets and their subliminal messages, and for Sesame Street and even for Yo Gabba Gabba, even though sometimes it made me want to drill a hole in my skull. (Except maybe for this number -- “holy guacamole, we got chips!”)
Need to check your work email? Do some dishes? Make a phone call? Just need a moment to yourself? That’s when you call the Robot Babysitter. By call I mean press a button on the remote.
In public, or don’t have a TV? I’ve enjoyed many peaceful meals out at a restaurant by letting Oliver play a game on my phone before our food arrives. Screens are everywhere, and while I feel like we all spend too much time staring at them, I also think they can serve a purpose: through educational shows and games, yes -- but also as Robot Babysitters.
And I don’t feel like we need to equate occasional television watching with neglectful parenting. I’m sure there are people out there who really do just abandon their children in front of the TV all day, every day. But I’m equally sure that most of us do not.
At some point popular opinion became that any amount of TV watching equaled neglect, which I think is silly. Just as silly as saying that allowing your child to eat junk food on occasion is tantamount to child abuse. Enjoy that Oreo pancake, kid.
*If I had to guess, it would be "Hey kid, lose every fracking jacket and hoodie anyone ever buys you."
Somer might talk about pancakes on Twitter: @somersherwood