Tube time.

We made a lot of grand pronouncements about how we were going to raise these children while I was pregnant. Here’s what I learned about that: don’t make grand pronouncements about how you’re going to raise your children. I planned to breastfeed as close to a year as possible; that didn’t work out. I said they would have absolutely no sugar for their first year; that goal went kaput. But the TV thing — I really thought I could stick to the TV thing. The AAP recommends no TV for kids under the age of two, and  Justin and I both read Brain Rules for Baby, in which the author emphatically agrees with the AAP recommendation. It seems pretty straightforward: TV is not good for babies and could interfere with their learning and brain development. Since Justin and I really want two genius babies who are going to invent something amazing, make a billion dollars, and take care of us in our old age, we are really, really interested in raising smart babies.

I didn’t even last two months before the babies were in the same room with a TV.

When I took over the 12 am and 3 am feedings, I was at a very dark place in the whole taking-care-of-two-infants process. Justin had gone back to work, and I was the sole caretaker for Jack and Emme for ten hours a day — a very long stretch of time for someone who had never had a baby before. I wasn’t sleeping much, and the overnight feedings were so, so lonely. The TV beckoned like an old friend in the corner of the living room. Hesitantly, I began turning it on, wearing headphones, with the babies turned away from it — all the while feeling as though I might as well be mixing a little crack in with their bottles. Soon, I stopped wearing the headphones since the cord was awkward to maneuver with. I watched rerun after rerun of Frasier (hey, there’s not a lot of choice on basic cable at 3 am) while the babies listened along. I was breaking the rules, but I was able to make myself feel okay about it because they weren’t watching it.

Around month four or five, it became more and more difficult to keep them sitting up in their boppies for the fifteen minutes (prescribed by their doctor) following a bottle; one day, desperate for a distraction for them, I turned Emme’s boppy  around to face the TV while I finished feeding Jack. She was instantly mesmerized. When I turned Jack around, the result was the same — which was even more miraculous for him, because he was at the height of his fussy stage, when it seemed like he was always crying. Not when the TV was on, however. Like zombies, they both stared at the images on the screen. It was a blissful ten minutes.

Fast forward to about a month ago: the 5 pm meal was getting the best of me. The babies were tired and cranky, I was tired and cranky, no one wanted to eat, and I just wanted them to finish so I could sit on the couch and relax for five minutes. On a whim, I turned on the TV. Instant zombie babies. They stared in mute fascination as I shoveled bite after bite of food into their mouths until the plate was clean. A new tradition was born and I could not have given a damn what the AAP said about TV. I was sane and relaxed and Emme wasn’t slapping sweet potatoes out of my hand. What’s not to love?

Here’s the thing: as best as I can tell, TV is frowned upon because it cannot provide the same kind of opportunities for development that real, live interaction with adults can. Reading, playing, talking with the babies is of course preferable. But if a baby is just going to be sitting in his high chair fussing, can it really hurt to expose him to fifteen minutes of TV?

And maybe I’m just rationalizing here, but here’s another thing: since watching Sesame Street with the twins, I realized that I want them to grow up with that TV show.  I still enjoy watching it. It’s adorable. And so happy. Emme dances along with Elmo and Jack grooves to the live action segments. Everything truly is A-OK on Sesame Street.

So right now they probably get about thirty minutes total of TV time, and, for the most part, it’s Sesame Street. I know I have to watch that it doesn’t become a habit, though. Today I had it playing in the background while we played together in the play room, and I didn’t realize it for about fifteen minutes. That’s what I’m trying to avoid, that kind of casual usage that slowly starts to permeate all interactions.

They can still grow up to be geniuses, right?


Joey - December 16, 2011 - 6:00 pm

Justin grew up watching Sesame Street from the day he came home from the hospital and look how he turned out! Please continue to let them be delighted with this exceptional TV show.XOXO

Sarah - December 19, 2011 - 2:39 pm

Lara, I laughed out loud reading this. I also made so many proclamations with August. He would not watch TV, breast milk only, and I even had the idea that he may wear cloth diapers and only eat baby food that I made myself. I knew better with Eliza. I made no such claims. I figured if both babies made it through the day with no major catastrophes and tucked in safely at night, my job was done. 🙂

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