Getting Sick for Screen Time


Teletubbies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My son is home sick today; he was yesterday, too. For his sake, I’m hoping he’s all better by tomorrow, because his backlogged school work is starting to overwhelm him. For my sake, I’m also hoping he returns soon, as the background noise of the Cartoon Network is overwhelming me.

We do have this long-standing rule in our house: No TV on school days/eves. So Sunday nights through Thursdays, the TV is off, mostly. As a family, we might watch “Jeopardy” and an occasional episode of “Finding Bigfoot”—you know, educational programming. But mindless entertainment? We save that for Friday nights and the weekends. And summer.  And sick days.

(It’s unfortunate that his illness-induced viewing marathon is occurring during the National Screen-Free Week. Heavily promoted by his school, it’s a program sponsored by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), dedicated to reducing the impact of commercialism on children. Whoops.)

It was easier for me to limit screen time when my son was little, mainly because I was a full-time working mom and someone else had him 55 hours a week. Plus, not many 18-month-olds like to sit for hours in front of the TV.

But I’d heeded the guidance of the American Academy of Pediatrics. No screen time AT ALL for my little boy. His daycare mom assured me she shared my perspective.

Then one day, he was sick, so I stayed home with him. He was miserable, fussing and whining all morning. Nothing I could do would cheer him up. Finally, in desperation for some peace, I tried the TV. I flipped on PBS. Teletubbies. Yuck. I was ready to key in another channel when my son started singing along, mimicking the “Uh-ohs!” of the freaky little TV creatures.

Obviously he was familiar with this show. Very familiar.

His daycare mom later “confessed” that she did let them watch a bit when she was busy preparing lunch. She took care of six kids, so I let it slide. But I still was determined that I would be Good Mom and keep the evil screen black until my child was old enough to watch educational programming only.

And then I became a stay-and-home mom, now with a newborn in addition to my then two year old. Suddenly the “no screen time” seemed downright insane. “Sesame Street,” “Little Bear,” and “Franklin” might not have had any developmental value to him at his young age, but they were inestimable to me, enabling me to take care of his baby sister and, occasionally, myself.

As the kids get older, the screen battles continue. The “not on school days” rule is easy. The weekends, holidays, and summers are tougher. I try to limit screen time to two hours combined (for gaming devices and the TV), but when I’m busy with my writing and editing work and lose track of time, two hours can quickly become four.

I do know that during these weekdays in late spring, I’m not used to having the TV on. At least Scooby Doo’s a huge improvement on the insipid Teletubbies. Though I do miss Little Bear dearly.