Things I’m a Snob About Thursday: Media-Centric Children

Reminder:  “Things I’m a Snob About Thursday” is to express my uncensored and potentially uneducated and obnoxious opinions.  I am not an expert at anything, these posts are just things I believe and feel self-righteous about.  I fully expect these posts to come back and bite me in the ass one day.

People with ADD/ADHD or other similarly challenged children do not send me hate mail; I’m not directing this at you or your child.  I myself have some of those challenges and of course it is a completely different situation.  My children, however, do not have those challenges.  Neither do the other children I mention in the post.  My observations are based on this.

My 3rd grader came home and shared that his teacher takes time out during the day to read to the class (they’re reading Dr. Do0little).  I thought this was very sweet, and a nice way to have a relaxing moment in class.  Apparently, not every parent agrees with me.  There has been a small stink made about “taking time away from the children’s studies,” and several loud parents are demanding that the teacher replace this reading time with an “activity.”  One irritated father related to me (in the carpool line, where all late-breaking gossip is shared) that his daughter “can’t even sit still for that – she’d rather be doing something.”

I asked Asher what the class was like when it was reading time, and he said, “Well, it’s kind of chaotic.  Most of the kids don’t want to sit on the rug and listen to the book, so they’re fooling around.”  I asked how the teacher handled that.  He said that she tries to get the class to sit still, but she sometimes has to end the reading time early.  How long is reading time? 10 minutes.

Now, I am certainly aware of learning differences, personality differences, gender differences, etc.  But here is the biggest difference:  between the kids who have unfettered access to media and electronics and those who don’t.

Disclaimer:  I’m all for TV, computers, iPods.  While we don’t have cable, we certainly watch TV, movies, my 11 year old has an iPod Shuffle, the kids have a CD player in their room, etc.

However.  TV and computer time is in limited amounts and used carefully.  During the school year, there is no screen time from dinner time Sunday until Friday afternoon.  If someone has homework that must be done on the computer, that’s fine, but nothing else.  We make one exception from February through May for American Idol.  Sounds silly, but we feel that we’re already putting them at a social disadvantage by not having cable TV, so making sure they watch one show that their friends watch and talk about the next day in school is important to us.  And we enjoy watching it together, frankly.  I heart Adam Lambert!  Friday afternoons we hit the library where they can take out a video and come home and watch it.  Sundays they can watch whatever they want whenever they want as long as their chores and homework are done by dinner.  Saturday is Shabbat and we don’t use electronics.  Sound strict?  Yep.  It works for us.  Their behavior is better and they’re not as cranky.  Trust me.  We’ve gone the other way and paid for it.  This works (for us).

During the summer, we’re a bit more relaxed, but only at the end of a long day of playing (I mean, who can resist Wipeout?).  One of the best uses of  TV is to rescue me when I’m sick and need quiet, or when it’s just been a horrible day and everyone is losing it and we need a half hour of down time.  Those situations do not happen often, but I like to have TV in my back pocket when they do.  If they watched it all the time, using it as an emergency stop-gap would not work.  Clearly, we’re not against TV.  We just don’t give our kids an all-access pass.  We prefer they actually play.

I truly believe that our kids have longer attention spans than many of their friends because we have been strict from Day One about how much media and electronics they are exposed to.  Whether it’s screen time or toys.  From toddlerhood on up we made available toys that required actual interaction on the part of the child.  As in, a wooden or soft cow where the child makes the “mooo”, not a cow where they press a button and it goes “moo.”  A good set of blocks.  Play fabric, random household items and unstructured toys (a la Waldorf).  Nothing (well, almost nothing – can’t always say no to the grandparents :-)) with batteries.  Anything given to us that needed batteries was either put in a closet or used soundless/lightless.  We’ve resisted the siren call of the Wii.  Sound obnoxious, controlling and rigid?  Yessiree, it is.  I freely admit this.  Ain’t no free-range anyting about this part of our parenting.  We believe in this.  Our kids don’t go to other people’s houses and say “I’m bored,” like many of their friends do when they come to our house.  One son has a friend who outright demands to watch a movie or TV when he comes over because we “don’t have anything to do” at our house.  He doesn’t want to play outside, he’s not interested in any of the games we have or in coming up with his own games.  Often, he’ll bring his own handheld game with him to the playdate.  Seriously.  This is in stark contrast to my son’s other friend who suffers lives with parents who have a similar mindset as us.  When he comes over the boys almost always go straight for the blocks, where they build a fort or castle or spaceship or whatever, and then a horrible giant dinosaur or alien arrives to terrorize who/whatever and then the boys make capes and weapons out of the play cloths and other household junk to save everyone.  Then they make a comic book about the story they just enacted.  I’m not making this up.  I have the comic books as evidence (or, later, as embarrassing mementos to show a future spouse :-)).

Each of our children has a different personality and a different level of attention span, and yet all 3 of them are able play, self-directed and creatively, for long periods of time.  They can sit on a rug and listen to a teacher read a story.  Are there kids who watch as much TV as they want and video games all day AND who still play well and have attention spans?  I’m sure there are.  But my own observations of the children at our school and in our community says it’s few and far between.

So, yeah, I’m a snob about this.  I totally own that.  What can I say.

You know what I love about blogging?  I could never have this conversation with people I know.  I’d come across as a total snob 🙂


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7 Responses to “Things I’m a Snob About Thursday: Media-Centric Children”

  1. Meagan Says:

    I have this kind of conversation with people I know all the time, and I don’t even have kids yet, so I come off even more pretensious. 🙂

    Personally, I don’t think the interrupted reading time in class (or the kid who makes demands while a guest in someone’s house) is entirely about media or attention spans. These kids sound more like they have an inflated sense of importance than a media caused brain problem. Having a father complain that his daughter shouldn’t have to sit still for 10 minutes is an example of why she can’t.

    Even a child with ADHD should be able to sit through a 10 minute reading period. That doesn’t mean they’ll listen the whole time, just that they can learn to be distracted without also being disruptive. This isn’t about personal abilities, it’s about respect for ones peers.

    I’m not implying that a kid with ADHD should (or could) suck it up and ignore their disability throughout school. I’m just wondering at one point being bored became an excuse for being rude?

    There’s a joke that the children of psychologists tend to be the mist screwed up. Obviously this isn’t always the case, but one of the reasons it van happen is that psychologist parents see normal behavior, identify it as normal, and let it be. They can forget that it is ALSO normal for a parent to respond and try to stop normal behaviour when that behaviour is inappropriate. Kids don’t automatically grow out of “age appropriate” misbehavior, they have to be taught. I think you see the same think happening in a lot of cases with overdiagnosed ADHD. It’s not so much that the kids don’t have it, it’s just that SOME parens take the diagnosis to mean that rude behaviour is normal and should be accomidated rather than discouraged. Honestly, the problems that come with ADHD do NOT mean a child can’t learn self control. If anything, it means the need for imparting self discipline is all the more essential.

    Phew! Sorry for the long comment.

  2. Meagan Says:

    Ps: also sorry for all the typos… My iPhone sometimes does weird auto-corrects.

  3. beanie Says:

    (Sheesh. What a snob this broad is!)


    I sometimes wish we were as stringent about screen time as you are. But we still limit the kids to no more than one hour a day of either computer or TV time (unless we’re watching a movie together). Even with that, they get sucked into the abyss so easily.

    I am a great believer that you can counter-act a lot of media by taking time EVERY DAY, when your kids are young, to read to them. They learn to love books, they learn to love being read to, and they learn to sit still in school.

  4. Jack Says:

    My kids love Wipeout. Talk about hysterical laughter.

  5. the Rebbetzin Says:

    Jack – half the time we can’t hear the commentary b/c we’re all laughing so hard!

    Beanie – parental involvement is totally key – you’re so right! sounds like you’ve got a good system!

    Megan – Interesting – I hear what you’re saying. I feel like ADHD is such a different animal, so I can’t include it in these observations. There are so many ways it manifests itself, and I just can’t group the two together. But I understand what you’re saying about rude behavior sometimes being excused.

  6. Chris Says:

    while i try to limit TV time, i tend to be a little more lax on the computer time (thou i heavily restrict what they can do on the computers). i remember when i was 6 (oh about 25yrs ago give or take a little) and having a computer for the kids to use. growing up, i could really see the difference between myself (who had the computer) and those that didnt really have access to one until later on.

    its been interesting watching my son (almost 5 now) teach himself to navigate a computer and to play games. he challenged my younger sister to a chess match the other day and actually beat her (she is a terrible player).

  7. Marketing Mama Says:

    Hi – thanks for your comment over on my blog the other day. This was interesting to read. I’m shocked the students can’t sit still 10 minutes, and that the parents are complaining about that. Wow. I bet you are right, though, that the media and how much of it these children are exposed to is at the root of it.

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