This post was written at the request of Mary Finucane, a blogger I like rather a lot. Mary has been blogging at Disney Princess Recovery since she removed all Disney Princess branded items from her home, and has provoked many interesting conversations about marketing to children, among other things.
Every so often, we really surprise people by not having a television. Technically, we’re not completely without one, as we have a special aerial thingy (that’s the technical term) that plugs into the computer. But it’s not plugged in all the time. You can’t just plonk down in front of the TV and watch it for hours. You have to actively want to watch something, and be willing to sit in an office chair to watch it. The same goes for our DVDs.
So yeah, no TV. It is unusual but my husband and I both grew up without one, because of our religious backgrounds. When we got married, it felt like something worth continuing, both for ourselves and for the kids we were hoping to have.
Maybe it’s because my exposure has been so minimal, but I get very drawn in to anything audiovisual. Even if it’s not very good. So I like to make an active choice about whether I’m going to watch something. I tend not to follow many shows at once. I avoid reality TV. At worst, I replace the time I would have spent watching TV on the internet, but at least that has the potential to be interactive. At best, I read, write, or do any number of better things in that time.
As far as kids go, we never let our daughter watch anything at all until she was two, mainly because that’s what’s recommended for kids’ eyes. After that, we let her watch a little bit. Sesame Street podcasts were a real lifesaver on the bus. She got a Wiggles DVD as her reward for giving up her dummy (pacifier) and she collected a couple of others. But I was staggered at how well she knew all the popular characters without ever seeing them on TV. Dora, Ben 10, Barbie, Disney Princesses, Yo Gabba Gabba and more were all familiar faces. Children are marketers’ dreams; they absorb every instance of every brand. So I was pleased that we’d set things up so that it would be hard for her to get over-exposed.
Now, she’s a savvy four-year-old. She can’t set up the TV, but she can put a DVD in the drive. She plays computer games that will supposedly teach her how to use a mouse and keyboard. So it seems more important to limit her screen time now. We don’t have a set time limit, but we try not to let her play or watch for too long on any given day (maybe half an hour to an hour at most), and we aim to have plenty of days with no screen time at all.
In terms of content, we’ve been pretty laissez-faire. At her age, I think her body image will be more shaped by positive, healthy comments from her parents than by whether Barbie could physiologically exist. And I’m happy for her to explore all kinds of portrayals of women, as long as they’re positive in some way. So Barbie and Disney Princesses aren’t banned in our house (although they might be if she got too obsessed with them, like Mary had to do). We allow some branded toys in the house, but try to keep control of it. Being relaxed has led us to making some mistakes, though, like assuming that she’d be OK with Toy Story 3 because she enjoyed the previous two (it was scary and she was traumatised).
So when Mary says
I’m guessing that since your home is tv-free, you are likely a mindful consumer, more aware of internal vs. external influences. I think that is an incredible form of protection.
I’m not sure if I’m quite living up to her expectation. I guess I try to be mindful without being extreme, but it doesn’t always work. The best I can say is that I’m actively parenting, trying not to repeat mistakes, and above all gauging what’s good by listening to my daughter and thinking about it and talking about it as a family. So far I think she has a healthy psyche, so I’m hopeful.