Get a Helping of Hope through your TV!
First of all, I’d like to say that this post is probably not going to make the point you think it will! I could drum up the statistics on obesity, attention deficits, etc. to berate the use of Television in the home; however, the purpose of this post is not to criticize how long we let our kids watch TV, it is to give hope and help so we can make right choices (wherever we’re at) to a bright future.
Exempli gratia, if I told you to buy nothing but organic products (which would be a good thing: who wants to eat anything with 15 different pesticides on it?), you wouldn’t do it. Neither would I: I can’t afford it. Or more accurately, I haven’t rearranged my budget to make that a priority. What I CAN do is buy the organic versions of the 12 most pesticide-ridden vegetables and fruits and buy regular produce that has few pesticides. It’s a step in the right direction; now I have significantly reduced my risk for developing Cancer and other bodily ailments. Once I get used to buying some organic products I can buy more as my grocery budget increases…or maybe even contemplate growing my own as an investment stratagem!
It’s the same thing with TV, I think. Ideally, none of us would use a TV except for Family Movie Night and documentaries. We should be frolicking out in the fields, playing board games, reading stimulating books, and ACTUALLY talking with each other about our day. Yes, we should. I am sure in the long run the costs of NOT doing those things are pretty high, just as the cost of eating pesticide-ridden food is very high. Few of us are in a position, however, to LEAP from where we are at now to where we ought to be. There is little environmental support to do so; our lifestyles are systemically busy, we forget how to do things with our kids, and at the end of a busy day it is less emotionally and intellectually demanding to entertain ourselves to drowsiness than it is to engage in meaningful conversation with our loved ones.
For some of us, the situation is a little different. Perhaps depression has set in and you just don’t know how to engage your kids; you feel worthless as a parent. Your feelings aren’t motivating you to interact with your children and your self-condemning thoughts are preventing you from emotionally connecting to them. You have “zero” physical energy to do anything other than sit on the couch. The more you sit and criticize yourself for using the TV, the worse you feel and the depression deepens. If that’s you, I want you to stop feeling badly about yourself and your kids’ situation; letting your kids watch a lot of TV may not be an entirely good thing, but it need not be a terrible thing if you know how to direct it (more on that below). If these feelings describe you I have the following advice **from experience**:
- Make sure you are getting the nutrition you need to physically recover (see my Transformation Tuesdays posts for positive steps you can take to start feeling better). My brain completely crashed after eating a Standard American Diet through college; it took me over a year to write my undergraduate thesis, I forgot to pay the wedding videographer before he moved (I still don’t have my Wedding DVD after seven years of trying to get in contact with Hafer Video…), I was unemployed for six months and when I finally did get a job, I was not even close to being “myself”. Working and suddenly pregnant, I ate out every day and the depression only worsened. Only when I started eating eggs everyday did I start to feel better, and only when I got rid of corn syrup did I get rid of my Seasonal Anxiety Disorder.
- Make sure you are getting a dose of healthy “thoughts” that will change your outlook (see my Faith Fridays posts for encouragement from the Bible). I recommend listening to or watching Joyce Meyer’s Enjoying Everyday Life show (yes, on TV!); The Lord used her in my life to help me get over a nasty, three-year-long depression.
- Please make sure you are talking about your struggle with someone who can love you into wholeness. Not just someone who gives you advice, but someone who listens. At my church we have Celebrate Recovery; if there isn’t a CR group near you, you may be able to find local support groups through your child’s school or you can speak to a professional counselor or pastor. Stephen’s Ministry is another organization available at many churches; you will have to check out your local churches’ websites or call to find out if they have that or a similar option. Make that your goal for this week, even if you don’t feel able to do the previous two recommendations.
Perhaps like me you have a special needs child who was (and may still be) unresponsive to your attempts to make a structured, educationally rigorous, and visually engaging work….um, home…environment. You read the books (or blogs), created your homeschooling plans to have your child graduate from high school at age 14, and envisioned them memorizing the first five books of the Bible by age 13 like the Jewish children in Jesus’ time 😉 ! But the child you received as a gift from God did not roll, sit up, crawl, or even walk on time. He did not speak, had difficulty eating, and refused to play with toys. He did not pester you with questions as you imagined he would, did not ask for help, and didn’t want to do…anything. Even touching, hugging, and smiling became difficult for him.
That’s what happened in our family; the only solution that seemed to make our Fragile X Syndrome Child (with Autism and Attention Deficits) engage in ANYTHING was TV. It started with Veggie Tales, moved on to include the Gaither Gospel/Homecoming shows (how much music transformed our FXS child’s face! The tube wasn’t the only thing glowing 😀 !), and then we progressed to preschool TV shows. We read books and tried different toys but the majority of learning came from our TV. When our FXS child became overwhelmed by all the sensory inputs in our home, TV was the only solution to the resulting outbursts and fits; it soothed and numbed a brain clawing for an input it could safely hold on to.
As I suggested at the beginning of this post, I am not going to say what you think I might say. I’m not going to say TV is bad; through bouts of depression and coming to terms with special needs parenting, we have relied on it quite a bit. I have no idea what is too much TV and for whom, but I have found the following RIGHT CHOICES very helpful:
- AVOID COMMERCIALS LIKE THE PLAGUE. Bright future: children with a higher attention span who are less demanding or materialistic than many other children and whose self-esteem remains relatively untouched by the subliminal “sex, money & power” messages that come through advertizing. There are several ways to do this:
- DVR: whether you have a standard TV signal or cable/satellite, a Digital Video Recorder can help you to be more selective with the shows you watch, give you flexibility to watch recorded shows at a time convenient to you (so you aren’t forced to “watch what’s on”), and most importantly allows you to fast-forward through those dratted commercials and pause for real-life interruptions. It is worth the additional $5/month or whatever promotion is available to you.
- Cable/Satellite: only allow your children to watch commercial-free children’s channels. With most providers, you can set locks for ratings and times you don’t want your children to watch.
- Internet TV (Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Prime): If you have a PS3 (as we do), you can easily access internet TV companies and play BRDs. I recommend Netflix on the PS3 because it has a child-interface that blocks scary grown-up icons and is easy to use. You can select from many educational and age-appropriate children’s shows, including family movies, 24-7, for only $8/month. (This way you can save your cable/satellite bill and spend it on organic veggies…right?)
- VHS/DVDs/BRDs: make sure you skip past beginning advertisements to get straight to the main content, but this is the surest way to avoid commercials and control the content.
- USE THE ENGLISH DESCRIPTIVE VIDEO SERVICE. Bright future: increased vocabulary and attention to descriptive language, including prepositions and adjectives. On some DVDs and BRDs, there’s an extra audio track under languages (on the PS3, you can access it using the triangle button and selecting “audio” until you get the right track) that includes a complete verbal description of everything that is going on. It is like turning on a radio story broadcast! What a wonderful way to provide our children with descriptive words that are otherwise difficult to teach (prepositions, adjectives, etc.) FYI, we would never have known that Tangled’s Flynn Rider (Disney) had a “smarmy grin” if it wasn’t for this feature…
- STICK WITH EDUCATIONAL SHOWS AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. Bright future: your child should have a great visual repertoire of complex ideas that are best taught through repetitive demonstration. There are five main types of educational shows we focus on:
- Faith-based. Teaching children about the Bible and God’s Love helps to keep them from succumbing to the negative ideas prevalent in out peer-pressured world. Our favorites are Veggie Tales (Lord of the Beans is hilarious), the Animated Passion Series from Nest entertainment, and the King of Dreams (Dreamworks).
- Kinesthetic. Anything that gets our kids moving (Yo Gabba Gabba, Go Diego Go) or teaches them about physical interactions with objects (The Upside Down Show, Wallace and Gromit, Sean the Sheep, Pingu) is a plus when you have a child with limited mobility.
- Reading & Comprehension. Anything that reinforces the written word gets an A+, since reading is the gateway to all learning. We have watched Your Baby Can Read, Word World, Super Why, Pinky Dinky Doo and now… the Electric Company!
- Mathematics & Science. Abstract concepts like mathematics are typically a struggle for people with FXS. We have used Dora the Explorer, Team Umi Zoomi, and Sid the Science Kid to introduce our children to counting and measuring.
- Social. Yo Gabba Gabba does a great job of encouraging children to interact with others; we also like Nickelodeon’s Avatar for its character development and focus on forgiveness (it employs a lot of Eastern ideology that many Christian parents would find unpalatable; we point out these ideological differences to our children and use them to reinforce how and why we believe as we do. As with all TV watching, please go with your conscience and be as interactive as possible).
In the end, TV is so endemic to our homes that the only way to get rid of it is to have something else to do. Scheduling times to go to the library, go to church, go to the park, etc. are great ways to keep TV-free. Doing chores and cooking together as a family is another way. Incorporating reading and play times may be difficult at first, but are very rewarding if you can take the pressure off yourself to perform at a certain level. If you feel in any way guilty about watching too much TV, slowly add one activity at a time to your family routine until it becomes permanent; you’ll watch TV less and less. Most importantly, the best choice you can make is to pray and ask God to show you what is right for your family and to give you the Grace to get to that “place”; The more time you spend with Him, the more likely all your other activities (like watching TV) will fall into place as you step into the bright future He reveals to you.
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