June 27, 2018 by Greg
It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything here, and there’s good reasons for that! We’ve been REALLY busy. But it’s June and the family is at the beach for the summer! More on that separately.
Today, I wanted to catch up on our family’s conversation around TV, especially down here. I had intended to write this late last year, when we first got the house. But now I’m glad I didn’t, because there’s been some updates to where we stand on this.
At first, we weren’t even sure we wanted a TV down here. The house came with a small flatscreen mounted on the wall above the bed in the master bedroom, which is pretty cool, and we imagined family movie nights in bed occasionally. But we were skeptical of the idea of another TV somewhere in the house.
Why? All the usually higher-order and right-thinking parenting reasons. We don’t want our kids watching too much. We don’t want them asking for it too much. And there’s so much else to do here, we’d rather them play, or draw, or go kayaking with us, or ride their bikes.
There was an additional variable in our TV debate too. My parents were getting a new TV, which meant their monster rear-projection 65” was available for free. It’s a slightly older model, but super nice. And free is free. I was all for it, but Maureen was skeptical, especially at 65” in our main room.
And then there’s transporting it.. which was a fiasco and there were a few (legitimate) angry and frustrated words traded. But I finally got it down here, on the free pretense, in the minivan which can swallow just about anything.
Once we had it here, it turned out just fine.. except that the downside of rear-projection LCDs is their light output and with all our windows in that room, the poor thing barely worked in the daytime.
So we had a free 65” TV for a few months. Which was nice. But it didn’t last. It just got donated, and I bought a brand-new 65” Vizio ESeries for $600. This thing actually works in the room with all the windows and has a great picture. $600 is more than free, but you always get what you pay for, even when free is incredibly well-intended.
Oh yeah, so what about the whole our-kids-are-glued-to-screens problem? Before I answer, let me expand on how we’re setup here now:
So we’ve already expanded beyond having only the one small TV we initially considered, and it’s quite a nice setup. But, like everything, it’s the details about use that matter.
Kids are allowed to watch kid TV in the mornings occasionally (before breakfast) and as an afternoon break if we’re working around the house. Here’s the thing, for busy parents that are trying to get things done, the incredible opportunity when kids sit in one place for any period of time is rare and invaluable. Take advantage.
We’ve cut off YouTube at this point. There’s too much junk and too many “risky” (for kids) stuff that they may watch, so we shut that down. They can watch shows on Netflix or Hulu and maybe an occasional movie. Sing! is the current family favorite.
The World Cup just started, and it would be a shame to miss some of those games. The same is true for other big events like the Olympics. And of course, who could forget Formula 1, which I watch with my kids (Eric’s favorite driver is Max Verstappen and Addy’s is Checko Perez). Sometimes it’s really good for kids to watch, understand, or follow sporting events.
Maureen and I have gotten the chance a couple of times to plop on the couch after everyone’s in bed and watch a movie together. The odds of us actually going out to see a movie in the theatre are basically zero - we wouldn’t waste a date night on a movie, and we wouldn’t agree on the movie - so this is a really nice stay-in option.
I really wanted my kids to have the opportunity to play some sort of computer game. I know that sounds a little weird perhaps, but hear me out. I think computer games can actually be very good for some forms of development. They promote hand-eye coordination strongly, they encourage kids to have mastery over computer systems and simulations (an ever more important skill in the real world), and they’re filled with strategy and tactics that kids need to learn.
I also know that both of us were not at all interested in our kids playing some of the newer games out there. They’re too violent, too addicting, or both. So Super Nintendo seemed like a great solution. It’s amusing to see 8-bit graphics on a 65” 4K TV, but the gameplay is simple for kids and it is starting to accomplish all of the things I wanted out of it.
Most importantly, it’s a rainy-day only activity and the kids know it.
One thing we’ve learned is that telling the kids that we’re pausing their show almost always works. It avoids the big fight or occasionally crying session that happens when TV time is over.
We did bring our daughter’s iPad down to the beach with us, but she’s not really allowed to use it for much other than word games and Osmo). And the same constraints apply in terms of how much she can use it.
Other than early mornings and the occasional afternoon break, TV is very low on the daily activity list. The kids seem to know this. Or maybe there’s just so many other things to do down here that it doesn’t seem as important. The call of the sand and the waves seems to outweigh any desire to sit on their butts.
Eating any meal is restricted to the kitchen, the dining room, and the deck. The Canal Room (where the TV is) is off limits for food. This means that we’re never zoning out as a family in front of the TV while we eat and takes away what seems to be a major bottleneck for kids and TV.
Like any other habit, it doesn’t really matter what tools you have (TVs and Nintendos), it matters how you use them. Figuring out some constraints to set down around these things not only restricts their use to something reasonable, but also makes their use - when they’re used - of a much higher quality.