Monday, May 23, 2011

Warning: This Post About TV Might Rot Your Brain (or make you lazy)

I've been reading some new interesting views about the use of electronic devices (such as video games, computers, and televisions) in the home. The theory is that these types of devices cause children to be lazy and that they are not "productive" when using them. I believe there was even an implication that people who are using electronic devices are actually not thinking or using their brains. Really? Because not so long ago, I remember reading that one of the arguments against the use of these devices is that watching tv actually increases cortisol levels in the brain and therefore gets a person all riled up and thus interferes with a person's natural rhythms. While these theories are very different from one another, they are both untrue if you ask me. I'm not personally a big fan of video games (my kids are though) and you can probably already figure out how I feel about computers.

So, I'll focus on television. Poor picked on televsion.

Television. Oh how I love thee. Am I addicted to the tv? Absolutely not. I went years when I lived in an apartment on my own without being able to watch anything but PBS (and I didn't like that too much at the time) so I rarely turned the tv on. And this was before you could watch tv online. But I survived. I just read and slept more during those times in my life. I also felt lonelier. Maybe because I lived alone. But maybe because tv has always been a huge part of my social life.

Sure, it's one sided. I can develop a relationship with the characters and since they are not real they cannot know that I exist. I can hide behind my bed at the tender age of 3 and wait for Laverne and Shirley to come pick me up to take me to Hollywood with them because they would not possibly move from Milwaukee without me (true story). I can imagine that I'm cool enough to hang out in Punky's tree house or to be "in the know" about the Tanner's secret that they are housing an alien in their home. I can pretend that I'm BFFs with Darlene Connor and Angela Chase and high school might seem a little less miserable for a while. Or I can dream at least once a week that I have a job at Dunder Mifflin and I go on double dates with Jim and Pam. And I can imagine that I go out for a messy sandwich with Liz Lemon and she says to me, "Girl, didn't you KNOW that when a guy keeps you a secret from his family and friends for two AND A HALF YEARS, it's a deal breaker?"

The people on the small screen become real to me. They become a part of my life. If they do not, I don't feel like continuing to watch the show (kinda like where I'm at with "Modern Family"). These characters become so real in my life that I laugh with them, cry with them, hurt with them, and miss them when they are gone (but feel thankful for reruns and now, Netflix, so that I can revisit them and introduce them to my children).

As you can see, my area of expertise is mainly sitcoms. I'm not even talking about "educational" television.

I laugh at the notion that we aren't using our brains when we watch television. I have learned so much over the years while "mindlessly" watching tv. Interestingly enough, I have to point out that while I like to read and I'm currently reading six books for just myself (this is not counting the ones I'm reading with the kids), I often tune out while reading and then I have to go back and reread what I just read and it becomes exhausting. This rarely happens when I'm engaged with a television program. I find it so much easier to focus on television. Is this because my attention span is poor or because I'm too stupid to understand and absorb the written word? No, I don't think so. I think it's because I'm using more of my senses when I'm watching tv. I'm able to listen and watch which, for me, just simply works better. Probably because I'm tired. Doesn't mean I don't like to read or that I think reading is inferior. It's just different.

I'm not interested in the science behind all of this. I pretty much know how the brain works and I took classes in college (which would have been more interesting had I been able to watch the information on tv) about learning. My point is that I have had YEARS of experience with television. I continue to engage in television viewing. I will continue to engage in television viewing. And I have no problem letting my kids watch television.

It has never been my experience that my kids cannot fall asleep or sleep well if they have been watching tv prior to bed time. Until recently, both older children fell asleep every night for YEARS watching "Full House" in their beds. They both slept well every single night. I'm not saying that other parents haven't experienced something different but for me, this has not proven to be even slightly true.

I have heard time and time again that when kids are given free and unlimited viewing "privileges", they will never do anything else with their time.

Some days this is true. Like when they are very tired from... hmmm... let's say... having a bone marrow transplant. Or when it's the dead of winter and everyone is just having a blah lazy day... yeah, on days like that we might ALL watch tv all of the time. So what? In general, though, no. Not true. Sometimes they watch first thing in the morning. Sometimes they go to their rooms after lunch to watch an episode of "The Brady Bunch" or "The Simpsons" while they rest and veg out. But within 45 minutes, they are always back, ready for more interaction. Most of the time we watch something together in the evenings after dinner. Occasionally we'll spend an hour or two watching tv in the middle of the day if we are really excited about as series (like we did recently when we discovered "30 Rock" or when we decided to catch up on "glee").

Speaking of "glee"... I decided to not shelter my children from the realities of this world. Because of that, they know what drunk means. They know what divorce is. And they have heard the word "gay" plenty of times. I recently decided that "glee" has been the perfect way to introduce the meaning of "gay" to them. When we were watching "glee" the other day, Hunter asked, "Mom, why are they so mean to Kurt? He's such a good kid." I explained to him about how he is gay, what that meant, and why the other kids who were mistreating Kurt were wrong. We talked about Jesus and what he would do. And we talked about the right and wrong way to disagree with a person's decisions. I felt really good about that conversation. I felt confident that he understands the importance of loving a person and treating them with respect even if you don't agree with their decisions or lifestyle. All because of a conversation which was the result of a question asked during the viewing of a tv show.

Television has always been an important part of relationships for me. I have fond memories of watching tv with my mom. We bonded over so many shows. "The Mary Tyler Moore Show", "Roseanne", "Days of Our Lives"... I admit that I wish she had read to me also. I would have enjoyed bonding with her over Ramona or Anne Shirley or Laura Ingalls as well. My point, however, is that families do bond over fictional characters. How is it less acceptable for me and my son to quote, laugh over, and enjoy Dwight Schrute together than it is for us to quote, laugh over, and enjoy Henry Huggins together? They are both fictional characters that we enjoy. One just happens to be on tv. One is in a book.

Last night Hunter and Ronin got out a stack of books that they wanted me to read with them. I was finishing up dishes and I was about to come into the living room to sit down with the book for some story time when they discovered that a "Star Wars" episode of "Family Guy" was coming on. So they decided to watch that instead of doing the reading. They asked me to sit down and watch it with them. I don't like those episodes too much but I did sit down anyway. And after it was over Hunter turned on "Dogs 101: Puppies" that we recently TiVoed from Animal Planet. While watching it we learned many things that will be handy to know now that we have a pup of our own. Before it ended, Hunter said, "I'm tired. I'm going to turn this off." He turned it off, got up, brushed his teeth, took his dog out to potty and then headed to bed. I cannot help but wonder how different that scenario would have been if the rules in this house were different. How many times would he have felt the need to rebel if I had said, "Nope, no tv tonight. We are going to read instead"? It has been my experience that allowing my children to make these types of decisions themselves has fostered responsibility, self-monitoring skills, respect, calmness, and general ease in our home.

And what is this about watching tv = being lazy? Why? What about it is lazy? The sitting? Are you being lazy when you lay around and read a book all day? No, that might be considered to be brag-worthy in most unschooling or homeschooling circles, I'd imagine. Am I being lazy when I run for 25 minutes while I'm watching television? Is that lazy? What about when Ronin is watching tv but also doing cart wheels and headstands as she watches. Is that lazy? Or Hunter... is he lazy because he's recovering from being ill and doesn't feel like doing cartwheels while he's watching tv? But he DOES flip through books and comics while he's watching. Is that considered to be lazy? Please tell me. I'd like to know.

To conclude, I have to say that I attribute my quirkiness, sense of humor, most of my intelligence, and my broad range of interests to my experiences with tv. I wasn't raised by the most worldly of people. They were country folk and the most that either of them had ever seen of the world was from the windows of an airplane going to and from a senseless war in Vietnam. But they did respect me. They let me make a lot of my own decisions. I wish that they had stepped up more often in some departments but I'm thankful that they let me monitor my own television viewing habits. And my computer usage. Without those many hours I spent in front of the tv rotting my brain on nonsense like "Small Wonder" and in front of our hip PC rotting my brain chatting on "bulletin boards" about the likes of Jon Lovitz and the Pet Shop Boys, I'm not sure that I'd be an unschooler and I probably sure as heck wouldn't be a blogger. One thing is for certain, I felt a lot less alone in the world thanks to the tv and the computer. I suppose that hasn't changed.