Tuesday, November 11, 2008

TV Tales

I grew up in a time when there was no TV and if it were possible, that's the way I would like Ayaan's childhood to be. Because in my humble opinion, every minute that Ayaan spends in front of the television is a precious minute of his childhood wasted. But like it not, the child will be a product of his times and I would hardly want him to be an anachronistic specimen of a bygone era. Whether I like it or not, the TV will have a place in his growing up years. But for as long as possible, I would like to minimise his TV watching and also be very particular about what I let him watch.

The first time I gave into the TV temptation was when he was about 6 months old. In those horrible days before I discovered Dr. Ferber, mornings would start with him waking up in an absolutely foul mood and bawling in a completely nerve-wracking fashion through his diaper change, accompanied by violent twisting which made the actual task of getting him changed and cleaned without smearing nearby surfaces with poop quite a challenge. So we started putting Noddy on for a single 15-minute episode first thing in the morning. It was a habit that once we got into was hard to break because even when the foul morning moods were behind us, they were replaced by tantrums at the very thought of his parents not giving into his demands – not a very auspicious daily start. Plus I read somewhere that 15-minutes of TV in a day was acceptable.

We did finally put an end to the morning TV routine when he was around 15 months old. Then TV became mostly a weekly affair so that I could get him to sit in one place while I cut his nails. Or if he was not well, we switched it on if his temperature needed to be taken or if we needed to get some much-needed food into his sick, little body.

Then he got the never-ending cough and cold that was finally diagnosed as enlarged adenoids and we were told to give him steam every night at bedtime. As you can imagine, getting a hyperactive two-and-a-half-year old to sit in one place and inhale steam in a peaceful manner is a task well in the realm of impossible things. So the TV was called into service again.

The DVD player actually. Because night-time content on the cartoon channels is completely unsuitable for a young child in the eyes of a mother who is no hurry to introduce her child to the joys of the Power Rangers. And don't even get me started on Tom & Jerry - which I believe is pretty darned violent, too fast-paced for young children and also filled with lots of puns and references that only well-informed teenagers are likely to get. The few times I put it on for Ayaan, I got the feeling that he was just mindlessly fascinated by the fast-moving images. The other problem with TV programming was the ads, which seem to almost glorify obnoxious, bratty behaviour and naked consumerism. So DVDs it was.

Of all the series available on DVD, I liked Noddy because of their simple plots and relatively slower pace of story-telling. Plus Ayaan already had quite the collection of Noddy books at the time and also slept with a Noddy doll. So I picked up a bunch of Noddy DVDs and played a 15-minute episode every night during steam inhalation. After a while, I somehow managed to convince him that books were more fun and though it was a lot harder to juggle a book and the steam device, we survived and went through almost six months of virtually no TV.

But that, like all good things, came to an end. A time came when he started demanding the darned cartoons. And I didn't want to say a blanket no since there is no surer way to get a child to pick up a habit than to declare it a forbidden fruit. So now we have reached a compromise - he is allowed half an hour of TV on school holidays (essentially twice a week). And he has been surprisingly mature about our deal and rarely asks for cartoons on a school day and is easily convinced otherwise when he does. But he is sure to demand his pound of flesh on a holiday.

We have, also expanded our viewing menu, thanks to the launch of BBC's kids channel CBeebies. They don't have a particularly extensive programming line-up and the channel is on air only till 6 in the evening but since Ayaan usually wants to watch in the mornings, the early evening end is not a concern for us.

The content really hits the sweet spot of programming that is acceptable to me and enjoyable for Ayaan. To start with the context is chosen/ designed with the under-6 age group in mind. An adult watching their programming would be bored out of their wits but I can see why it works for kids. Besides, I really don’t think we should judge children's TV by whether we find it interesting. The slower pace keeps the kids engaged and involved and repetition is a good thing at this age and facilitates learning.

Ayaan favourites include shows like Teletubbies and Fimbles, which have nice, gentle themes and age-appropriate concepts narrated slowly with loads of repetition. I find that Ayaan actually learns from them. For example, last month some time, they showed two boys getting their haircuts on Teletubbies, coincidentally on the day we were taking him for a haircut. Now Ayaan typically bawls his head off during a haircut and has to be physically restrained while the deed is done, but we kept telling him about the boys in the show and we had no screams and tears for a change. Of course, he also remembered that the boys got a lollipop each after their haircuts and so demanded one of his own...

So like I said, content that ticks the box in terms of appropriate viewing for a child Ayaan’s age and yet is presented in a way that engages him and teaches him - I can live with an hour a week of that. Of course, he is still not exposed to a lot of the stuff that many of his classmates and contemporaries are watching but I will wait till he finds out about them and asks for them before opening that door. So, as of now. the poor deprived child thinks Spiderman is a spider. Seriously! So whenever he sees one building a web in some corner of the park, he points and calls it a Spiderman. And he is blissfully oblivious to the existence of characters like Ben 10, Power Rangers, Perman and Pokemon. And I'm happy to keep it that way for now.

The other thing I am obsessive about is not letting him watch TV on his own or with the maids. To me, it’s like any other fun, interactive thing that we do together. The few times I have left him alone in front of the TV, I can see that he becomes a passive watcher. Whereas while I am watching with him, he jumps around in excitement when a familiar character comes on screen, points out stuff to me and expects me to cheer for him when he gets some answer right. I am lucky to have help at home with the cooking and cleaning, so I don’t see any reason to let the TV babysit Ayaan while I get along with other stuff…

The funny thing is that I used to be quite a TV addict myself. On an average weekday, I would spend atleast two hours in front of the idiot box. But now I don't watch TV at all. It was making me feel like a hypocrite when I spent the day believing that TV-time was the worst thing ever for Ayaan and then switched it on the minute he went to bed. I also found better stuff to do with my time. Blogging for one, and I am also reading a lot more.


  1. deepa8:20 am

    With you all the way Ro. We've kept it the exact same way with V and have succeeded so far. He's 4 1/2 ( the 1/2 is v.v impt to him so..) and unfortunately he called me out on my theory that Spiderman is actually a spider with it's lower half a man's body which I'd fed him a couple years ago:-)V also loves the Noddy books although haven' been able to locate the DVDs in the U.S. so far. Another seriesr A might enjoy is Kipper, another kid friendly Brit effort. Infact, since V began his DVD watching with this one he used to affect a slight brit acent for quite sometime which puzzled his teachers when he began school for quite soemtime.

    And oh! Forgot to mention. We chucked our TV out two years ago becoz it was moi who was severely addicted to the box. So V watches his stuff once a week on the desktop. Haven;t missed the black box so far. Have replaced the activity with far more insteresting endeavours.

  2. great post, ro. we're the same. we don't even own a television. i let the monkey watch little clips of interesting stuff on youtube but that's about it.
    that's the way i grew up too, no hindi movies, no english - just 30 minutes of tv time everyday around the time i was 8. as i see it the only way i suffered was that when the kids sat down to play antakshari or celebgossip i knew nothing. not a big loss, i say!

  3. Not being a fan of TV, I can so agree with you. Kids get plenty of it when they grow up. They need to jump about and play

  4. :)

    true true Rohini!

    there was a time when i rued the fact that Cubby doesn't get distarcted by TV to shove food down his gullet! but now i dont mind it so much!

    you should see reactions to "we dont have cable at home" line. they all tell us, but it costs only 500bucks! and i am tired of explaining its not about the money!!

    we do watch half an hour of DVD of some movie we like almost every night, but I see Cubby being disinterested within first 10mins or so!

    i hope to do what you are doing for Ayaan too!

    the only time i tried passive TV watching for him was when M was traveling and i needed to go potty. and he bawls like crazy standing outside the door! it worked only one day! hehe!

    glad you writing more often! :)



  5. with u on tom and jerry and the rest of the lame cartoons- even bhim and hanuman are so violent!

    try dora the explorer if u get it on Nicklodeon-pretty educative and entertaining as well

    Ayan is with Anush on Teletubbies and me with you- i do find it very slow - but it is not menat for me anyway

    but I difer from u in that I let her watch hindi/ tamil songs with non adult content

    and completely with u on NOT letting the TV baby sit

  6. I watch cbeebies sometimes! Ayaan has a really cute "hair cut" expression.

  7. [Deepa/ Mona] No TV set at home? That's brave. I don't think I could go that far. For starters, the husband will probably leave us if I take away his cricket fix!

    [Ritu] Exactly!

    [Abha] I think TV addiction is a learnt. I know a lot of kids Ayaan's age who can sit through an entire movie buy Ayaan's attention starts to seriously wander after 30-45 minutes because he is just not used to it.

    [Artnavy] Must check out Dora. Didn't now we had it in India. Ayaan does get exposure to songs but that's on the radio. His current favourite is Singh is King :-)

    [mg] It is way cute compared to the one he sported at the previous haircut - nothing cute about a violent, angry brat!

  8. Anonymous10:32 pm

    This is and was our attitude to kids and TV as well. No TV at all until they were 2 or so, and then mostly shows from the local public TV channel here - PBSKIDS - that has outstanding kids' programming. A lot of it is on youtube, if you want to check it out.
    I'd recommend Clifford, Caillou (though the show drove me crazy, it was just right for the kids), and for older kids, Arthur and Fetch with Ruff Ruffman.

    My kids are 8 and 6 now, and aware of common superheroes but supremely unconcerned by them. Neither one will sit through a movie - not even a kids movie - both HATED Nemo and my son walked out of KungFu Panda (it was a birthday party for a friend). They don't like the usual star-wars or barbie kind of games on the WII, preferring sports...unfortunately (for me!) son developed into a complete sports maniac(like dad) and now will turn into an inanimate object anytime *any* sport is seen on TV, even Golf - sigh.

    As for me, I grew up without TV and was completely immune to its charms until I discovered Law and Order and CSI...and House...:-) Thank God for reruns!


  9. Mom - The best always.
    Claps !!!

  10. Oh honey, I don't know....your intention is good for the child and all that, but later when he does realise and the rest of the world is ahead of him in such matters, I'm not so sure he'll agree....I hope he doesn't develop any kind of a complex. But I wish I could also follow your ideals w.r.t. tv viewing for my little one.

  11. and I agree with anonymous......PBS has the best children's programs...they are just perfect for a kid of any age, heck even I love watching them all.

  12. This was, as usual, such a well balanced, well thought out strategy and subsequent post. Sounds great:)

  13. Right thinking Ro . But doesnt he want to grab the remote ?

  14. I completely agree with you about TV being a waste of time, Rohini. I kept the TV away from Raina for a very long time. When she was 2 1/2, she used to watch a cartoon DVD at her home daycare (she used to go 3 days a week for a few hours in the morning), which she loved called "Wheels on the Bus." It's very cute, lots of singing. So I bought the DVD for her when she was 3. After Ro was born, I had to give in to the TV. It was the only way Raina would stay by herself in the living room while I put Rohan to sleep in the bedroom. I usually let her watch only public tv, which has a lot of good, age appropriate programming, and her favorites dora and diego. I'm just glad I held off for the first few years at least!
    About Noddy, do the DVDs still call the black dolls "golliwogs"? It was only when I came to the US that it dawned on me that Blyton could be quite racist...

  15. So agree with you on tv. We were able to be a lot more strict with Chubbocks though, because with the second kid, she tends to watch whatever he's watching. He's still quite anachronistic - allowed to watch pink panther and the like. One program they love is MAD on POgo - really gets chubbocks started in thinking of art projects

  16. That's really great. A's going to thank you once he grows older and sees his contemporaries struggling with TV addiction issues.

    I don't watch much Tv... unless it's NatGeo or Discovery or even History channel sometimes. I love the educational stuff.

  17. the worst part abt pogo etc is the ads. that is the prime reason i am against TV for kids.
    yup DVDs are way better that way.

  18. oh and CBeebies rock!

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  20. Absolutely agree with co-watching TV. I let the brat watch TV on his own, only if it is one of his DVDs and all his curious q's have been answered to.

    I do let the kids watch TV for half an hour everyday, one of his shows like Noddy, Dora the explorer, Mickey Mouse Club house, Little Einteins, such like.

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  22. you know, I totally guard Nino's tv time fiercely too - it's our time together for new things to learn, quite like books.
    I admit I started out just like you about tv - and I'm stil absolutely going strong on keeping him away from the 'brand craze' ala Disney - but I've given in where Discovery and Nat Geo are concerend. Three days a week, Nino and I watch 30 mintues of shows on mostly reptiles (his current craze). We usually end up picking a related book/project to do, so it saves up some of my guilt.

  23. [Anon] Thanks for those reccos. I think we get Clifford here on one of the channels. I am so not looking forward to the 'sports zombie phase' ;-)

    [Hobo/ Dipali] Thanks :-)

    [Annie] I definitely don't want him to feel deprived or complexed. Which is why he gets to watch the TV that he does watch. I know that will increase as he grows and he will want to watch other stuff - which is fine with me - just would like to have at least some control over how much and what he watches. At least for his formative years.

    [Eve's Lungs] So far he has bought the 'only two programs (15 min each) on weekends'. He rarely asks on a school day. And when his two chosen programs get over, he switches off the TV without being asked

    [A Muser] Noddy has become totally politically correct now. Both the books and the DVDs available now are completely devoid of golliwogs. They have been replaced by a couple of evil goblins...

    [BEV] MAD, huh? Must check that out... thanks

    [Ranjit] I doubt. I will probably be the evil mommy...

    [Choxbox] The ads are a pet peeve. And now some marketers think that kids channels are a great way to reach moms - a while ago, I actually saw an ad for sanitary napkins on a kids channel

    [Subhashree] I think I am not very far away from the daily half hour...

    [Nino's Mum] Unfortunately, the nice content on NatGeo and Discovery comes on weekdays when I am away at work and I don't want to open the 'watching TV with maid' Pandora's box...

  24. The Teletubbies always managed to freak me out. So more power to Ayaan for actually sitting through the show without getting the heebie-jeebies, heh.

  25. I like your idea of not making it a forbidden fruit. chip is unaware of power rangers and the type too, although he watches a lot more TV than Ayaan..

  26. Hey Rohini...I have a 14 month old and so far have managed to keep her absolutely not into TV at all. I am so glad to read this post and see that there are others like me out there :) Loved your blog and will be adding you to my blogroll if you don't mind. I am at http://indianinfant.blogspot.com/

  27. I am a big anti-TV person myself.I so agree with what you say here and applaud your efforts.
    I too watch with my kids--and for their ages (10 and 7) there are some really intelligent programs that challenge their thinking.The trick is to sift through, find and then juggle timings .But mostly I find the older they get they find other far more interesting things to do.
    Another thing I am so against is a Play station and I refuse to give in. My kids read so much as they don't have other options--and now are hooked to books.

  28. hehe! that was a gr8 post.
    My 3 yrs old loved programs at CBeebies till he started finding his sis (8yrs old)programs more interesting. Now he demands to see only Ben 10, Scooby doo, chota bheem etc.
    But he still loves to watch spot, andy pandy, boogie beebies, charlie and lola, big cook little cook, tommy zoom. He even like to play fun and games on CBeebies website during the weekends.

  29. Anonymous10:24 am

    are you guys okay? Today's blasts brought back memories of your post exactly two years ago about the same B...dy blasts rocking your part of the world. Stay safe and sound.


  30. 1. With Megha on the Teletubbies freaking me out.

    2. How about Pingu? I loove Pingu. He's so naughty!

    3. Did you know that Bhablets pronounce Noddy and Donny (neighbouring dog in MDR) the same? Doddy!

  31. Hey Rohini, Just writing in to say hi since its been a really long time. nice post on the TV watching and the week to yourself. I agree about the TV watching. actually, karan does not watch any tv at all...other than discovery or NatGeo with robi or me....but saturdays are his movie days- we put on DVDs for him and man, he really watches a hell of a lot on that day! Earlier it used to be only Madagascar, but now he has decided to be kind to us and has forayed into a wider range of animated movies.

    I heard from my mom, that you had narrowly escaped the mumbai terror attacks. (I have no idea how she knew.) Some other friends also has some close shaves. Gosh, that was one tragic and scary incident for all of us across India....and i'm sure it was even worse for mumbaikars. anyway glad to know that you are safe. has mumbai life returned to normal now?