Friday, November 14, 2008

Television is Raising Our Kids

On August 18, our lives took a radical shift. Lindsay went from being the healthiest child ever - no colds, good appetite, off the charts in height - to being a cancer patient. With that radical shift came a shift I never could have anticipated. The era of television.

As an infant and toddler, Lins was raised in a practically TV free home. We didn't turn the TV on when she was awake, and we made a point to never let her watch "Baby Einstein" or any other children's programming. When she turned 2, we started to have occasional TV "special treats", but they were quite limited. Maybe for a long trip (say, from Wisconsin to North Carolina) or if she was sick. Still, TV just wasn't a big part of life.

In the spirit of radical unschooling, I have felt that, at some point, television needs to be a choice the child makes. If for no other reason, I believe depriving and restricting something that is potentially so addictive only leads to the addiction. Still, I have also believed very strongly that TV and food factor into overall health. And health is an area where my unschooling ideology is less than radical. So, I try to provide healthy choices of food rather than dictate what can and cannot be eaten. And I try to limit the access to a television, ie spend more time outside, so the television is less of an issue or temptation.

Enter leukemia. There was a television playing some inane cartoon in the pediatric ER suite. We left it on. After all, we sat in that room for 4 hours with a 3 year old and a 18 month old. Neither had had more to eat than a graham cracker. And we were hearing words like, "Leukemia" and "don't worry, the prognosis for childhood cancer has improved dramatically over the last couple of decades". A meltdown was imminent. If not the kids, then us.

For the first few days of Lindsay's hospitalization, there were lots of people in and out of the room. Lots of finger pokes, catheter checks. Everyone was a stranger. Everyone was terrifying. So Thomas the Tank Engine was our constant. Our friend. Played over and over, to soothe, to distract. I repeatedly, nervously told the doctors, "Really, she never watches TV at home." How funny that, while they were telling us our daughter had cancer, I was worrying about their opinion of my parenting.

And now, Lindsay is hospitalized for a month at a time, with only a few days home in between each round. And most of that time she is restricted to her positive pressure hospital room. Many times she's hooked up to fluids. So we paint. We play lots of games - monopoly, uno, yahtzee, sorry. We read. We play on the computer. But even with all of that, there is still all the time in the day where a normal family would be outside - playing in a park, going for a walk. So now we turn on the TV.

Michael - 18 months, has been watching his fair share too. Will he be less intelligent for it? More of a bully? Overweight? All I know is that we are a family of four, with a toddler and a preschooler, living in a hospital room for all intents and purposes. If the tv helps us get by, I'm going to try to stop worrying. Instead, I'll listen to Michael singing "Doe a Deer" with Julie Andrews, and think of everything that he's learning that I'm too stressed to teach him right now.

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