Screen Time and Cultural Relevance

Enjoying some of the other offerings at the National Children's Museum

Enjoying some of the other offerings at the National Children’s Museum

The kids and I spent a portion of Saturday afternoon at the National Children’s Museum and had a pretty great time. The first thing you see when you reach the building’s entrance is a large statue of Sesame Street’s Big Bird – a character my kids had never seen. Annabelle was intrigued and looked the statue up and down while asking me questions about it.

Later, we ended up closing the museum down, which meant catching their rather loud and obnoxious, but nonetheless enjoyed by the children, “End of the Day Parade.” Leading the parade was a costumed museum employee dressed like Cookie Monster. Annabelle was thrilled and enjoyed dancing around and watching this strange character, and even ended up walking over to and dancing with him (or her?). For the rest of the day, and with great enthusiasm she told everyone about how she had danced with “Blue Bird.”

I’m grateful that we’ve been able to avoid regular screen time thus far without making it a thing, and I’m in no hurry to change the way we do things in that regard. I am realizing, though, that Annabelle is getting to an age where her lack of context for (almost) all things related to television is starting to show. It’s amazing how much kids pick up and put together without needing to see tv, but I’ve been asking myself what’s out there, media-wise, that’s important enough to introduce for its own sake, and when an understanding of these things will actually start to matter. Will my kids feel like outsiders when they don’t know what other kids are talking about, and when will that start? Is that a good enough reason to sit them down in front of a screen? I’m not even considering doing so now, but eventually…

Do your children have favorite things to watch, either movies, shows, or something else? Do you feel like these things are an important part of childhood? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Oh yeah, and here’s Annabelle dancing with “Blue Bird.”

15 thoughts on “Screen Time and Cultural Relevance

  1. Heather H

    I’ve thought about this too when people ask if my son likes a certain character and I respond that he doesn’t know how they are. I’ve also realized that I can introduce a lot of that through books and singing the songs ourselves. However, I’m only able to share with him what I’m familiar with. He won’t be familiar with the iconic characters unique to his generation. On the other hand, I’m not hip on pop culture now, so how important is it for kids to be hip on pop culture. When I watched a lot of T.V., and I still felt like an outsider. I think it had more to do with my personality than my exposure to pop culture.

    Reply
    1. melissa Post author

      That’s an excellent point! I watched an excessive amount of TV when I was a kid, but I don’t feel like it made me more or less connected to my peers or to the world around me.

      Reply
  2. Aubrey @ Montessori Mischief

    We got a membership to Six Flags this year, and when walking through Gotham City, we encountered a man in a green costume. He shook Henry’s hand, and hey, “Who am I?” Henry said he didn’t know and the guy shrugged and said, “I’m the Green Goblin, yeah!” Then Batman stepped out in his costume. He shook Henry’s hand and said, “You’ve gotta know who I am! Who am I?” Henry wrinkled his face and said, “Um..I don’t know. Who are you?” Batman staggered back and shook his head in disbelief, then kindly whispered, “I’m Batman, little guy. Batman.” At that point, I decided that we needed an education in Superheroes. We’re not showing the cartoons, but we did decide that he NEEDS to know the popular “boy” characters and symbols. We have been making it a practice to point them out when we see them.

    Reply
    1. melissa Post author

      I don’t think I even know any superheroes outside of Batman and Spiderman … and of course Captain Planet! :)

      Reply
  3. Rachel Wolf

    For years my son referred to Sponge Bob as “that yellow chunk of cheese”. I never made an effort to illuminate them to the ways of pop culture. I despise the scripting, the commercialism of it all. I talk about it a little bit in this post, if you care to give it a read.

    http://lusaorganics.typepad.com/clean/2009/11/imaginative-play-natural-play.html

    And as a point of reference, my son is now ten. And we don’t stick out like sore thumbs. (And nope, still no tele.)

    Reply
    1. melissa Post author

      I’m glad to know that no television is still working for you guys at age ten. All of the screen free families I know have young ones like ours!

      Reply
  4. Amy G

    Very interesting question. We are media-free, too. Although, Q has seen some sports games, and has watched the old Spiderman theme song on youtube a few times as it (strangely, I suppose) became her pee-pee song. I’ve wondered about the same topic, so I must say I have no answer. But, I’m amazed at what she does recognize even though we don’t watch the shows or even read the books. She’s been given Minnie Mouse socks, lots of superhero stuff (dad’s a big, big fan), and Thomas the train stuff. So, she can readily identify these characters. I do think it’s funny as she certainly doesn’t have the same context, so I wonder if that will eventually be an issue. But, I realize that there’s really no huge “issue” behind this. Obviously, just random thoughts- I’ll be interested to read other comments!

    Reply
  5. Laura

    This last comment is pretty relieving, Rachel! I had not thought about the issue too much yet. My eldest is 2 years and she has just realized that we don’t own a television but didn’t seem too concerned. Thankfully we don’t visit many houses where the telly is central. I am very interested in your opinions! Thanks, Melissa, for bringing up the topic.

    Reply
  6. Rach

    I think this is a situation that will just evolve as they get older. It’s not an issue yet with small kids as if you just don’t switch it on or even don’t have any screens, then they don’t know they are missing anything.
    They might really want to watch some shows when they are older, and my view is that they should watch them if they want, both as the forbidden fruit is always sweeter, but also because I hope I’d respect my child’s wishes. And that our lives would have many more dimensions to it than just some tv shows.
    At the mo, B watches just one pre-recorded show a few times a week, plus we sometimes look up stuff she is interested in on the IPad, like fire/piers etc! I’m not entirely happy about the tv show, but she enjoys it.

    Interesting posts here about it for older kids http://project-based-homeschooling.com/camp-creek-blog/sliver-or-how-stop-fighting-about-screen-time

    Reply
    1. melissa Post author

      Excellent article – thanks for sharing, Rach. I can definitely see this situation evolving quite a bit as the kids get older.

      I was really surprised when I overheard a snippet of a conversation between Annabelle and a neighborhood girl the same age. They were talking about TV and A said, “We don’t have a TV. Well, actually, we do. My mom has a computer.” I have thought, like you say, that she didn’t really know she was missing anything, and to an extent that’s definitely true, but I was surprised to see that she could make a connection between TV and the things we do on the computer. She does watch an episode of Mr. Rogers or a yoga DVD here and there, but it’s not even a weekly thing at this point.

      Reply
  7. racheous

    Great topic :) My son, at 3.5, has already watched a few different shows and knows characters through that or his cousins. There’s some he wouldn’t know but he knows a fair few even with semi-limited screen time.

    Reply
  8. jaqbuncad

    Guess I’m the outlier here. Our kids probably watch about an hour and a half of tv a day, which is their limit unless it’s a sick day, usually in the mornings following breakfast while I’m trying to get myself into the waking world. That time might be spent playing video games, watching tv shows, or watching a single movie. And of course the kids’ve got their favorites, but those rotate pretty regularly.

    It’s not even that I consider media or popular culture awareness to be an “important part of childhood” – it’s more personal to me than that. I’m the fannish sort, this is the stuff I grew up on that was important to me, and some of the best relationships of my life have been built around shared love of media. So I share that with my kids, because it’s a thing that’s brought me a lot of joy and hopefully it’ll bring *them* a lot of joy. I’ve still got all the books I read and loved as a kid and a teenager in hopes that I’ll have a pair of eager hands to pass them into as mine get older. And they might not go that route, but I hope that by sharing my bliss with them they’ll learn that it’s okay to be passionate about whatever it is that they’re into.

    Reply
    1. melissa Post author

      As usual, I really appreciate your perspective. It absolutely makes sense to want to share what you love with your children.

      Thinking about it, neither TV nor film is or has been a big part of my life, so it makes sense that it wouldn’t really be part of our family life either.

      Reply
  9. Annicles

    Such a hard issue to tackle. I think part of your answer will come down to who Annabelle socialises with. If her circle of friends come from homes with similar feelings then you will not have to think so hard but if she is exposed to a wider variety of families you may find you make decisions that are unexpected! I have banned Livi from watching anything that is not factual as she unconsciously models the behaviour she sees with obnoxious results. The only exception is dr who and we all love that! Tv and computer time is still very limited here, even for Abi who is now 13!!!! My biggest concession is they watch The Voice which is a singing(allegedly) competition. They would be very left out at school if they didn’t see that! Now though, most stuff they want to watch is from YouTube and is word of mouth. They hav to be in a public area of the house to watch it though!

    Reply
  10. Talia's Travel Blog

    A great approach to a complicated topic. I am far less concerned about character recognition which both of my children seem to already do astoundingly well (Milo can spot Dora on food packing from half an aisle away in the grocery store and both children have a strong preference for the Dora option on the ice cream truck even though it is by far the most toxic choice) than to the long-term effects of limiting TV exposure. I grew up in a household without a TV and my parents very deliberately limited our TV exposure even when we traveled (I remember Reading Rainbow was a huge treat at my grandparents, but even Sesame Street was only offered in small doses when we traveled) and partially as a result I have very strong reactions to visual images. I struggle a lot when my kids are out and inadvertently exposed to things like CNN. Talia has been known to get nightmares from the TV-exposure that she gets walking through the airport (It can be truly impossible to block out TV exposure during a long layover. I have found almost no place in many busy airports that doesn’t have some type of TV playing except the bathrooms, and 90% of the time it is the news and totally inappropriate for kids). I have also had serious issues on long flights where my toddler was enthralled with a very inappropriate movie full of violence and I could do almost nothing to distract her (even standing in front of her to block the images), while the children around us who presumably are getting a good deal more TV-exposure were fairly disinterested. I vividly remember walking out of breakfast on a recent September 11th because there was no place to sit in the restaurant which did not offer a full view of the news-cycle and both T and I were really bothered by it.

    I obviously think the trade-off of less TV as kids and more time for play is worth the extra-appeal of TV when it is offered (we won’t even discuss how much TV my children can squeeze in at my in-laws when they are offered it on demand, and always terrible Nickelodeon shows about teenage social drama or bikini-wearing cartoon “superheros”), but I do worry about how to shield my children from age-inappropriate media when we are out and about and it obviously appeals to them strongly, and possibly more than if they were allowed the standard 1-2 hours of kid-friendly shows every day.

    Reply

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