I’m going to lead off by sharing this story and the associated video clip from ABC News:
Go watch at least the first segment. I’ll wait.
Here’s where I’m at: I friggin’ hate Spongebob. He’s an idiot. He encourages my kid to call her stuffed animals, her pets, ME – names (including “stupid” and “dumb dumb” – just like in the segment above.) He’s annoying. Want to know how annoying? He’s this annoying:
HOLD EVERYTHING! Offensive AND annoying. I was trying to find a snippet of his laugh. That laugh. The one that wakes a sleeping giant inside me and makes me want to bludgeon things. I found that snippet – and in the course of watching it, I found another reason to hate Spongebob. He’s teaching my kid stereotypes before she can even say the WORD “stereotype.” (Sidenote: my husband watched that clip and he doesn’t “read” the link between two male characters commenting on Spongebob’s sense of style and employing a “limp wrist” gesture as a stereotype. I think he’s wrong. He thinks I am. You may feel free to judge for yourself. PS – I’m right.)
Okay, that’s a lie. My kid can totally say “stereotype.” She doesn’t know what it means. She also doesn’t know what “inscrutable” means, but she can say that, too. She enjoys tackling really hard to pronounce words and busting them out in public to watch the look on people’s faces. She gets that from me. Or more to the point, I taught her to do it because there’s just something so RIGHT about the look on an uptight Mom’s face when her preschooler is stumbling over “ravioli” and my preschooler says “indubitably.” Makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, even if it’s just schadenfreude.
But I digress.
Do I think Spongebob makes my kid dumb? Well, no, but that’s just because my kid is a genius. Do I think he encourages my kid to be a meanie? Yep. Do I think watching Spongebob is not valuable to her in any way? Again, yep. So, in keeping with the study, do I think that means she’s better served by watching Caillou? You know, the whiniest kid on public television? Um…no. Or how about Dora, the Explorer, who speaks in a constant shriek? Or Elmo? The little puppet who can’t help it if his creator likes to date children?
So where does this leave those of us who don’t mind letting their preschoolers watch television? Are we just supposed to take away television altogether? Are we prepared for the inevitable fallout of having to actually PARENT our children for hours on end?
Did I just take a pot-shot at parents who let their kids watch TV? Oooh, I did. Did I mean it? Ooooh, I did. Only because I’m one of them (you, whatever.) I throw stones fully ensconced in my glass house. My child is watching The Smurfs at this very moment so that I can have the freedom to write this blog post. Does that make me a bad parent? No. There’s always these people:
I’m not actually filling her full of caffeine, sugar and B-vitamin overdosed energy drinks and turning her loose on the world. I’m also not teaching her that her entire sense of self-worth is defined by a tiara and a toddler title. Nor do I teach her that any family alive needs that quantity of paper towels on hand at all times.
But it’s kind of easy to say, “well, at least I’m not a member of the Shannon family!” then walk away, hand-wiping gesture and all. It’s not as if there’s good parents, and then there’s Honey Boo Boo’s parents. There’s a vast gamut of bad parenting between depravity and Spongebob. It’s the guilt that’s slowly getting to me. For example, just today I had to give my child a timeout in the corner for calling me a dummy. Was I being a dummy? No, I had told her she couldn’t eat sprinkles until the cupcakes were finished and the sprinkles put on the icing. She said, “Dummy, sprinkles don’t go on icing! They go on ice cream!” In her world, she was right – she’d never had sprinkles on icing – but she has had them on ice cream. She didn’t even really hear herself calling me a dummy. It was just something to say. We had to talk about it after, and she couldn’t get past the sprinkles. She really thought I gave her a timeout for thinking sprinkles go on ice cream.
And here we come to the heart and soul of my post. It’s my fault. I let her watch TV programming that’s not intended for her as an audience member. It’s because she’s so freaking smart. She’s smarter than most four year olds. She is. I’m not just being one of “those” parents. This kid has a vast vocabulary – and knows how to use it. She can do basic addition and subtraction. She still can’t read – but I don’t push it. I couldn’t read until first grade – but once it “took,” I became an avid reader overnight. My husband learned to read before he was 3. She’s just taking after me, and I’m okay with that. She also memorizes songs and acts them out. She can do all of “Part Of Your World” in character. She knows “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” from Hello, Dolly! She’s working on the Witch’s Rap from the Intro to Into the Woods. “Greens, greens, and nothing but greens! Parsley, peppers, cabbages and celery, asparagus and watercress and fiddle ferns and lettuce.” She gets stuck on “asparagus and” – and giggles and trips over her tongue, then asks me to do it. And I get it – I used to trip over the same part “once upon a time.” How does she know all of those songs? Because I let her watch The Little Mermaid, WALL-E and Into The Woods while I’m working. Or cooking. Or blogging. Or generally trying to be a human being. Don’t get me wrong, she also plays with her toys, plays with her cat, chases the dog, goes outside and swings on her swingset. She’s a normal four-year-old. I just think I let her watch too much TV, and the evidence of that is how much trouble she gets in for how she talks to her parents.
Remember the scene in A Christmas Story where Ralphie’s mom puts the bar of soap in her own mouth after repeating the word Ralphie said helping his dad change the tire? That’s how I feel every time I have to put my daughter in timeout. Like I should have to stand there with her.
Maybe that feeling is enough. Maybe that’s acknowledgement that I need to do better, and the first step to real change is acknowledging where the problem lies. At least I get that there’s a problem, and the problem isn’t my child’s problem but my own.
In the meantime, I should probably get in there and see if she’d like to engage in a pillow fight before bed. You know, because encouraging her to hit me upside the head with a pillow may not be a good thing, but damn, it’s great to hear her laugh that hard. And between me and you, it’s kind of fun to knock the little booger sprawling and giggling with a fluffy pillow. Keeps me sane ;)
How about y’all? How do you balance TV and playtime? Do you allow TV at all? Are there limits? Do you find yourself breaking the rules to give yourself time to do things you need to do, or do you hold fast to your principles no matter what?