We Are Both Right

Best of: Kids’ Television Programs

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There are some kids' television shows that don't drive us crazy. What about you? ©Annalog85/stock.xchng

We’ll be the first to admit it: our kids watch television. Sometimes more often than we would like, but it happens.

The thing about kids’ television is that while it is often educational and entertaining, it can sometimes be annoying. (And if you’ve ever watched Barney more than once, you know what we’re talking about.)

But not all children’s TV programs make us want to pull out our hair. Some are well done enough that when your child turns it on, you may actually find yourself sitting down and tuning in. Here are our favorites:

SUZANNE:

Yo Gabba Gabba: You either love it or hate it. The sheer trippiness of this show can be an absolute turn-off, which it was for me at first. But when my two-year-old daughter became a super-fan of Brobee and Foofa, I went over to the dark side. If I tell you that our entire family knows the words to every song on that show (and went to the live concert), you might think I’ve lost it. But it’s true. We can do all the dancey-dances. We predict whether DJ Lance Rock (who must seriously be the envy of all his friends for the money and fame he rakes in wearing a fuzzy orange hat and body suit) is wearing his old shoes (white) or new shoes (orange). We rap along with Biz’s Beat, all smiles as we remember when Biz Markie brought the house down in ’09 while us ’80s parents were screaming the chorus of Just a Friend during the live show meant for our toddler — but we’re not embarrased. The show is actually entertaining, especially with its guest appearances by bands that we once considered cool in another context but who have grown along with us to have families of their own. Give it a chance. It’s like the heyday of Saturday Night Live for the preschool set.

Little Bear: This show has been a staple on Nick Jr. (or Noggin as I still call it) for as long as I’ve been tuning in. My now eight-year-old loved Little Bear then, and I still love it now.  The main characters are genteel bears who are easy on the eyes. And by that I mean completely opposite my other favorite show above.  And maybe that’s why I like it so much. This show’s nap-inducing qualities are like no other. Airing at the end of the afternoon, it only takes me a few minutes of listening to the narrator’s voice and soft music to be in full nap mode. And if I’m lucky, the child at my side will give in too.

AMANDA:

Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Right now my toddler is on a “Gickey Mouse” kick so this cartoon is on our screen frequently. It’s OK, the show itself is visually appealing, the characters non-irritating (I mean, it’s Mickey Mouse and Goofy) and the songs are all written and performed by They Might Be Giants, so how bad could it be. Plus, whenever something good happens, we all now know how to do the hot dog dance.

The Big Comfy Couch: This is a Canadian show that aired on PBS (I don’t think it is in production anymore). Mainly about a little clown girl named Loonette and her doll Molly, it’s a very sweet show that my daughter absolutely loved. There were fun segments like “Ten-Second Tidy” and awesome characters — Granny Garbanzo, Major Bedhead and Snicklefritz (the cat). A. was so taken with it she asked to write a letter to Loonette. She got back a letter and a signed picture, endearing the residents of Clowntown to us always.

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Which television shows that your child watches are your favorites?

Kids Social Networking: I’ll Need Some ID Please

I had some big news I wanted to share a few weeks ago. My husband T. and I had just booked a trip to Disney World for our family and we weren’t telling the kids. I was bursting — bursting — to tell someone, so what did I do?

Headed over to Facebook. (Naturally.)

But before I could hit “share” on my undoubtedly witty status update, I had to stop myself. I am “friends” with some of my children’s friends on Facebook and I wasn’t sure I could count on them not to blab the big news to my kids.

Grrr. Damn you technology.

The thing is, not to sound like a grumpy old man here or anything, but these kids really shouldn’t be on Facebook, as they are all under 13 (the age the social network says it’s OK to make your own profile). So because they need to farm or do whatever it is kids are doing online these days, I had to resort to one of those super-annoying vague updates where you get 10,000 replies saying “What?” “What it is it?” “Stop teasing!”

Sigh.

My astounding ability to make everything about me aside, kids on Facebook is becoming a real issue. Facebook reports it deletes nearly 20,000 underage profiles a day. In some cases, kids are lying about their age. In other cases, the parents are allowing it.

Sorry kids, in our house, there will be no networking, no looking up of old flames, no tagging of photos, no self promotion, no pithy comments on political pages — at least until you hit the teenage years. And then we will talk about it, provided Facebook hasn’t been replaced by the next great thing, whatever it happens to be.

While I don’t really object to the idea in principle — like a cell phone, my idea of my kids on Facebook is likely very, very different from their idea of being on Facebook — and I don’t want my kids to be left behind on a social level, I have a very healthy respect for rules. And since I didn’t create Facebook, nor am I on the policy-making committee, if they say 13 is the magic number, than 13 is the magic number. Period.

What about you? Do your kids have Facebook profiles? Would you allow your underage child to have one? Why or why not?

Should You Talk To Your Kids About Natural Disasters?

We do our best to shield our kids from things that could upset them. Scary movies on television, violent scenes in movies, books with questionable language. But what happens when the disturbing images are unavoidable?

Like this morning, when my 10–year-old came into the living room and found me with my eyes glued to the television, unable to look away from the footage of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and the threat that these environmental tragedies posed to our own shores here in the United States.

“What’s going on?” he asked, as we watched film of cars being swept away and homes being destroyed. As I told him, we continued to watch, he asking questions and me doing my best to explain what I knew, while trying not to worry him. The conversation was repeated an hour later when my 8-year-old woke up. In both cases, I told them it was likely the current events of the day would also be talked about in school and that if they had any questions they should ask their teachers — we could also look things up if they wanted when they got home.

While I wished I didn’t have to talk to my kids about such issues, as a parent, it’s something I need to do — not only to explain what was going on, but to offer them comfort and assurance. That’s why I was surprised when I spoke to a friend today and she said she turned off the television as soon as she heard what was happening — she didn’t want her 10- or 6-year-old to been exposed to any of the images and get upset.

I understand where she’s coming from, but I’m not sure how realistic her method is. With a younger child, say under 5, yes, it might be a good idea to limit their exposure for fear of worrying them. But with older children who will most likely stumble on the news somehow, whether it’s on the cover of a newspaper or a magazine, flipping through the channels on television, or even on a web site, I’d rather confront the issue head on — using it as a teaching tool rather than avoiding it altogether.

For me, it’s also a good opportunity to talk to my kids about helping others and how we can provide assistance even to places that are far away, whether it is by sending monies or supplies to the countries that most need them.

Do you talk to your kids about natural disasters? How?

Dinner and a Movie? Not Exactly.

Does television have a place at the dinner table? Amanda thinks generally no, but there can be exceptions. But what she saw over the weekend really surprised her. Even more so, her reaction to it.

It was one of those sights that at first, made me recoil. We were at a busy restaurant, sitting across from a family of four with two kids under five. As they munched on their food, the parents were talking and the kids were happily watching “Imagination Movers” — on the portable DVD player that the parents had brought in and placed on the table.

“That is so wrong,” my husband T. said  as he caught me glancing over for the thousandth time. “But, so right.”

My knee jerk reaction? Nothing was right about it. Dinnertime is family time. And if dinnertime was in a public place? Even more so.

Then I started to reconsider. I didn’t know the circumstances — they could have been in the car for hours, maybe they needed to hash things out without interruption, maybe their kitchen was being remodeled so they couldn’t eat at home but the kids are normally monsters in public. Unless I got up and asked them — and I didn’t — I’d never know. And honestly, it was none of my business anyway. In fact, I kind of admired them for putting their parenting decisions so “out there” for folks to judge.

They all seemed pretty happy too. The kids were eating quietly and the parents had a date night of sorts, without having to hire a babysitter. I adore my kids, but let’s face it, sometimes it’s hard to get a word in edgewise when they are around.

And when I think about it, tv in restaurants isn’t anything new — in fact, walk into a chain dining establishment and usually the first thing you are faced with are tons of big screens, all tuned to something different. Maybe these parents were just trying to control what their children watched.

What do you think? Would you ever bring a DVD player into a restaurant?

For Your Viewing Pleasure: Television on Playdates

When I have a spare minute, either by myself, with my husband or with my friends, I do any number of things, depending on who is in attendance and what I’m in the mood for. I go to a movie. I play a game. I read a book. I cook. I exercise (ha!). I go for a walk. And sometimes I watch television. I like watching tv with other people, particularly if it’s a show we both like and can talk about later (or during).

My point is, that watching television isn’t necessarily a solitary activity. It’s something that can be done with someone else and can be quite enjoyable. (Seinfeld series finale party anyone?) (I know, it’s a dated reference but I just never got into Lost, sorry.)

Fisher-Price Two Tune Television

Fisher-Price Two Tune Television

Now when my kids have friends over to play, I expect them to do just that. We are a well-equipped, child-friendly house, with tons of toys, games and other assorted fun things, including a large swingset, bikes, bubbles, Barbies, Legos, hula hoops and the like.

But sometimes all of those things are not enough. Maybe the kids get sick of one another and are squabbling, maybe it’s raining, maybe it’s very hot outside, maybe they are (shudder) “bored.”  Sometimes I find, letting them watch television — just for a little while — is enough to shake them out of their rut.

I do have some rules.

  • The program has to be something that our guest is a) allowed to watch at home and b) likes.
  • Generally, I limit them to a half-hour or one show, unless the playdate was scheduled with a specific viewing purpose in mind — to watch a movie or a sporting event for instance.
  • The visiting child’s parents need to be OK with television on playdates too. (Usually when a kids is dropped off, I do a quick rundown of what is allowed and what isn’t.)
  • If it’s a sleepover, slightly more television watching is allowed — that’s generally when we do a movie.

Still, the role of the television on a playdate isn’t necessarily to save it. Sometimes it’s the whole point — or at least a part of the afternoon.

While I want my son and daughter to socialize with their friends when they come over, I would argue that television is a common ground for kids to interact with one another. One of my elder son’s favorite shows in the whole word is Star Wars: The Clone Wars on the Cartoon Network. All week long he and his friends are either: talking about the episode that aired on Friday or, talking about the episode that is going to air on Friday. They speculate and theorize and imagine, happy to have someone to bounce ideas off of and share their “Did you see that?” moments. And when he and his friends can watch it together, they are all so excited, happy to be sharing something they all love.

And the way my kids watch television with their friends (my son in particular), I can promise you no one is sitting on the couch slack-jawed. They are up off of the couch, shouting and laughing with one another, having fun. And isn’t that the ultimate goal?

What about you? Are your kids allowed to watch television on a playdate?

When we go to Suzanne’s house, the television is off, but I can promise you, we are never bored.

Leaving TV Out of the Playdate

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When my husband and I were dating, we rarely went to the movies. As in less than five times in the first three years we knew each other.

Now before you go and assume that either he was cheap or I was a cheap date, I’ll tell you why. Neither of us wanted to spend the time we had together sitting in silence focused on something else. (Ah, young love. What I wouldn’t give now to sit silently in a movie theatre — with him or by myself.)

Instead, we opted to go on dates that were more active and gave us a chance to talk without fear of being shushed. Ice skating, wine tasting, dinner with friends, hockey games, even walks around the mall were all more participatory than a night at the movies.

So I guess it’s no surprise that we encourage our children to do the same — at least as far as playdates are concerned. (My three-year-old happens to be practicing for her wedding in the next room, much to her daddy’s chagrin, but I’m hoping we still have time before the real dates commence.)

By leaving TV out of their playdates, I’m hoping my children get more quality time with their friends. I don’t have to worry about other parents’ philosophies on screen time either, since I won’t be stepping on any toes by insisting they don’t watch TV on a playdate (anything’s possible, but I haven’t heard of anyone who thinks their child watches too little TV).

In some cases, I don’t mind if they play video games for part of the playdate. At least in that case, they are playing together. Sort of. I usually cut them off after 20 minutes and suggest they go outside or play a board game. Even chasing each other around the house with Nerf guns is better than sitting in front of the screen with their mouths open.

I can think of a few times when I wanted to break this self-imposed rule after hearing cries of boredom because two preschoolers couldn’t agree on what to play. But even then, I think I just broke out the Play-Doh.

Despite all the interference I cause on my turf, when my son goes to a friend’s house I have no limitations. The one time a mom actually asked if I minded if they played video games while he visited (because her son had just received a new game for his birthday and was excited to try it out with a friend). I told her that I had no problem with that at all. And I meant it. If that’s how his friend wants to spend their playdate, it’s fine.

Just not in my house.

Despite my opposition to TV on playdates, I can’t say I mind when I glance over at the five children sitting quietly watching a movie in Amanda’s living room while we have uninterrupted adult conversation in the kitchen.

On the Road Again…No Entertainment Necessary

© Chrysler

© Chrysler

When my husband T. and I decided to buy a minivan nearly two years ago, a few weeks before our youngest child was born, my two older kids were unbelievably excited. Like jumping up and down, cheering, high-fiving, getting along with their sibling, overjoyed.

I was happy about the purchase too, but I couldn’t figure out where their enthusiasm was stemming from. We were buying a minivan, not an ice cream truck (how cool would that have been?), a fact I reviewed with them more than once. I never knew kids could be so invested in a car.

Anyway, the big day arrived and off the four of us went (nine months pregnant, I waddled) to the car lot where we picked up our newest vehicle. We settled into our seats and T. and I expectantly turned to our sweet children, waiting for their celebrating to really begin now that they were actually sitting in our new wheels.

Heh.

They were sitting in silence. Not pleased.

Apparently, when our kids heard us say “minivan,” what they actually heard us say was “minivan entertainment system with built-in DVD player, headrest speakers and dual swivel LCD screens.”

Trust me, we said minivan. I don’t think I’ve ever said “dual swivel LCD screens” until just now (and technically, I typed it).

Not to go all “back in my day we walked six feet in the snow uphill both ways and we liked it” on you, but unless we are driving more than two hours (and mind you, that’s two hours after we spend an additional two hours in the car getting past the bridges and tunnels that connect the region where we live to the rest of the country) then my kids can read, or play video games or gasp! talk to their parents. (And honestly, we have to be in the car for at least an hour — the car ride to grandma and grandpa’s house before I allow them to break out their DSs.)

I just don’t see the need for some form of entertainment when we are driving, especially when we aren’t going very far. (And trust me, with the way I get lost,  I’m entertainment enough. Plus, I sing along to the radio and of course I’m awesome.) I want my kids to see where  they live. To be aware of what’s going on. To see how their community changes and stays the same, even in the short time they’ve been on the planet.

And when we are on vacation, I want them to see where and how other people live. We talk about the difference in locations, how where we are compares to our town and the major metropolis closest to us. We look at the homes that people live in, the stores they shop at and the schools they go to.

Besides, what’s a road trip without a few heated rounds of License Plate Bingo and I Spy?

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As it turns out, when we go on long car rides with Suzanne and her family, our kids are all miserable together. Where We Meet Week continues, as Suzanne explains why if Jack Kerouac didn’t need a portable DVD player, than neither do her children.

Look Out the Window. The World is Your TV.

© We Are Both Right

John Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac got by without the portable DVD player. And so can my kids (and I).    

When another mom asked Amanda and me recently where we stood on the subject of portable DVD players on car rides with kids, we each responded with a number. It represented the minimum number of hours our kids would have to spend in a car before being eligible to watch TV during a trip.    

Eight was my answer.    

My husband and I have done our fair share of road trips with the kids and have been on both sides of that number.  

Twenty-three hours in the car with our son when he was three was the longest.  I think we watched Wiggle Bay twice and maybe a snippet of Finding Nemo on my husband’s laptop, but otherwise he was busy looking out the window and fishing with the magnetic pole I surprised him with as we were leaving the house in the wee hours of the morning.  Filling the gaps were letter searching games, 20 Questions, and quizzing Daddy on how many dinosaurs he could name in thirty seconds.   A break (or three) at rest stops carefully selected for the presence of a Dairy Queen and we were good.     

In the three years since my daughter was born, our car trips haven’t been as long.  A few times a year we take a weekend trip about four hours from home.  It’s punctuated with a ferry ride at either end, but the same rules apply.  No portable DVD players.  And we certainly don’t own a car equipped with headrest monitors — not that my son hasn’t sat in a dreamy state in a fully loaded minivan on the floor of a car showroom on more than one occasion.    

Between this and my ban on handheld video games, you might think I’m willing to sacrifice my sanity before I give in to an electronic babysitter. But that’s not quite the case. 

I am at the ready with my credit card when it’s time to swipe the TV monitors on board an airplane.  In fact, my husband insists we only fly airlines that offer in-flight satellite TV.   Amanda knows what I’m talking about.   When our families took a four-hour flight together two summers ago, we couldn’t reach into the row in front of us fast enough to activate the TVs where the three older ones were sitting together.  Nobody cared who was paying for it.  We just ran those cards through as quickly as possible.   And that’s because we didn’t have the option of singing Kumbayah and searching for license plates while flying through the clouds and worrying about the tolerance level of our fellow passengers.    

But as soon as we landed, and set out for the driving part of our trip, those kids were busy with everything but portable devices (well OK, maybe they had a little fun with the walkie-talkies — when the could pry them away from their CB-calling fathers).  As we spent hours driving through a national park, they searched for wildlife that they would never see in our neck of the woods.  We chugged up to elevations where snow was still piled high in July.  There were cabins to spot and streams to follow along the road.  And then there was always an hour or so of cartoons to satiate them when we returned to the condo at night.  

It’s not that I’m trying to prove a point that my kids don’t need TV.  We certainly don’t live a TV-free life. 

It’s just that when we are somewhere new and there are things to soak in and experience, that’s what I want them to be doing. My ulterior motive — and the reason I’m priming them this way — is that we will soon take a road trip that will be the grand-daddy of them all. 

My husband and I did a coast to-coast-and-back-again road trip over three weeks before the kids were born.  In a few more years (when our youngest is in first grade and the oldest is in sixth) we’ll set out to prove that with good old-fashioned creativity, a family road trip of any length can be managed without bringing along the TV. 

 

Amanda and I agree where it really matters, like how to keep SpongeBob out of our cars.  See what she (unconsciously) promised her kids and didn’t deliver.

 

Hoping Against Hope to Skip the Cell Phone for My Pre-Teen

If I take a stand and don’t send my pre-teen to school with a cell phone, will you join me?

There’s power in numbers.

OK, I’ll pay you.

Because the thought of my son walking around with his own cell phone in just a year or two is absurd to me. And the only reason it might have to happen is because cell phones for children have become the norm.

But why? All I’ve heard is parents say that they need to be connected to their children while they’re at school or at after-school activities. My answer is that the kids are being supervised by other adults (who have my cell number, office phone, home phone, and that of every relative through second cousins on both sides of the family) during that time.

And as much as there are school policies limiting the use of phones during the school day, I know first-hand that cell phones are a major distraction in class (teachers probably long for the days of passing notes instead of texting). The biggest phone-related offense when I went to school was getting caught using the pay phones in the lobby — automatic detention. But after school, or when out with friends, that was how we let our parents know that we needed a ride home. Sure I had to wait twenty minutes until they got there, but we survived.

So really, who are we kidding? The reason kids want (and have) cell phones is so that they can talk to each other.

zizzy0104/stock.xchng

We’re fooling ourselves by justifying the responsibility and expense of giving cell phones to our kids by saying that the purpose is to keep tabs on them. My pre-teen shouldn’t be anywhere but at school or an organized activity anyway. Just because he calls me and tells me he’s at a friend’s house isn’t going to make me feel any better (or maybe not until I check out the phone’s GPS locator).

Just like being able to reach out to him by text or voice will not ease my worry. In fact, I think having your child carry a cell phone gives parents a false sense of security (and gives kids greater roaming capability — no pun intended). The expectation is that as long as they can reach you and vice versa, it’s all good.

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Think of the expansive social network children have at their fingertips with a cell phone. Forget about monitoring screen time at home and looking over their shoulders to see who they’re IMing and friending on Facebook. This device is their key to any world you may or may not want them to unlock.

Yes, I know there are phones with limits and you can probably install software to track their keystrokes (believe me, I’m not beyond invading my child’s privacy, but more on that another day). But in the meantime, they can have contact with anyone, anywhere without you ever knowing.

I haven’t even mentioned the expense of adding a phone to the monthly household budget, but that’s probably the easiest part to figure out at this point.

The reality is that my son will have a cell phone of his own in the not too distant future. It’s just a matter of how long I can fend off the inevitable.

In the meantime, I know my best tool is to keep teaching my children what’s right and wrong, setting high expectations for their behavior (both in my sight and out of it), and to hope that they know their limits with phones and everything else.

Until then, what advice can you share with me? Good or bad experiences with children and cell phones?

Can He Hear Me Now? Yes, But He Won’t Want To

If I have my way, two Septembers from now, when my now-10-year-old son turns 12 and enters the seventh grade, he will be getting a cell phone for his birthday. You would think he would be thrilled. And he will be — at first.

The rub is that he will be getting a cell phone with me as his mother.

© prima_vera/stock.xchng

© prima_vera/stock.xchng

Because his idea of a cell phone and my idea of a cell phone are two very different ideas. He’s thinking iPhone — apps, music, texting and full Internet access. Me? I just want to be able to reach him and allow him to have a way to reach me when he starts staying after school for clubs and sports.

I want to be able to confirm that he is where he says he will be — not because I don’t believe him — I do. Completely. It’s the rest of the world I don’t trust. My worry stems more from the nefarious. Neurotic, yes, but it’s there and it’s real. His basketball coach may expect my son at practice, but if C. doesn’t show up, will an adult call me to let me know he didn’t? My guess is no. And if C. isn’t at practice, where is he? Wandering off, fooling around with his friends or something darker, someplace no parent wants to let their thoughts go?

(It’s why I won’t let any of my kids walk to the school bus by themselves in the morning — if I don’t see them get on the bus, it will be hours [an hour if the system works] before I find out that they didn’t arrive safely in their classrooms.)

If I can’t reach him on his cell phone, it will mobilize me into action.

Hmm. Is there an app big enough to cover my neurosis? I guess we are going to find out.

So what will the cell phone reality be in our house? Somewhere in the middle I expect. (Remember, I’m the mom who bought her kid a video game system so he’d fit in with his kindergarten playmates.)

Right now we just have my phone on our family plan as T.’s is covered by work. So we’ll add a line for C. and see how it goes. There will be limits, very strict rules and parental monitoring of the intrusive kind. If he is able to abide by our terms, then the limits will be lessened as he gets older. I suspect and hope that he will do fine. In any case, he will be held accountable for his actions — positively and negatively.

Last year he was invited to a Halloween party by one of his classmates. He knew the boy who was hosting the bash a little and some of the kids who were going to be there, but he was nervous and considered not going because he was afraid it might be on the scary side. My husband and I didn’t want him to miss out on a good time and an opportunity to socialize with kids outside of school, so we encouraged him to attend, eventually sweetening the deal by giving him my cell phone to keep in his pocket, telling him that if he got scared or wasn’t having fun, he could call us and we would come and get him. We gave him very precise instructions. He was only allowed one phone call and it was to our home. Period.

About fifteen minutes before the party was scheduled to end, the house phone rang. It was C.

“Everything OK buddy?” I asked, hoping that nothing had gone wrong.

“Yes, great,” he said, voice full of pep, happy to be at the party (and talking on a cell phone in front of his friends no doubt). “I’m just checking in!”

And that’s fine with me too.