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Thursday, March 14, 2013

All Eyes Focus on the Glowing Prismatic God

I am a horrible father. I know this because I have failed the most basic parental litmus test of my generation. I don't hate my children watching television. I love television. Where I truly demonstrate the fullness of my apostasy from the church of modern parenting, show my true heresy, is that sometimes I encourage my children to watch television. At times I not only want them to watch the babysitter box, but I want them to be silently enthralled by it. I want them to sit, not move, and bask in its soft electric glow.

The other morning my lovely, precocious, youngest child awoke at 4:00 a.m. She would not go back to sleep. I refused to let her get up until at least 6:00. I held in her the recliner in her room. I laid with her in an empty bed. (Her three-year-old brother's bed was empty because he was in mom and dad's bed with mom). By 6:00 I was a broken man. My almost two year old has fallen in love with the mid-nineties Nickelodeon classic, Gullah Gullah Island. I indulged her passion that morning. I turned on an episode of her show and collapsed on the couch and slept. Every twenty-two minutes she woke me up and I put on another episode. “Daddy it over", her sweet voice would call out. Bless you Steve Jobs and your wonderful Apple TV. Praise be to iTunes! I simply clicked the sleek silver remote three times while peering at the menu through alligator eyes, and quickly returned to rest.

Gullah Gullah Island is a lovely show. It teaches appreciation of other cultures and traditions without being preachy or heavy handed. The show is heavy on music. My favorite part of the show is that the characters do not invite my child to reply to the television or shout answers. They rarely break the fourth wall, and when they do, it is only to greet the viewer or ask a rhetorical question. The show is really the last of its kind. Since the debut of Dora the Explorer, almost all children's shows are, for some reason, required to encourage children to yell answers back at the television and to jump and dance all over the place. Call me old fashioned, but I prefer my children's television to be stupefying.

I realize that I may be burned at the stake for uttering such statements. But, seriously, since the debut of Dora in 2000, have children become smarter or more physically fit? No. In general they seem to be stupider and fatter. So why torture parents with interactive drivel? I grew up watching a lot of television. I also read a lot of books. I also rode my bike, and once got chased through a blackberry patch by a rabid dog. I watched 3 2 1 Contact, Mr. Wizard, Spiderman and His Amazing Friends, Battle Star Galactica, The Muppet Show, and a fair amount of Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie, I Dream of Gennie, and Bewitched. I also watched a lot of strange Japanese cartoons with poor English voiceovers on the relatively new Nickelodeon channel. (Incidentally, I also loved watching Nickelodeon's You Can't Do That on Television, which featured a young Canadian girl named Alanis Morrisette). Once we got the Disney Channel my sister and I would spend some entire weekends glued to the screen. I am not saying that this was a good idea, or even healthy. I am saying that it didn't kill us or make us stupid or fat. 

I believe that children need to be outside. Once a child is outside, relatively unconfined, physical exertion and imaginative play follow. A toddler does not need a hot yoga class to stay in shape. A toddler by definition should be in shape. A toddler needs to be allowed to play at the park, run around on the grass, and most importantly, be allowed to fall down and scrape a knee occasionally. Children profit even more from exposure to the wilderness, or at least a state park. Getting away from urban and suburban settings and seeing real rivers, lakes, forests, and animals not in cages is good for the soul. Scampering down a tree-lined trail will feed some primordial need to connect with nature and helps promote life long activity and curiosity.

However, as much as I love the outdoors, and as much as I love taking my kids hiking and camping, sometimes I also need my children to sit and stare at something that is not me. The television can be more than a babysitter; it can be a sort of part time nanny. The television should be used to further advance our family values. This is why my children watch 1990's basic cable kid's shows and not Children of the Corn, that and I don't want them to get any ideas. I don't have a problem rewarding my children's fidelity to family order with some doses of cartoon mayhem. Sometimes my wife or I will watch along, many times we use the distraction to get selfish things done like cleaning the kitchen or organizing a closet.

My children have a menu of entertainment and educational options only hinted at by my childhood. The amount of video games, movies, and television available for free, or very cheap, is awe-inspiring. The back catalog of television shows available means that my children and I can build common reference points. The fact that most of my children love Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers and Phineas and Ferb, means that I sometimes get to read a little bit of an eBook. That little respite makes me a better dad, even if I am still a horrible father.
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