Isn't life so much easier to plan out before it starts happening? Before I was a parent, I was against television for little ones. I had read the books, seen the studies, and knew that television could affect their attention spans and worse - become habit forming. I decided that my children would not watch TV until they were older, at least school age. And even then, only in small monitored increments.
Initially, my husband and I both stuck to this ideal and turned the television off whenever Ben was in the vicinity, even before he could focus on the image. This made it a little tougher for us as we both had "our shows" that we enjoyed watching in the evenings after work while winding down for the day. Having a little one made the windows of opportunity to watch television somewhat smaller and even non-existent at times. But we persevered with the plan.
Then, Ben's naps became more predictable and less frequent. My opportunity to shower and brush my teeth disappeared. Somewhere around one year old, I found myself turning on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or Sesame Street while he sat (quietly contained) in the pack-n-play so that I could shower and get dressed. I assured myself, these were only short windows of time and would not become routine so it wasn't a big deal. Only then, Ben started to like television. And as he became more verbal, he would ask for it. "Elmo" or "Mouse" or "show". Eventually his video library expanded as well as his tastes and he wanted "Buzz Woody" or "Cars" or "Mater". Even still, I have tried to keep him at no more than an hour a day and typically just thirty minutes while I get ready.
The thing is - I like television. I love movies. I get the draw of wanting to sit in front of the TV and be entertained. After a long week, the husband and I both like to snuggle up on the couch with our tot and watch a cartoon. It gives us some extra cuddle time when he is not running around as if on speed and it's fun for us to share with him movies or shows that we think are fun. Recently he watched Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. (I skipped the scary parts so he really just watched about thirty minutes of dwarfs from the middle) He loved it and it was fun to share it with him. This past week we were both sick and crabby and so the television was turned on more often than typical to keep the peace. Ben got to enjoy some extra shows and I got to have some extra snoozing on the couch.
Today, we were in the play room and he was being his typical two-year old self - throw toys around the room, ignoring my warnings to stop, dumping out bin after bin and playing with none of it, etc. I found myself thinking longingly of the television and suddenly I had a very clear idea of how parents end up sticking their children in front of it all day. It's just easier. If a toddler is zoned out in front of the screen, he's not trying to climb on the counters or stomping on the laptop. If he is enraptured with whatever puppet or animated thing that may be performing, then he's not hitting or throwing a tantrum or getting a time out. I can easily see how that could be very appealing and possibly even addicting for a tired momma.
Obviously, television isn't really a substitute for active play time and it doesn't help toddlers learn how to act or what is acceptable behavior the way that interacting with an actual adult does. Clearly, kids need more interactive activities than they would get from a day full of Elmo (no offense to Elmo). But, I think we are also starting to figure out that in a world of sinus infections, busy work weeks, and fussy kids - a little break now and again is probably okay.