Arlington, Virginia — Although I’m horrified to read about the recent findings by the Kaiser Family Foundation that kids aged 8-18 spend a whopping 53 hours a week viewing/using electronic media, my young son’s early addiction to a yoga DVD showed me just how powerful television can be, for mom and tot alike.
It is hardly revolutionary to stick to the American Association of Pediatrics’ guidelines as a minimum. My plan was to remain TV-free for at least my son’s first two years and also to keep a low media profile after that so he would not become a soap opera-addicted eight-year-old like his mother once was. And so his brain could be free to make up its own stuff.
But as new mom, down time for me was scarce, and my nerves were frazzled. I could not even do a few yoga poses without my toddler son climbing on me or clamoring to be picked up. So, inspired by my niece knowing I was doing downward-facing dog because of her “ABC Yoga” DVD, I bought a YogaKids video when my son was just shy of two years old.
What could be the harm in my son learning the way of the yogi early on, right? Hey, maybe we could even make it a ritual, something we do every morning before breakfast. This could make me a better mom, one who models consistency, honoring my body, doing mindful breathing. TV as Hippy Helper!
All lovely thoughts, perhaps, but really just rationalizations for my heading the way of the light box. We watched the video a few times in the morning, and it got little reaction at first. My son pattered away after a few minutes, then came closer and tugged at my stretchy capris, wanting to be held. The little kids on the screen were getting a better workout than I was.
The video’s selection of poses was not my favorite, but visually, it was fun to look at with lots of animal images. The kids even got to hug a big fluffy dog and mimic a bunny’s twitching nose. There were a few songs but lots of calming voice talk with quiet or new-agey synth in the background. Images of natured abounded, sometimes on their own, and sometimes with voice-overs about how we are all connected – the earth, sky, trees. A feel-good message.
“Look at the snake! Hiss!” I said to my son the first few times we tried the video. “And there’s Lake Michigan, and a boat.” I tried to make the experience instructive while also getting in some stretches.
Before long, I regretted inviting my son to glue his eyeballs to the television so that I could reach for bliss. It turns out that yoga, in the form of light coming out of a big screen, can be addictive.
One day, my husband put on the video in the evening — not for some justified purpose like to get some yoga in himself or even to buy time to cook, but just as a distraction while his mom was visiting. This, to me, was like giving a kid chocolate when he doesn’t want it. What a waste of a not-good-for-you thing!
After that, our son started to demand the video daily. The “yoga kids” in brightly colored matching shorts and t-shirts became his new best friends. “Kids!” he yelled, and signed, bopping his hand up and as though patting kids on the head. “KIDS!” This demand was not made with a cute question mark in his voice, or with a soft added “please?” No, it was an order in all caps.
Sometimes he would point at the TV or hold the remote up while he shouted. But one day he had just asked to nurse when we sat on the couch and he spied the remote, begging for his “kids” fix. As he was lifting my shirt, confused about whether he wanted me or media, it occurred to me that my son’s enunciation is not all that clear. I could have sworn he was shouting “Tits!” Except that he was looking away from my naked breast and toward the TV. I gave him a choice: nurse or “kids.” He chose to nurse, but as soon as he was done, he turned around to scooch off the couch and then handed me the remote control.
I eventually made peace with this little bit of TV. He buzzed when he saw the bee, and meowed at the cat, and sometimes I could take advantage of the time. I would have sworn that Y-O-G-A would be his first spelled word.
Now, almost two years later, we still try to keep screen time to a minimum, but once you let the cat out of the bag, it’s hard to shove it back in without getting scratched. I am terrible at setting limits and boundaries, and my little boy is not so good at accepting them either.
So we watch some Caillou on PBSKids (or in Spanish on YouTube). This is mostly innocuous except that the storylines infiltrate into my son’s consciousness in a creepy way, as he recounts the storylines over dinner like they are real. And he sometimes whines at bedtime, “I forgot to watch Caillou!” The new addiction begins.
Where is that YogaKids DVD now, I wonder?
Jessica Claire Haney is a freelance writer, editor and tutor. Her writing has appeared in parenting publications and poetry journals. A former high school English teacher, Jessica is mother to one son and is passionate about holistic health and well-being and is a leader of a chapter of Holistic Moms Network. Find more personal reflections on parenting at her blogs, Crunchy-Chewy Mama and Mama’s Mouth, and on DC Metro Moms Blog. Jessica also shares health reflections and recipes at Inexact Science: Raising Healthy Families.
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