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Breaking the TV Habit

It’s been almost a month since my little one stopped watching television. Well, there was that one slip two weeks ago. Oh, and she watched a little TV this weekend while she was hanging out with a gaggle of kids. Otherwise, though, she is TV-free.

It all started with a doll. A few years ago the Today Show had an American Girl special. A bunch of dolls selling for $60. I went ahead and bought a few, putting them up in the attic. In April I was upstairs pulling down summer clothing for my little one. She came upstairs and saw the AG boxes, asking to open them up. Inside, she found Caroline Abbott who, with her creamy skin and long blonde curls, resembles my girl. She wanted that doll. She begged for the doll. We struck a bargain. If she could give up television for 40 days, she could have the doll.

It was a tough decision for her. My older daughter never watched TV as a young child. In fact, she watched no TV (pretty much) until she was in pre-K. As she got older she watched on weekends, but TV was off-limits during the school week. Today, she barely cares about watching TV. It’s not something she’s used to doing.

The little one had a different experience. My husband was Little Girl’s caregiver a lot when she was little, and he — a TV junkie himself — let her watch Sesame Street, Yo Gabba Gabba and Backyardigans. Her viewing habits were still within normal limits, though. And then I got injured almost three years ago. Little Girl had just finished kindergarten. During my long convalescence my little one watched a lot more TV. I was immobile and out of it a lot. The TV became a babysitter for my husband, who handled dinner most nights and tried to adapt to his new roles. Little Girl’s occasional TV viewing became a habit. It worried me since television viewing is implicated in dozens negative outcomes including:

There was nothing I could do, though. Once I started getting back to life, however, I limited her television viewing. It was too late. She craved TV. She would choose TV over almost anything. Yes, she still did plenty of pretend play, sports, playdates, but TV was definitely on her radar more than it should have been. The doll was a perfect opportunity to pull her back from a bad habit.

The past month of TV detox has been interesting to watch. In the beginning, she would walk into the TV room and try to finagle a few minutes of viewing time. She also told me how “hard” it was not watching TV. She lamented all the new shows she would miss. (Damn, The Disney Channel is good at sucking kids in!) But slowly she started breaking free of TV’s grip.

Today, Little Girl spends a lot of time in the playroom. She’s become a voracious reader, asking for trips to the library several times a week. She creates elaborate scenarios with her dolls, stuffed animals and Legos. She gardens with me and plays outside on our playground. It’s been amazing, actually.

Little Girl gets her doll on June 8. She also gets back access to the TV. We intend to limit her viewing so she never gets back to the point of needing to watch a show. I’m really hoping that her time away from the TV will reinforce the message that television, like everything, is best in moderation.

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