ActivitiesAges 10-12 (Tween)Ages 2-5Media & Technology

Third Thursday (Thankful) Television

It’s that time of year…when the world falls in love…tries desperately to stave off the onslaught of Christmas carols and instead focuses briefly, not on the things that we want (just a few more weeks kids), but on those things that we are grateful to have. For example, my colleagues here at Grounded Parents are thankful that I resisted the urge to start talking about December holiday specials in November.

There are a ton of things that I strive to regularly appreciate and not take for granted and I try to not just think about these things in November, although I do think there is utility in having ritualistic ways to remind ourselves that hopefully there is always something to be thankful for. And I will be stunned if the next week doesn’t bring several meaningful pieces along those lines to these virtual pages. But this is the television column. So I’m going to talk about what I am thankful for in children’s media. I’m going to talk about more than just TV today, which I could justify by talking about the proliferation of crossovers and the easy availability of various franchises across multiple platforms, often accessible via the same device. Or I could just do what I want, because, well, I can.

At any rate, here are the media blessings I’m counting this (USA) Thanksgiving:

1. I am thankful that we have an (over)abundance of options and my children enjoy a wide variety of that abundance. There are so many choices pretty much any time of the day and night that it is virtually impossible not to find something at least remotely worth watching. If my daughter is suddenly fixated on the necessity of having a nature show about owls with the kind of dedicated passion only a 4-year-old can muster, odds are I can find one on Amazon Prime or Hulu or Netflix or whatever my favorite streaming media subscription is.

Having approximately a bajillion options at our fingertips at a moment’s notice can be overwhelming from a sheer selection standpoint (do you want Umizoomi or Paw Patrol or Jungle Junction or…). It also increases the likelihood of a kid discovering something best (not) discovered while surfing the internet (but we had Skinemax too, am I right?). But it also means that there is room for kids to branch out and discover new things. Something I’m very happy about is my son’s willingness to consume media about girls, as well as boys. While the conventional wisdom is that stories about girls will only appeal to girls, he has happily consumed a wide variety of movies and books with girls and young women as main characters – The Hunger Games (both the books and the movies), Divergent (the movie, but I suspect the book will find its way home from the library soonish), Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, Patricia Wrede’s Frontier Magic series, and we just started Fever Crumb by Phillip Reeve next. And that’s just what springs to mind.

Television is a little less egalitarian for him, I confess. While shows like Adventure Time do a pretty good job, it is much easier to find a reasonable gender balance and attempts at universality for the preschool set. Mo is just as happy to learn physics and mechanical concepts with Blaze and the Monster Machines as she is to learn about how “If you can see it, you can be it” with Doc McStuffins.

2. I am happy that my kids want to consume media with me. That’s sort of par for the course with a 4-year-old, but even my 11-year-old still wants to read with me every night and likes to have company for television time and parental co-conspirators in Minecraft. He likes to talk about the media he consumes and will make really interesting observations. He’ll even sit down with his sister and watch or read with her.

3. I am thankful for children who will turn off the television (and the video game). This may seem counter-intuitive to this column, and sometimes I confess I do have a bit of, “really honey, mommy needs to run to the bathroom, so let’s watch some NickJr, eh?” going on, but all in all, I am thrilled that may daughter will ask me to turn the thing off. Sometimes it’s specifically to do something else. Sometimes it’s because she needs more room in her brain for whatever imaginative thing she’s coming up with in that head of hers. My son was the same way at that age, and while he likes to “multi-task” more with the TV on in the background, he will also step away from it, both at our request and of his own accord.

4. Somewhat related, in just under the wire, we can all be grateful for new evidence based screen time recommendations from Zero to Three, which acknowledge that the conventional wisdom of no-screen-time-period-under-two are not only unrealistic, but probably counterproductive in terms of parental guilt and most people’s reality these days.

5. Finally, and totally selfishly, I am glad that I’ve found time to fit in some TV for me. People who know me know that I read. A lot. And most of the time, I would rather pick up a book than commit to a show that I may or may not ever see again. But sometimes it’s nice to just sit down and veg, or have something on in the background while I exercise or clean or write. Heck, Gray’s is inspiring me right now. Well, not when this publishes, but you get the point.

In the end, looking this over, I guess I’m mostly glad that we have found ways to allow our children to enjoy things at least mostly on their own terms and are raising kids who seem pretty self-aware and media savvy. And that may be the best gift of all.

Emily Sexton

Writer of incomplete novels, entertainment lawyer, mom of two with a wide age spread, blogger here and elsewhere, wannabe vocalist and v/o actress, atheist, weirdo. That last bit went without saying. Find Em on twitter @emandink and maybe she'll use it more.

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