Home > Children, Parenting > Lessons From a Toddler: Infernal Screens!

Lessons From a Toddler: Infernal Screens!

Have you heard the one about the people who look down their noses at parents who use their television as a babysitter only to find themselves enlisting the distraction of the ‘idiot box’ to keep their own children preoccupied once they themselves have procreated?

I’m not sure we ever quite fully qualified as thinking ourselves being too cool for television, but am certain the amount of television we have allowed our son to watch is a lot more than we’d ever imagined in those golden, pre-baby days when you are absolutely in control of every aspect of parenting conceivable.

Despite a general awareness that the Bubba has gotten more familiar with a handful of PBS series (including Pearl Jam’s performance on ‘Austin City Limits’ of all things), it never felt entirely like the bad parenting I’m sure we’d have labelled it some 26 months ago or so.

But then…

“Daddy…Daddy…Come get me.”

My son has only recently begun to really stir his vast collection of words and phrases into short sentences, so I’m barely used to that, but somewhat used to it.

What I was NOT ready for, upon reaching his bedroom.

“I want unh watch ‘Dino Train…go that way watch ‘Dino Train’ with me?'”

“Dino Train” is Bubba-speak for “Dinosaur Train,” which is an animated show that runs mornings on PBS, featuring dinosaurs and trains.

Only the lack of guitars and maybe characters aping Johnny Cash and Eddie Vedder keeps me from wondering whether they’d designed the show specifically for him.

Then again, you wouldn’t have to spend a whole lot of time with too many toddlers to figure out that dinosaurs and trains are pretty popular territory. Really, the question is how it took so long for someone, somewhere to pitch the idea.

“Hey…kids like dinosaurs…kids like trains…why don’t we slap together a show about dinosaurs who ride trains?”

“Sounds awful. What would they do?”

“Who cares? Have them actually talk about physical characteristics of different species. The kids won’t care, because it’s dinosaurs and trains.”

And a franchise is born.

Now, if you don’t have children, let me tell you something; you’d be SHOCKED at how quickly someone with fewer than two years on the planet can pick up on something and attach to it. I remember distinctly being asked for ‘Dino Train’ before I was aware it had ever been on the television. We have our son in school (we call it ‘school,’ but, yeah, it’s day care) five days a week, and the only show ever on the TV in the mornings is ‘Sesame Street, ‘ which is pretty much the one show I was 100% cool with being on, even despite the Elmo-ization of the entire neighborhood.

It turned out, however, that dear old ‘Sesame Street,’ the show I remember fondly from my own 70’s childhood, was nothing more than the gateway drug.

Piecing it together now, I know it was those weekend mornings when we’d start with “Street,” but I’d take advantage of the fact the Bubba was chilling in front of the television to go brew coffee…then make a quick breakfast…then more elaborate breakfasts…

Soon enough, we knew expanded our knowledge to “Dordze,” “Cat Hat,” “SooPuh Why,” Sid,” and even, rarely, “Dahmuss.”

Outside our house, that would be “Curious George,” “The Cat in the Hat,” “Super Why,” “Sid the Science Kid,” and “Thomas & Friends,” that last once being an older series about a talking train, which could have held the keys to my son’s heart if only they’d worked in, say, Johnny Cash and horseys. Well, and being on earlier in the day, I suppose.

Despite all the show knowledge and enjoyment and even occasional requesting, it didn’t seem awful to me until I realized my son was barely awake before asking, not to see mommy or for milk or to pet the doggie, but to watch ‘Dinosaur Train.’

And, as the Missus said, “It made me feel like we’re doing something really wrong.”

I’m not okay with that.

Hence, the television did go on this morning for less than five minutes. After brewing some coffee, I made my way back to the living room, grabbed my son’s red toy guitar, sat on the couch, and starting playing it (no better than he can, to be honest). I knew it would distract him, which is a favorite technique of mine. I also know it’s a bit manipulative; I should probably feel worse for that, but…we’ll work on that.

The distraction gave the Missus opportunity to click the screen dark, which is how is remained the rest of the morning and until after the Bubba went to bed for the night (of course, some members of the household are not to be denied their ‘Dancing with the Stars’ fix).

What this episode did, though, was make me consider more how I was burning through my morning in a rush to get on my way to work, with my son being among the tasks that needed addressing on the way to commute time. Sorting him out was getting him dressed for the day and plopping him in front of the screen until we had a chance to get ready ourselves, after which we’d put his shoes and coat on and get out the door, which meant he was being treated with no more a parenting touch than, say, feeding the dog or brewing the coffee.

Not the example I want to set.

So, in addition to guitar distraction, we kicked the soccer ball around the living room for a little bit. After a while he let me know that “we playin game togeduh.”


That’s when I remembered that, over the weekend, he was really into saying how almost everything we did was something we did “together.” And I think that’s really all he wanted. Seems to me kids want to be doing whatever  their parents are doing, which, if you’re playing a game together, is exactly what they’re doing.

Fucking brilliant and simple and damned if I shouldn’t have seen this without having to be told at FAR too early this morning, in not so many words, that I wasn’t quite getting it.

Cheers son. Well played…together.

  1. March 28, 2012 at 9:21 am

    This is a great post! I’m glad you were able to spend more time with your kiddo. Mornings are hectic because you have like, an hour and a half, if that, to get yourself and a toddler out the house. We’ve so far managed to not turn on the TV (well, we sort of have no choice because we don’t even have our TV hooked up! lol We just have it for DVDs). When we need to get ready, we lay out a bunch of toys everywhere so that he can play with his Legos while talking to us in our room. Or my husband and I have an unsaid routine that while one parent is getting ready, the other one is near our two-year-old. I’m pretty sure that not having TV in our house has given us at least 10 hours of our lives to spend together.

    • March 28, 2012 at 12:40 pm

      Has to help!

      Glad you liked the post. I definitely am trying to not make TV “evil” by default, but when it has become elevated in status above the train set, his three guitars and the box full of toys…something must be done. Slower mornings for sure, but much more meaningful.

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