When people talk about using television to help parent children, it's usually brought up with an air of disdain. "It's like the TV is a babysitter," people will scoff. Um, so? Look, I'm usually not one to declare, "My mom did it for me and I turned out just fine," because it's not uncommon for someone to turn out fine in spite of questionable decisions, not because of them. But my mom definitely used the TV to parent me and not only do I understand why she did, but it I think there are aspects of my childhood, and who I am as a person, that are the better for it.
In most things, I take my parenting cues from my mom. OK, some I skip (don't leave a 2-year-old toddler and a 5-year-old child alone in a car, even when you're only running in the store for a minute and it's 1988), but on the whole the woman did a fantastic job and there were a million of us kids (or, you know, five, but that's still a buttload of kids and any time you have more children than arms you're at a disadvantage). I try to make my kids' childhood magical, just like her, I discipline like her, and I use the TV as a key parenting tool, just like she did.
Case in point: this article is only being written right now because my children are watching Fraggle Rock and have been for, like, a while. School's out and we're between childcare right now, people, so don't you dare judge me.
How do you know if you, too, were raised with a TV understudying for your mom? See if any of the following sounds familiar:
You're Maladjusted & Your Brain Is Mush
Ha! Just kidding, you guys. TV doesn't work like that and neither will this article. TV is good. At the very least it's totally fine. Long live TV, a parenting tool that has been passed down in my family from generation to generation.
Stuff Got Done Around You While You Watched Your Shows
To this day, I always associate The Simpsons with dinnertime smells, because my mom would cook while my siblings and I watched our favorite cartoon family. At the time it didn't strike me that my mom had plopped us in front of the television so that she could have an hour to actually focus on one thing without having one of the five of us ask her for something. I just figured, "Oh! Fun! We're allowed to watch TV now!"
Oh dear little Jamie. How young and naive you were. I currently employ the same tactic with my kids. From 5:15 to 6:00 p.m. it's "TV time" for my kids, and I doubt they associate it with the fact that I need them out of my hair (and away from my kitchen) for 45 minutes so I can actually make dinner.
TV Was Used As A Reward & A Punishment
Attempting to modify child behavior with the promise of TV (or the threat of no TV) is absolutely using TV to parent. And believe me, there was no faster way to get me to clean my room than to tell me that Disney Afternoon was at stake. (Or that I could watch two shows instead of one if I did it quickly!) Say what you will, but this technique gets results. Of course it backfires if you usually use TV as a way to get something done (see my point above) and now you've taken away TV. Ruh-roh. This punishment for your child has turned into a punishment for you, too. Parenting is hard.
She Lied About How Much TV You Watched When Talking To Her Friends & Family
"We allow TV, but they get a half an hour in the afternoon and another half an hour in the evening," my mom would say.
I love you so much, mom, and you were and are an amazing mom. But telling people we only watched an hour of TV a day was a lie and you knew it. Look, it's not like we were frittering our lives away in front of the boob tube — we played outside and had vibrant social lives with our neighborhood friends, but all four of us watched a ton of TV. I mean, you didn't even mention all the shows we watched at night as a family. So many shows, ma!
A sure sign that TV played an important role in your mom's parenting is the fact that she was and is probably in denial about the fact that TV ever played an important role in her parenting.
TV Was Incorporated Into Your Daily Routine
Because, again, there was no other way she was going to get anything done if you weren't preoccupied with one of the Nicktoons for at least 23 minutes a day.
You Learned Important Life Lessons From Screens
I'm my mother's oldest, and when it was time to give me The Talk (this was back before the concept of being open with your kids about sex from day one in an age appropriate way was really a la mode) it was a first for her. You know what her gathering up her courage and biting the bullet looked like, at least on my end? An ambush. She hurried through a frazzled, nervous, embarrassed, and nonsensical spiel about the maxi pads (I'd always wondered what those "pink pillows" under the sink were for and she never told me) followed by, "Here, I borrowed a video for kids that explains everything."
She put in Where Did I Come From, a popular primer for many an '80s kid, which I watched in my older brother's room (for privacy) surrounded by my brother's dozens of KISS posters. You know what's weird? Watching a cartoon full of naked cartoon characters chastely humping under a blanket while you're surrounded by images of Gene Simmon's painted face and serpentine tongue.
It didn't scar me for life, though. Not in the slightest. Instead I got a funny story out of it and my mom was able to use television to get the ball rolling.
You Still Know Every Word To Every Disney Movie Ever Made
Because you watched them all the time. Look, if you had the complete Disney collection (before anyone really know about the concept of "The Vault") you were lucky and television was almost certainly a crucial part of your mom's parenting. If you remember any period of time where you watched the same one or two movies every day for days, weeks, months, or years at a time, television was definitely a crucial part of her mom strategy.
You're definitely a better person for it, too. To date my rendition of "Poor Unfortunate Souls" can bring the house down.
Half Your Family's Inside Jokes Come From TV Shows
Whether it was because one of you was a little too much like a character on TV (my youngest brother was straight up Baby Dinosaur from Dinosaurs), they were obsessed with a TV character (my little sister insisted she was "Girl Tommy" from Rugrats until she was, like, 9-years-old) or you all just found a particular joke really funny or relevant to your everyday family life, a television controller was clearly in your mom's Batman-like utility belt. To date, there are several lines any member of my family can recite that will make all of us laugh. Not even catchphrases, just little gags that have come to mean something to us over the years.
We're a TV-loving family. Zero shame.
Muzzy Taught You That Tu Es La Jeune Fille
Double points here. Not only did your parent learn about Muzzy on TV, they then sat you down in front of the TV to learn the program. Say what you will, but I appreciate the parental doubling down on television as a valid choice inherent to this decision.
You Have A Discerning Media Palate To This Day
If you grew up watching a lot of TV (because that's how your mama raised you), you are probably among the snobbiest of snobs in this Golden Age of Television. You've seen enough of what there is out there to know what's good and what's not. You've become a connoisseur! The kind of viewer whose casual office discussions about last night's episode of Game of Thrones sounds like a professional reviewer. Those untold hours spent in the warm glow of the screen was your boot camp, molding you into the thoughtful and judicious viewer you are today.
You're Down With A TV Babysitter, Too
There's a lot that our parents did that will affect our parenting, for better or for worse. But I would say, anecdotally, most of the moms I know whose mothers used TV as a parenting tool will go on to do the same with their own children. Oh sure, maybe they'll want their kids to watch less TV or different types of shows, but chances are screens will play a part in how they bring up their kids.