When Emmalee was about five or six months old, I was babysitting a friend’s three year old. I had Nick Jr on for him, and I happened to notice that Emma seemed to take an interest in a show called “Yo Gabba Gabba.” For those without children, the premise of this live action show aimed at preschoolers is that an alarmingly skinny man in bright orange clothing takes some strange looking toys out of a boom box and says the words “Yo Gabba Gabba” to make these toys come to life. He then watches over them, aiding when necessary, while they sing, dance, and impart such gems of wisdom such as “Don’t, don’t, don’t bite your friends!” or “You have to wait your turn! It’s only fair to wait right there!” The show is, admittedly, fascinating in its very strangeness. Months later, probably when Emma was about nine or ten months old, I DVRed a couple of episodes of the show and would play them once in awhile for her, mostly when I felt desperate for a break or when I really needed to get something done like dishes or laundry. She would watch for maybe ten minutes or so, but television in general just didn’t really hold her attention for very long. And since she genuinely seemed to prefer reading books and playing to watching TV, I really didn’t have much guilt about it at all.
Then, seemingly overnight, things changed. Emmalee would watch entire episodes of Yo Gabba Gabba, zoning out in an almost creepy way. As soon as breakfast was finished and she was freed from her highchair, she would run to the television and demand, “Bro!” (Her favorite character is a little green guy named Brobee, who she affectionately refers to as Bro.) One or two episodes a day used to be enough to satisfy her, but the situation is slowly getting worse. Now she wants to watch “Bro” all the time. Most days she watches at least four or five of the twenty minute episodes. And, I’d be lying if I said that there weren’t days when she watches even more than that. Guilt is consuming me.
Yes, I do realize that I have control over whether or not the television is turned on. It is completely within my power to limit Emma’s TV addiction. But, to be honest, there are so very many benefits to turning on “Bro.” She isn’t upset at all about my leaving for work in the mornings when she’s distracted by her favorite show. And when I get home from a long day of teaching and feel like I could really use a few minutes off my feet, cuddling with Emma on the couch for twenty minutes of Brobee time is pretty appealing. Cooking dinner, washing dishes, packing up Emma’s diaper bag and getting her dressed are all so much easier with a little help from the very best little green babysitter. In many ways, I am as addicted to Yo Gabba Gabba as Emmalee.
But so what, right? I mean, it’s TV. Everyone watches TV. Nick Jr. calls itself “preschool on TV.” So Emma’s attending a little earlier than I might have predicted. How can learning to eat your vegetables, to be honest, and to never give up possibly be a negative thing?
A quick Google search sheds some light on that question. There has been a plethora of studies done on the impact of television in early childhood. These studies have found that children who watch TV are more likely to drop out of school, less likely to go to college, and are more likely to bully other children, become obese, smoke, drink alcohol and have sleeping issues. Well, shit.
At first, my Googling was a little depressing. I am certainly not setting out to raise a mean, overweight, alcoholic high school dropout who suffers from insomnia and eventually dies of lung cancer. But I just can’t logically accept that Brobee could be to blame if Emma becomes any of those things. As one study pointed out,” it’s hard to conclude that TV itself is the culprit, but rather the life choices and situations which include extra TV watching.” That article goes on to say, “If more TV means less attuned, healthy connection time between child and parent, there’s going to be a problem down the road.” So, there. If Emma doesn’t end up as a productive, well adjusted member of society, Brobee is off the hook. That blame will land squarely where it belongs, on my shoulders as her mother.
Sometimes Brobee is a babysitter, but just as often I watch the show with Emma and we engage in it together. We sing the songs. We do the dances. We talk about what she’s seeing. And we still spend lots of time reading books, playing games, going shopping, and just experiencing the world together with the television set off. So I am back to my “so what” stance. So my eighteen month old has a favorite show, recognizes the characters, carries a plush Brobee around during the day and sleeps with him at night, sometimes starts doing the dances she remembers from the show in the middle of Target? So what. There are worse things. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I’m doing plenty of other much more reprehensible things on a daily basis that will have a way bigger impact on screwing her up than turning on Nick Jr. We all have our vices. For Emma and I, I guess it’s Brobee. Let the perfect parent cast the first stone.