My Kid Watches Too Much TV – Or, What is the source of parental guilt?

You might think your child watches too much TV, but here's how to find a media policy that makes sense with your own values.Dylan watches a lot of TV.

Oh, he does a lot of other things, too, of course. He’s having a magical childhood here at The Wallow, what with chasing chickens, baaing at sheep, snuggling bunnies, climbing around on brick walls, playing in the dirt and gravel, riding his tricycle, and so on.

But also, he watches a lot of TV.

Sometimes I think to myself, Dylan watches too much TV. And sometimes I feel bad about it. I feel like I’m not “enriching” his life enough. I feel like maybe his little toddler brain cells are dying. I feel like if he had a mother who didn’t have depression his life would be better.

Sometimes I feel guilty.

What is the source of that guilt? What or who causes it? Where does it come from?

Guilt must arise from judgement, right? Someone provides a standard, and guilt comes from not living up. Someone has proclaimed my kid’s TV watching to be in excess, and I feel guilty for failing.

Who is that someone?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says kids under two shouldn’t watch any TV and that older kids should watch no more than 1-2 hours. Oops. Are they the ones making me feel guilty? Not quite. I like to know what parenting advice the experts are giving, but I don’t feel obligated to rigidly comply. The AAP thinks the benefits of infant male circumcision outweigh the risks, for example. Fuck that bullshit.

Parenting experts aren’t the source of my guilt.

Imaginary parents in my mind have opinions about TV watching. Some of them never let their kids watch TV, opting instead for Pinterest-worthy crafts 24/7. Other imaginary parents let their kids watch TV literally all day long while they barely even know their kids are there. There’s a spectrum of TV-permissiveness, and I’m well-aware that I fall somewhere in the middle.

Imaginary parents aren’t the source of my guilt.

People I know whose opinions I care about could pass judgement on me. Joshua doesn’t, though, and my friends who are aware of my parenting habits don’t. No one I know is the source of my guilt.

Guess who that leaves? Just me.

My guilt comes from failing to meet my own standards. Isn’t that interesting?

Faced with that conclusion, I have a couple of choices. I can do something different so that I meet my standards: I could let Dylan watch less TV. Or I can examine my expectations for myself and see if they are really meeting my needs.

First I look for the truths:

  • I am bipolar with serious bouts of depression. I need a lot of down time. I am a better parent when I take enough silent moments to prevent me from getting worn out and cranky.
  • Sitting and snuggling on the couch with Dylan while he watches TV is a great way for us to stay connected while I regroup.
  • No matter how much TV watching Dylan is doing, it’s clear he is doing a lot of other things, too. He is having a great childhood with many wonderful experiences.

Given those things, I choose to let my guilt go. There’s no one to argue with, no reason to feel defensive. I’m the only one driving my guilt, and I choose to let it go.

Extra note: I started writing this post a few weeks ago and forgot to finish it up. I can happily report that I was successful. I haven’t felt guilty about Dylan’s media consumption since I started writing this. (My new meds are definitely helping!) I’ve even bought him a smartphone of his own in the meantime. He watches some really cool things on YouTube. We’ve learned a lot of new songs together, for instance.

What do you feel guilty about as a parent? Have you examined where that guilt comes from?

Dylan at his art table - no TV in sight!

Dylan at his art table – no TV in sight!