Before our first daughter was born, Lauren and I decided that we would limit our kids’ television watching. Our plan was no TV for the first two years, followed by a show a day once you hit the two-year-old mark.
To be clear, Lauren and I really like television, and we watch a lot of it. I don’t begrudge dedicated television watchers when they watch shows intentionally and devotedly, because they appreciate the story. I’m less fond of the habit of turning the TV on whenever you’re in the same room, but I digress.
While our plan evolved a bit, we’ve mostly stuck to it. We never watched our own shows with the kids in the room (save for a few times when Anya sat on her swing facing us as an infant, while we faced both her and the TV at the same time as she slept.)
When Anya was around 20 or so months old, Lauren started letting her watch shows during the dreaded Fingernail Cutting Process. But shows were merely a nail-cutting distraction, and nothing else. Come her second birthday, Anya was permitted one show per day—often Dora the Explorer.
When her younger sister Sierra came long, we stuck to the same rule. Well, I did. Some time after Sierra’s first birthday, she became aware that Anya was getting to watch TV. Eventually, Sierra—when she wasn’t napping during Anya’s video time—was permitted to join Anya for that show.
Sierra’s now 2.75 years old. With Anya approaching five, we don’t mind if she watches a second show each day; many days, she watches one while Sierra naps, and then a second after Sierra’s nap.
The girls—Anya especially—love getting to watch videos; one of the perks of going to Grandma’s house is that she lets them watch more.
A couple nights ago, we tried out a new neighborhood restaurant—one that included several large television screens on the wall. One of those TVs was tuned into Nick Jr. Anya, as she always is when there are powered-on televisions about, became excitedly transfixed.
I encouraged her repeatedly to focus on us, on her food, on anything in the restaurant besides the television. I explained to her how my own parents had warned me growing up that if I watched too much TV, my brain would turn into peanut butter, and that it was okay to watch some TV, but that limiting your TV time is good.
She agreed to try to focus on the table.
Minutes later, Anya burst into tears. It took some time to get her to explain why. She explained through sobs that she was upset because her eyes had peeked at the TV again accidentally. I told her that was okay, that I wasn’t mad, and that I liked that she was trying hard.
“But I don’t want my brain to turn into peanut butter!” she wailed.
Anya’s raw emotion was painfully sad—and we worked quickly to explain that your brain doesn’t really turn to peanut butter, that this was just an expression. Lauren will be mad at me for saying so, but she knows it’s true: Anya’s fear about the peanut butter was awful and gut-wrenching, but also hilarious.
I mean, just a little.
But, I am sorry that I put the fear of peanut butter brain into her brain, and I am glad that she is quick to forget. Now we make jokes about the peanut butter brain incident, telling her all the other foods her brain might turn into, and giggle about it. Still: Anya, I’m sorry I made you think that.
It’s all your grandparents’ fault.