I haven't written about Raccoon's TV watching in awhile, not because I haven't been thinking about it, but more because... What can I say? I feel like there's no excuse. I know moms whose kids don't even watch TV. Sigh. I don't feel like his TV time is hurting his overall development, but how can that be true? We all know that screen time is EVIL.
As I was looking up more information to ease my guilty conscience, I found some generous guidelines - one to two hours of quality programming - instead of the 30 minutes I read awhile ago. The average toddler watches 2-3 hours a day, but Raccoon probably does between 3-4+ if I had to guess (blush). We do 30 minutes at meal times (4 times a day) because he eats better if he's distracted, and on top of that we usually end up finishing a second kid's movie by the end of the day, and he sometimes gets another hour from 11 pm to midnight (his normal bedtime). I could cut it down a little, but not much because my husband and I are barely surviving as it is.
Today, I found something encouraging. Dr. Lisa Dana, a pediatrician, says, "For every hour of screen time your child has, she should have an hour of outdoor free play." Aha! Perhaps this is why my son is not a vegetable despite my questionable over-indulgence in screen time. We do spend at least four hours outside every day (love my year-round warm climate), plus another three at least in imaginary play. Basically, whenever he's not watching TV (let's say 4 hours) and maybe 30 daily minutes of bathroom breaks, he and I are 100% engaged, so that would be 10 hours of mommy time. I do very little cooking or housework (I live with my mother-in-law, you may envy and pity me now). Pretty much the last three years have just been about trying to stay sane as the mother of a VERY intense toddler with special needs*. Dr. Dana's advice is the only reason I felt brave enought to post the truth. I thought it might also be encouraging to other struggling mommas out there with special kids, because most of the special mommas I know spend so much good time with their kids and get very little break. Like most things in life, as my mom would say, it all comes back down to balance.
*I'd like to share a little more about what I mean by "special needs" since Raccoon's fall more into the invisible category until you know him well...
1) Raccoon sleeps 7.5 hours at night, and 2 hours in the afternoon, so I figure that his day has about 2-4 more hours than the average two year old who sleeps between 12-14 hours a day. If the brain is more active during sleep than while watching TV, then I can count some of his extra viewing as rest time. Right? In order to survive, I have to sleep when he does, naps and night, otherwise I am beyond exhausted.
2) I am an introvert and I'm pretty sure he is an extrovert. He craves people interaction ALL the time. It is very hard for me to balance his need for me to play with him with my need for some down time. He wants me to talk, answer questions, or pretend play constantly.
3) He does not go with other people. We have never had a babysitter, or even a family member, watch him. SPD, language barriers, food allergies, meltdowns, severe distress, perfectionism, intensity, asynchronous development, etc. have made this impossible up until now. He will only rarely go with my husband without me (one hour once a week if I'm lucky). For better or worse, I am the one who understands him, mediates between him and the overwhelming world, and helps him stay as balanced as possible.
4) He exclusively watches only movies or shows on DVD, since neither one of us can stand commercials. Except we do watch 30 minutes of Curious George together in the morning, if I remember that it's on, to get ideas for our imaginary play that day, and because by 10:30 am, I could use a break.
5) I try not to buy many new movies, because I figure eventually he'll get bored of the same old ones.
6) If I offer to play, he has no trouble switching off the TV. This hasn't always been so, but lately he's seemed much less interested in his movies, probably due to #5. :)