Like everything else out there, I couldn’t simply accept from the experts that television is bad for kids. No, I had to test it out.
I felt positive that TV could be my occasional babysitter and cause minimal damage to my two-and-a-half-year-old twins, if any.
So, I ignored everything I had ever read vilifying TV and told myself that all I had to do was remain in full in control of the situation.
TV was not going to win.
Well, whaddya know, I was wrong.
Of course, television took charge. Of course, television had more power over my children than I did.
TV and movies are billion-dollar industries with well-paid experts, including armies of psychologists, not to mention child focus groups, that tell them how to gets kids hooked, like little crack addicts, to purple dinosaurs, yellow hippos, trains called Thomas and construction workers named Bob.
Who did I think I was, anyway, trying to ignore the Omnipotent Boob Tube while it sat there, the smack-dab centerpiece of my living room?
Who was I fooling when I set out to use just a wee bit of TV, but demanding that the one half-hour a day I was willing to allow captivated my kids completely so that I could cook supper.
Fact is, TV never held my kids in a complete trance and once they understood that I had the power to select episodes and to fast-forward, I found myself during that half-hour in a sweat, running back and forth between the living room and kitchen, clicker in one hand, oven mitt in the other.
And while the TV was off, I was haunted by the uncomfortable realization that several larger-than-life cartoon characters had taken over my home.
In their beds a night, my children sang songs from The Backyardigans.
During the day, they reenacted the adventures of Pablo, Tyrone, Uniqua, Tasha and Austin, and begged for me to “put the movie on” so they could be with them.
There were often tears and fits of rage when I said, “No TV.”
My son was particularly obsessed with the movie Cars, that high octane, hyper-Hollywood, Disney-Pixar kids movie with enough insider adult jokes — “You’ve got more guts in one lug-nut…” — to keep me captive with him.
Although barely talking, he quoted the movie constantly and turned his nondescript dinky cars into the sports car hero “McQueen” (voice by actor Owen Wilson) and his anonymous transport truck into McQueen’s loyal chauffeur, “Mac” (voice by actor John Ratzenberger, or “Cliff Claven” from Cheers).
I found myself encouraging him by quoting some of the movie’s inane one-liners — “Ka-chow!” I was even singing Life is a Highway from the soundtrack, a song I had previously found pretty annoying.
Things got worse when my son discovered he could own McQueen and Mac, and worse yet when he finally did own McQueen.
His imagination seemed to vanish; the only game he played was a scripted one, Cars.
I can’t say what exactly are the addictive ingredients contained in kids’ shows, but their producers know very well.
And that’s beside the point.
The question should be, “Why are any of us watching TV?”
As an adult, I accept television as pure candy with no redeeming qualities, save escapism.
And because I can so easily lose myself in the Tube, I had to get rid of it.
But for months after my family disconnected the satellite, my kids continued to watch videos.
Now those are gone too and, for the first time in my life, the television set is not the centerpiece of my living room.
The “TV is broken” as far my two-year-olds are concerned, and they’re pretty OK with it.
They still ask to watch, and my son wanted to know if I planned to buy a new one, but my little white lie usually puts the issue to rest.
My son still talks about McQueen and Mac regularly.
And they still know the names of all the Backyardigans.
But in just one week, their imaginations have returned and they are too busy with their vivid fantasies to worry about the fact that there is nothing to sit and watch.
They are using their abundant energies playing rather than complaining that the wrong movie is on or that a particular scene is boring.
And I have been able to make supper in peace.
Nobody could have been more surprised at the results of this experiment than me.
Yes, TV is bad for children, not because it turns them into bad people, but because it robs them of their own adventures.
Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.