Category Archives: Kids and TV

Parents Who Shrouded 9/11: Is It Time to Lift the Veil?

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was standing in our hallway bathroom, staring at a wall, when the phone rang.  It probably took me a few rings to snap out of my trance—after all, bathroom remodeling is serious business.  But after I answered the phone, deciding on paint color and tile didn’t seem so important anymore.  It was Andy calling from work, telling me to turn on the TV and see the events unfolding over 1,500 miles away.  I put down my tape measure and watched in horror.  It was so unbelievable, at times I felt as if I was watching a twisted episode of Batman where the villains were winning,  in an over-the-top, diabolical way, using only a few people and a few box cutters.  The atrocities kept happening, and somewhere, you just knew that a villain was smiling some sick grin and probably throwing his head back, laughing like The Joker. This is not supposed to be happening for real, I thought.  This can’t be happening to America.  I wanted to wail.  I wanted to scream.  But there in the next room, my 2 ½-year old toddler was dancing happily in a pink tutu.  And down the street at the elementary school, I had a six-year-old starting her third week of first grade. I knew, based on past experience, that any strong outpouring of emotion by me would scare both of them, and they wouldn’t understand why, or if they did, they might feel wrongly that they were in eminent danger.  And so, I made the decision pretty quickly that as a mom protecting her kids, I would not act like the events of the day were a big deal.  I would stifle my emotions.  I told Emmie I was watching “some very important news” while she danced in circles, round and round to the soundtrack from The Big Comfy Couch (a former PBS show).  Sirens were wailing on the TV in front of me as I heard Emmie singing at the same time: “Ya gotta stop! Don’t go! Wait ‘til the green light says so-oh…” As the hours wore on, I was even more determined that no terrorist was going to affect any more lives than he already had…Emmie and I ran errands together, ate lunch…I remember actually being annoyed that some stores, such as The Container Store, were closed for the day. I was determined to keep moving for the sake of my kids and my country, and I didn’t understand why everyone else wasn’t doing the same.  We need to be like Whoville, I thought.  The Grinch did NOT steal Christmas!!!

I felt helpless to do anything else. How could I possibly make a difference? I wasn’t going to enlist in the Army, as many were inspired to do, or get on the next plane to New York.  I felt that I needed to be at home, being a mother to my kids.  We gave a donation to the Red Cross and the star-studded telethon. We attended a 9/11 memorial church service with Allison and prayed.  We did tell her about the events in basic, simple terms and allowed her to see a bit of the footage on TV.  But we didn’t dwell on it much more than that.

Ten years later, we still haven’t.  Out of my strong desire to shield my kids from needless stress and worry, I pretty much swept 9/11 under the rug.  But lately I’ve been wondering if that was such a healthy thing to do, for me and for them.  I mean, it’s not good to stifle emotions, right?  But once they got old enough to where my emotions wouldn’t scare them, seeing Mom crying about anything became a source of humor for one of them, and embarrassment for the other. (I have managed to steal a few 9/11 cries over the years in private, like this morning as I watched on TV as a 12-year-old girl remembered her mother, a fallen NYPD officer who died in the south tower…)

For sure, keeping quiet about 9/11 for so long definitely doesn’t help our kids’ history knowledge, which Andy and I are usually big on enhancing.  Surprisingly, their school classes have been pretty quiet about it as well.   

Andy and I discussed recently about possibly showing the girls a documentary or movie to mark the 10th anniversary. A Google search and revealed a larger selection of choices than I expected.  Flight 93, a made-for-TV movie, might be good.  It focuses on heroism and doesn’t contain the foul language of its big screen counterpart, United 93. But, according to reviews, it’s still extremely tense and sad.  “I know I don’t want to see that,” said Andy.  There’s World Trade Center directed by Oliver Stone (got horrible reviews) and DC 9/11, a view of the tragedy from inside the Bush administration (a bit slanted).  A good choice looks like “9/11”, a documentary first aired on CBS, which uses hand-held footage taken by two French brothers who were already near the twin towers, working on a documentary about a fireman, when 9/11 unfolded.  It won two primetime Emmys and gets high praise for its avoidance of sensationalism.  So, maybe we will add that to our Netflix queue.  In the meantime, it looks like there are a lot of news specials on TV tonight that also sound good—CNN’s  “Beyond Bravery: The Women of 9/11”, CBS’ “9/11: Ten Years Later” which uses footage from “9/11” and is again narrated by Robert DeNiro; and “CNN Presents: Footnotes of 9/11”, which focuses on eight ordinary people who were footnotes in the 9/11 Commission Report, such as a man at the airline ticket counter who checked in two of the hijackers. 

Ten years ago, shielding my kids was probably the right thing to do. Experts lately are saying that children who viewed nonstop images of 9/11 in the days after the events showed signs of post traumatic stress syndrome.  But now, I think it’s okay to show them more, at least older kids (mine are almost 13 and 17).  Allison says she’s fascinated by what little she’s already seen.   And both Allison and Emmie had lots of questions when Osama Bin Laden was killed recently, since they knew it was a “big deal”.  Now they can see for themselves just how big.

A Generation of Nearsighted Nerds?

Amidst all the busy-ness of the holidays, did you catch the news last week? A study conducted by the National Eye Institute was released, and it showed that nearsightedness has increased in the U.S. population 66% since the 1970’s. Not good news, considering it costs about $3.8 billion a year to treat poor-distance vision, which goes up by another $1 billion for every 12% increase.  The lead author of the study said that the likely cause is less outdoor time for kids and more time spent in activities requiring close-up viewing, such as text-messaging, playing video games and Web surfing. 

Interestingly, at almost the same time as this story hit the presses, Emmie’s 5th grade class finished a week-long tracking of their own electronic media habits.  “One boy had over 40 hours, 28 in video games alone,” she said.  “I had two.”   Before everyone is amazed at that, keep in mind that her daily after-school schedule doesn’t really have much room for TV or the computer, once homework is finished, piano practicing, and 3 ½ hours working out with the city gymnastics team each night.  But when she does have free time, she usually spends it doing other things.  It helps that we don’t put televisions or computers in our kids’ rooms, and as for video games, we don’t own one—not an X box, or a Wii or a Gameboy or a Playstation 1, 2 or 3.

I think everyone knew, even before nearsightedness was in the news, that it’s not good for kids to fry their brains and fatten their butts by sitting in a chair for hours with electronic media. So why do parents allow it to happen anyway?  One mom I know is so busy, she sees it as a way to occupy her kids to keep them out of her hair.  I say, for the same amount of money that she’s spent on that habit, they could have some fabulous sports equipment that could keep them even busier.  Or they could enroll in the best drama classes (or karate, or art, or indoor rock climbing, etc.) in town.   My friend says I don’t understand because I don’t have boys.  What, like they’re so internally “driven” to play video games, that it fulfills some need, that it can’t be curtailed or controlled?  I think other parents like it because it’s yet another easy way to keep kids at home, “safe and protected”, rather than outside, where they could get into “trouble”.  But I think about a conversation I had while giving a friend’s kid a ride to school one Monday last year, asking him what he did over the weekend, and he said he’d had a great time, that he’d played video games nonstop all day, each day…like he was proud of that.  Is that really the best way to stay out of trouble?

Parents of boys need to be concerned, not just about near-sightedness and childhood obesity, but also about what too much electronic media might be doing to their boys’ social skills.  I would have never thought about this had a boy’s dad not pointed it out to me at a school event four years ago…we were watching my older daughter’s then-5th-grade class from the side as they played on a school field trip. “Just look at those boys,” he said, shaking his head.  “Most of them are so immature…and I think it’s because of all the computer and video games,” he said.  “I mean, my older son’s class was already interested in girls at this point.  Most of these boys are far from that.”  At the time, I thought to myself, “Well, many boy parents would probably breathe a sigh of relief at that statement,” and didn’t think any more about it.  Until recently, when I was at a Christmas party and a 20-something girl was lamenting how she and her friends had to date much older guys because the 20-something males were so immature.  And then I was reminded of a drop-dead-gorgeous 22-year-old female I know who has yet to have a serious boyfriend…

It’s a known fact that girls mature faster than boys, but are video games making the gap even wider? Definitely something for parents to think about this season, in addition to the high cost of vision care, before they allow their kids unlimited access to all their new “toys”…

When TV Is Good for Families

My family will be going through withdrawal this week.  American Idol withdrawal, that is.  Now, before all you non-watchers start rolling your eyes, try to set aside any negative feelings you may have for the show (or for TV in general) and consider my statement in another way: my family will be missing time spent together this week. For just like people from the Greatest Generation reminisce about gathering with their family around the radio, I know that some day, my children will remember the fun we had gathering in front of the TV two nights each week, to watch regular people from all over America sing their hearts out.

For all the bad things about TV (and I am not averse to listing its negative qualities, as many of you know) this “togetherness” feature is one that parents should take advantage of with their families, whether it’s watching American Idol, or a game show like “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”, or some drama or comedy you deem appropriate– for my sister-in-law and her son, it’s been “The Office”. 

Unbeknownst to my family, I actually made the conscious decision three years ago that we would start following American Idol.  I had disliked what little of it I’d seen previously due to contestant judge Simon Cowell’s harsh criticisms, but then realized that contestants are “in” on the schtick and sign up fully knowing there is a good chance they will be on the receiving end of some of it.  The other judges usually balance his comments so well and give good, constructive suggestions that I decided to give it a green light.  Normally, we hardly ever watched prime time TV.  Too much stuff to do in the evenings, with homework, instrument practicing, chores, sports practices… and besides, I felt (and still feel) that a lot of primetime, network TV is too racy and/or too scary for children– even the ads make me wince. But one day, it struck me that with our family’s love of music and singing, American Idol would be a good fit, and that watching it might be a good family tradition to start.  And I was right. 

Boy, was I right! Ever since I announced, “We’re going to watch American Idol tonight,” we haven’t missed a season, and it has been, for lack of a better word, a blast for all of us. We debate the merits of each contestant, enter online contests to try to win tickets to the show, and have given new life to the term, “TV Dinner.”  We buy Dreyers’ American Idol ice cream flavors, download contestant performances from iTunes and carefully write down the voting phone numbers of our favorite contestants at the end of most shows, so we can call in our votes.  As the competition gets more heated up, there is an air of excitement on Tuesdays and Wednesdays around our house–  we all remark that “Idol’s on tonight!” and we can’t wait to watch it.  We Tivo it so that when schedules conflict, we can watch it together at a later time (and it’s interesting how adamant the kids are about watching it “together”, proof that the “togetherness” is more important than the show itself).  The first year we watched it, we were fortunate to be in Houston at the same time the Idols tour rolled through, so we bought tickets and had yet another great family time, my younger daughter cheering loudly while sporting a “Sanjaya, You Really Got Me” T-shirt we’d ordered online. 

And another interesting parent-child connection has happened as a result of being fans of the show: it’s introduced our kids to a lot of music from past eras– shockingly, they like some of it!  It’s definitely given new life to artists who today’s kids wouldn’t normally be downloading on their Ipods– Cindy Lauper, Johnny Cash, Tears for Fears, Smoky Robinson, Diana Ross… the list keeps growing.

What will we do on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings now that Idol is over for this year? Probably be a lot more productive.  Then again, maybe Mom will think of another tradition to fill its place.

How to Lock Out Your TV

Elsewhere on this site I mention locking out the TV, and several people have asked me how to do that, so here goes.  Basically, most TVs purchased within the past 15 years have the lockout feature.  Find the instruction booklet for your TV and find out how yours works– usually, it’s done through the “menu” feature on your remote.  Usually you can choose to lock out “all” or just certain channels, or shows with certain ratings, etc.  I’ve found it’s easiest to just “lock all” rather than pick and choose– my reason for using it is to stop all TV watching when necessary, not just certain shows or channels.   Then when it’s time to unlock, you just point, click, and enter your password/code.  I know that some parents think this is overly controlling, but they may not have the battles we used to go through with the TV, and this has eliminated them.  Our kids would come home from school and, because I’d be busy getting dinner ready or working on a project, they’d plop down in front of the TV, getting far too comfortable before ever starting their homework.  Of course I’d say no and turn off the TV, but then they’d whine and beg for “only 10 minutes more” or they’d turn it back on again while I was standing next to it and a full-blown disciplinary battle would rage.   Simply remembering to lock it out before they get home from school is wonderful.  They turn on the TV, realize it’s locked, maybe whimper a little, but the battle stops before it begins because they know once it’s locked, I won’t punch in the code until they get their homework done, or piano practicing, or chores, or… I can get really creative with it.