The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Tivo for Tots

Parent Hacks links to a post about parenting in the age of Tivo that has a lot of interesting things to say, most of which I can relate to. But it was this bit from Asha at Parent Hacks that resonated with me.

My kids don’t even understand TV without TiVo. The concept of watching “whatever’s on” is foreign to them. They also get mildly annoyed when the radio plays music they don’t feel like listening to, accustomed as they are to iTunes. I, too, have wondered how this expectation of “on-demand” will play out as they get older.

We use Tivo a lot in our house, and it’s mostly to record shows for Parker to watch later. Yes, I’m well aware of the evils of television, etc., but the shows we prefer for him when he does watch television come on during the day when we’re all out of the house. So, we’ve set it to record those shows and we watch them with him him when we get home. I should add that Parker doesn’t so much sit and watch television as he just stops to notice it occasionally if it’s playing when he’s in the room.

We started right after PBS changed format and went commercial. In fact, when a show is over Parker likes to pick up the remote and press the Tivo button, then he hands it to one of us to play the next show for him. But, like Asha, I’ve noticed that Parker doesn’t exactly “get” the idea of not being able to watch a show because it’s “not on.” With Tivo, theoretically, it’s never “not on.”

It does strike me as kind of funny that Parker will never know a time when there were only three channels, or maybe three if you’re lucky. He’ll also never have to get up and turn a nob to change channels or adjust the antenna to get a decent picture. It makes me feel old, too. But it doesn’t quite make me agree with the Frazzled Parent on this one.

Technology has really become a double-edge sword for parents. When my kids are older, I know I’ll love the ability to call their cells when they are out past curfew. But I also want them to grow up to enjoy vacations away from home without feeling the need to constantly check in at work with the small portable devices that make this communication so easy. I love to rely on TiVo when the kids want TV at a time that traditionally doesn’t offer good children’s programming, but sometimes I just wish they were stuck watching whatever was on.

OK. I do hope that when he grows up Parker at least leaves the Blackberry (or whatever the equivalent will be then) at home when he goes on vacation, or learns to let voicemail pick up some mobile calls during non-office hours or when he’s with his family. But that’s’ something different than having to watch whatever’s on or listen to whatever’s playing on the radio when what you want is available. The reality in every generation of parenting is that our kids are probably going to have more choices than we did, at least in some ways. And that’s great. But it also raises the bar for parents.

Having fewer choices isn’t necessarily good. To borrow a line from Billy Joel, the good old days weren’t always good, and if they were it wasn’t because we had fewer choices than our kids do now. It’s because we did have some things that we can still give our kids today. If they’re faced with a dizzying multitude of choices that we didn’t have, then the key is to help them make thoughtful choices. Being able to watch your favorite show whenever you want also means you’re free to choose to something else when it’s on. And if what you want isn’t available, then you can still choose from the various other options that are still available.

If Parker’s favorite show isn’t on, or we don’t have it on Tivo, then he chooses to do something else. He plays with his trains or some other toy. Or he asks us to read him a book (these days, it’s usually one we just got from the library, since we’ve started visiting one regularly). Those aren’t necessarily things he started spontaneously doing on his own. The usual tantrums came first, and then we started gently suggesting alternative activities if what he wanted wasn’t available. Now he’s starting to pick it up on his own.

Tivo is great for time-shifting kid’s programming to a more convenient time. But that means parents have to help our kids shift their process of choosing what to do and when, and their response when their first choice isn’t available to them. ]]>

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