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Adoptive Parenting Columnist Heidi Hess Saxton
The NOISE Factor
When I was in first grade, my parents tossed out their television set, and did not replace it until my youngest sister left home. Now, in theory this sounds like wonderful parenting – at the time I remember feeling like a freak. I would baby-sit the neighbors’ kids for free, just so I had access to the tube. It was like a drug … and to this day, TV remains a guilty pleasure of mine. I’m particularly fond of “TVLand” and “Nick at Nite” reruns, where I get to see for the first time the shows I missed the first time around. (Since adopting foster kids, I also follow “Judging Amy,” but that’s a different story.)
What did we do with all those hours? Mostly, we read. I started organ lessons when I was five. I taught myself ventriloquism and sign language (I’ve long since forgotten them both), and earned every badge in the Girl Scout Handbook. But mostly, I read. It wasn’t a bad life, and heaven knows it gave me a good vocabulary. And yet, when I grew old enough to earn my own money, media got the lion’s share!
So now, with my own kids, I’ve tried to balance it a bit more. When he first came to us all wild-eyed and bushy-tailed (it was the super-soaked Luvs, I think), Christopher had this … thing for Toy Story. Yes, the movie. The sight of Zurg would set him off yelling and spinning and zapping his wrist lasers with unbridled glee. It was a little unsettling, actually; the rest of the time he hid under tables and inside closets, striking out with his little fists if anyone came too close with the only word in his linguistic arsenal: “NO!!!”
So, we watched Toy Story nearly every night together – we thought it was a good way to bond. But gradually we realized … every time we did that, he got a little wilder. Finally, one night he tried to smother the baby with the dog bed. After that, we put away the movie. We found out later that Christopher and his big brother watched that movie every day after school (and that Kenneth once pushed his two-year-old brother down the stairs in a misguided attempt to get him to fly like Buzz). Christopher remembered this, too … and yet it did not dampen his warm-and-fuzzy feelings for the movie. Still, we slept better with it safely out of reach.
“Little pitchers have big ears…” the saying goes. The sights and sounds of childhood can leave an indelible impression that, as adults, we sometimes forget to appreciate. The relative size of the bug on the bedroom wall (or the angry parent waggling a finger just inches from an upturned face) is nothing compared to the expanse of the imagination processing it. A noise doesn’t have to be ear-shattering to be harmful to a young child … I learned this lesson the hard way. Even “educational” children’s programming can have a negative impact if it is simply on for “noise.” While adults (myself included) sometimes avoid the silence, children need it in order to let their imaginations soar.
In her book NOISE!: How Our Media-saturated Culture Dominates Lives and Dismantles Families (Ascension Press), Teresa Tomeo addresses the inherent connection between the “connectedness” of the media in the lives of our children and the “disconnect” we sense in family life. Whether we are tempted to turn to the media for a “breather” of virtual adult interaction when our children are small (I’m as guilty as the next person here), or whether it is our children who are trying to tune us out … This book will help you to make deliberate, faith-filled choices about where the limits need to be.
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