Matt grew up watching a fair amount of television: about an hour on an average day. That wasn’t necessarily a good thing, in his opinion.
He, his wife Natalya, and their three children watch so little TV that, during a recent vacation, the children assumed the set in the house they rented didn’t work because they never saw it turned on.
The media of choice for Matt and Natalya’s three children
Matt and Natalya were not big TV watchers even before they became parents.
“We never had a TV,” he said. “But we did consciously decide not to go and buy one when our kids got old enough to watch TV. We were a bit afraid of using it as a hypnosis device/babysitter.”
Their home living room has no television set, but shelves and shelves of books in English and Russian, which is Natalya’s native tongue. Matt and his wife surround their children, ages 8, 4, and 2, with reading material in both languages.
“The kids read tons of books, we’ve always had a lot of books around the house,” Matt said. “We encourage the kids to use books as distractions on car rides and stuff. We encourage them to read as much as they can.”
They also listen to the radio quite a bit at home, and they let the children watch videos online from time to time.
“It’s sort of a special thing,” Matt said. “Like right before bed or a reward for something.”
He added that the children don’t really browse the Internet at all, they only watch the videos their parents select for them.
Matt wants Anya, age 8, to develop reading literacy first, so she can “extract useful information from text before we let her loose on the Internet.”
Anya is beginning to choose non-fiction books at the library, but her father realizes that there are many things one doesn’t learn about as easily from books.
“I learned a lot about the outside world by watching TV,” Matt said. “Reading books doesn’t show you how people dress, or what other cities look like.”
He worries that, some day, the children may not understand jokes made by their peers, or references to pop culture.
“If you don’t get the jokes and humor,” he said, “it can be a barrier to making friends.”
Another issue Matt foresees in his children’s limited exposure to screens is their capacity for media literacy. He hopes that he and his wife will be able to help the children develop a skeptical response to messages in media, but he realizes that some television viewing may be necessary to accomplish that.
“We’ll gradually expose them to these things,” he said. “Probably when they’re a little older and we feel they have a better sense of judgment, and are more questioning in general of things that people tell them.”