In Defense of the Netflix Babysitter

The Netflix Babysitter

In the list of things I said I would never do as a parent, before I actually became a parent, not allowing my children to watch TV rated pretty highly. I watched my sisters and friends raise their kids with the TV on and was convinced there was a better, different way. Turns out, I was wrong. There are times at the end of a long day, when the only thing a mom can do to get some respite is put little Johnny in front of the box and drink wine make dinner.

I am not saying it’s right. But I am not sure it’s so wrong either. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says TV and screens before the age of 2 is a big no-no and may cause developmental delays. As a New Zealander with no family in the U.S., our son has spent an inordinate amount of time on Skype via an app on our TV since the day he was born. It worried me, but not enough to stop weekly chats with the folks back home.

Zero to Three, a non-profit dedicated to infant and child development say they don’t disagree with the AAP but they advise if you are going to bend the rules the most important thing is parental interaction and moderation of both quantity of time and quality of age appropriate material. Their research found when parents watch screens with their child and talk about what they see, there can be positive educational outcomes. My son has learned the actions to the Wheels on the Bus from his nana via Skype for example, and teeth brushing has become a less fraught part of our bedtime routine thanks to the shining example of Daniel Tiger.

Other research attributed to too much screen time is that it increases your child’s risk of obesity. This risk is attributed to not being active, and being exposed to commercials that may promote unhealthy food choices. In my view, as long as you are balancing your TV  with active play, preferably outside, and eating a balanced diet, an hour here or there of TV is not the end of the world.

Based on these recommendations, Netflix Kids ticks every box. The Netflix Kids is a separate section so there is zero risk of your child being exposed to adult content. It’s on-demand, which means whenever you need a spot of last minute babysitting, Netflix is there with age-appropriate content. And because of that, you can say watch a show together, sing the theme tune and interact on the content, so that later when you plonk ’em down in front of it solo, they have some cues to remind them. (This last point is not recommended by the experts, but is my own take on it)

The duration of each show is identified, so you can easily keep track of the quantity of screen time, after one hour of continuous play without touching the remote, programming stops to politely enquire if you are still viewing. This handy device prompts my son to come running and then I know his allotted time is up.

Critically as a subscription only service, it also has NO ads. I didn’t truly appreciate this until we went on vacation and stayed in a house without Netflix. The intensity of ads on other kids channel networks was, well, intense. Forget the unhealthy food choices, it was the constant litany of new plastic toys I would have to buy if he was regularly exposed to these. I guarantee the monthly $8 fee will save you hundreds.

Top Program Choices

Daniel Tiger: If you’re not familiar with this PBS show, Daniel Tiger tackles the big social emotional issues in a toddler’s life; you know like sharing, getting mad, disappointment when things don’t go their way and managing the jealousy dealing with the arrival of a new baby sister. The show is a spin-off of 1960s Mister Roger’s Neighborhood and is based on Fred Rogers social emotional child development theory. The PBS website breaks down each episode in line with this theory, with handy tips on how to facilitate your child’s emotional growth. Best for: Modeling the right behaviors.  Tip: Try Season I, Episode 17 if you could use help reinforcing the need to brush teeth, get ready for bed etc.

Sesame Street: Research this year found that watching Sesame Street was as educationally beneficial as pre-school. Two year olds who regularly watch Sesame Street do better on school readiness tests for kindergarten (Source). Netflix has the whole back catalogue of Sesame Street, right back to its beginnings in the 1970s. Back then, one third of all American toddlers watched the show. Reviewing the 70s episodes are a blast. Kids running through toxic dumps and Oscar smoking are just some of the scenes that would never be deemed age appropriate viewing nowadays. But what was ahead of its time and still important today, is its ethnic diversity. Best for: Learning to count.

Thomas the Tank Engine: Why is it that kids love his antiquated British show about a bunch of talking steam engines? Why does the latest series include Harold the Helicopter, when helicopters were not invented till well after Thomas and crew were replaced by electric engines? This historical inaccuracy riles my husband every time it’s on. I’ve heard other moms complain about how mean the trains are too each other, while other liberal commentators complain that there is something sinister or Stalinist about a show where anyone who steps out of line is punished for not being really useful. British child psychologist Dr Aric Sigman on the other hand, praised the slow pace of the show; “Fast-paced cartoons are not considered good for very young children, while things that have fewer characters, a single narrative, preferably only one or two voices, are considered better,” he said.

Whatever. It’s the number one show of choice in our house, and Netflix has 17 hour long movies. I am forced by a 21 month old to sing the theme song at least once a day. I can’t think of any benefit to the show, except that one mom friend I know said her daughter of 3 hurt her foot and said “Cinders & Ashes” as a curse. So if our son grows up saying that instead of what he overhears in our house from time to time, that will be a result. Best for: Trainspotting

What’s your top Netflix program and why?

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