Media Moment: Playing Attention and Finding Your Why

Dear Reader,

Welcome to June’s Media Moment! This month, Beth Karnes, the CMCH Parent Network Chair, shares a moment when her preschooler understood why it can be wonderful to be outside, without TV. These stories are meant to help create a village square of commiserating and co-celebrating the many ways media intersect with the lives of children. Please comment and even submit your own ‘Moment’ to share with your fellow readers.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician®

Media Moment: Playing Attention and Finding Your Why

Boy playing in shadows

“Why?” my preschooler asked when I turned off the TV and announced that we were going outside to play.

“Because it’s beautiful and sunny!” One of the first summer days in 1996.

“Why no more TV? You like TV n’ puters, huh, mommy?”

“Because I love you, and yes, I like TV and computers.” That answer would typically suffice, but seeing the expression on his face as I tied his shoes, I knew there was more to come.

“But why?” His plea lost its momentum as he noticed the sliding glass door was wide open and,before I could respond, he launched himself across our patio and onto the lush green lawn.

I had a reprieve, but it was time to step up my answer. “Because I said so” wasn’t where I wanted to go with this. I needed an age-appropriate response that would mean something to him, or at least satisfy the part of him that read my level of conviction.

First, I needed to clarify my “why”and solidify my motivation. Motivation often has two components: logic and heart. My son’s pediatrician gave me wise guidance: No screens until two and then only educational TV, up 20 minutes a day. I had my logic. But, in the mid 90’s, one comment is all I got—no online resources or reminders, and hardly a mention in the parenting books I owned. I wanted more evidence to quell my human propensity to like what’s easy and believe what’s convenient.

Secondly, with the benefit of hindsight, I would say I needed a good heartfelt reminder, one that would help the facts stick. And I got it.

Turning to the power of observation is easier when we’re surrounded by nature. I watched my preschooler spin under our large oak tree, dodging the frequently falling leaves on that warm, windy day. I was curious what the gliding leaves had become in his imagination. Then, he began moving, with some sense of purpose, in unison with the tree. But how? He was looking down, not up. As I approached, I realized that he was jumping on patches of shadows amid dappled sunlight. I love dappled sunlight, and I jumped into his game. We hopped and hopped but our targets moved as soon as we stepped on them. Holding hands, we combined forces but our opponent was unrelenting. My preschooler belly-flopped onto the grass trying to catch the shadows. I joined him and we rested side by side recovering as much from laughing as from leaping.

Looking up, we were both mesmerized by the graceful canopy of this 100-year-old tree. It reminded me of something I once read about trees having a network of roots as complex as their network of branches. With children, we often cultivate the growth we can see more often than the underlying growth we can’t. Not me—I wanted to tell him, “I love you, and I want you to have a variety of sensory-rich experiences so that you grow up to be the best you that you can be.” But how much could he understand?

I followed his gaze as it moved from the tree’s sturdy center to its outer edges that were shimmering with fragile new growth. “This is why I said let’s play outside.”

His response surprised me: “This is love, huh, mommy.”

-Beth Karnes, CMCH Parent Network Chair