Essay: The Age of On-Demand For Kids

Sections: Movies, TV

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The author's kids watch a classic Sesame Street clip

This column ran in the August 2012 issue of Tell Magazine 

We’re living in an on-demand world, and in most ways, that’s a wonderful thing.

If I’m home with nothing to do on a Friday night, my options for entertainment at this point are darn-near unlimited. If I want to want to watch a movie or TV show, I can choose from what’s on TV at the time, from my DVR, or from my cable on-demand offerings. If there’s nothing available there, I can access the entirely of Netflix Instant, Amazon, HBO Go and all other channels available on the Roku- most of which can be watched on a smartphone or tablet or computer too. And if there’s nothing there, there’s always YouTube.

So yes, that’s pretty convenient, and a long way away from my college-era options of seven channels on TV and my VHS collection. But there’s just one thing that complicates matters: having kids in the house. Because unlimited on-demand and two-year-olds just don’t mix.

Ever since around his first birthday, I’ve been entertaining my now two-and-a-half-year-old son by showing him short YouTube clips on the computer. I started with old Sesame Street and Muppet Show clips and sort of worked my way from there; I bet we’ve watched the Kermit/Cookie Monster “mystery box” clip 5,000 times. When I got an iPad recently the process moved over there, leading to that frequent, entertaining moment when my son, who’s now used to the iPad touchscreen, tries to press the screen on the computer and gets frustrated when nothing happens.

From there we’ve gone to TV on-demand; our cable offers an expansive array of shows under Sprout, Nick Jr. and every other kids channel. It’s good for keeping a kid entertained, especially when his now-four-month-old brother requires our attention.

But the problem is when he gets sick of it. My toddler has been known to tire of a Thomas and Friends episode after five minutes and demand Super Why instead, before getting sick of that show in the opening credits and wanting to see Elmo instead. And sometimes, horror of horrors, he’ll even have to watch a show AS IT AIRS, or even watch COMMERCIALS, which can certainly try the patience of any two-year-old. He’ll even grab the remote and try to change the channel; God help me once he figures out how to do that.

Small children today are the first generation to grow up getting to watch whatever they want whenever they want. And while I would never want to go back to the old way of only a few channels with not a whole lot on at any given time, there’s something to be said for discovering things organically, and sometimes even by accident.

Perhaps “I used to have to watch TV shows WHILE THEY AIRED” is this generation’s version of “I used to walk ten miles uphill to school, AND I LIKED IT!”

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