I let my kids watch TV. I watched lots of TV as a kid. I know there are better things a child can do, but TV has been a godsend for me (and you! admit it!) when I wanted to make sure no one snuck up on me while I was inches from a hot stove burner, or when the groceries I just bought needed to be put away ASAP.
Of course the various cable and broadcast channels carry a great deal of crap. I keep trying to explain to my father-in-law that "animated show" does not automatically translate to "kids' show." (Has anyone seen Making Fiends? Check it out; it's actually very clever, but very disturbing and not for kids, even though that is the intended audience. There are also countless shows that are mind-meltingly stupid, which we try like heck to avoid.)
Fortunately, there is quality TV to make up for this. One of my favorite shows is Arthur, which is not only educational, but, as Wikipedia puts it, is "noted for its self-referential humor" and "features a discernible, complex continuity, which is uncommon in children's cartoons." I also have great respect for Between the Lions, which I have found to be reminiscent of the old, trippy Electric Company, which I fanatically loved as a kid. For older kids who can handle the violence, there are even some good, new superhero cartoons. And the kids have DVDs of the really good classic material, such as Looney Tunes, which is not violent at all. Ahem.
My kids have portable DVD players that they bring for long trips (they are also the perfect distraction/reward if you have to take a child to get a shot...if he is watching a video he won't even know the needle went in.) We only let them bring the players in the car if the trip is longer than an hour. They call them "our little TVs."
The other day we were all watching Pinocchio, which Disney has finally seen fit to release again. When we reached the part where Geppetto, Figaro, and Cleo are all trapped inside a whale, I tried to prompt a little discussion by saying to the kids that I did not think it would be good at all to be in a whale's belly.
Having quickly realized what was most notably missing from Geppetto's whale, my 6-year-old, Einstein, agreed.
"We'd have to bring our little TVs!" he said.
He's got his priorities down, people. He's all ready for that desert island we might get stranded upon.
Here's an example of the awesomeness that is Between the Lions. You have to watch an entire episode to really understand, but here is one of its recurring features. Thank you, Chicken Jane!