Will T.V. Hurt My Kids? Part 2 of 3

When my two-year-old took naps, he watched considerably less T.V., but now he watches along with his brother in the afternoons and evenings.

Note:  This is a follow-up to my previous post about the research I found on T.V. viewing and young children.

When I was a child, I had several favorite shows I liked to watch, and I always watched Saturday morning cartoons.  I also had a little black and white T.V. in my bedroom that I could watch whenever I wanted, and I ate my dinner while watching T.V. by myself.  I can’t remember exactly how much time I spent in front of the T.V., but I don’t think my mom ever worried about it, and I don’t think she restricted it.  I also loved to play make-believe with my stuffed animals, and I went in the backyard to play alone in the snow too.

When I grew up, I became a well-rounded adult who could live with or without T.V.  After leaving my parent’s house, I rarely watched T.V.  When I lived in Japan for a year, I didn’t own a T.V.  Just before I met and married my husband, I lived alone and kept my T.V. in the closet.  I used it to watch movies on the weekends that I rented from the local video store.  I do like watching T.V., but only quality T.V. and entertaining movies.  When I moved in with my hubby, he got me hooked on watching some of my favorites like Lost and Battlestar Gallactica. (Don’t tell me how they end!) For me, television is a way to relax and also learn in a visual way.  As a visual learner, I love documentaries and travel shows.

I think there are many children in today’s society who are watching too much T.V., and they are watching inappropriate programming for their age.  This is probably why the The American Academy of Pediatrics felt they had to make recommendations, and it may also be why we’re hearing about Nature Deficit Disorder.  But if you’re a parent and you’re reading this, then I bet you’re a homeschooling parent or at least a parent who takes time to think about your child’s education, well-being and future.  I doubt you’re letting your T.V. babysit your children all day long.

So let me repeat the final sentence from my last post: “I believe that when parents balance age-appropriate, commercial-free T.V. viewing with other, healthy activities, television can’t hurt kids.  And it may be good for them if they watch educational, prosocial shows.”  

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying you should let your kids watch more T.V.  If you have a schedule that keeps the T.V. out of your children’s day then by all means, keep it up.  If I could, I would prefer my boys watch less T.V., but I’ve found that without letting them watch T.V., I don’t get the time I need to:

  • rejuvenate
  • write my newspaper column
  • get some chores done
  • rest
  • get my ducks in a row
  • in other words, rejuvenate, rejuvenate, rejuvenate.

I am an introvert and so is my husband.  Maybe we’re even extreme introverts.  Right now I’m reading Introvert Power by Laurie Helgoe, PhD, and it’s fascinating.  Someday I’ll write about it (I did! – click here), but for now I’ll say that while reading this book, I’ve learned to not feel guilty about spending time at my computer, writing, and reading whenever I get a chance.  I never thought it was wrong to do those things, but with kids, the only time I get to myself is while they’re sleeping or watching T.V.  We can’t afford babysitters, and I have no outside help (except when my husband is off work or my mother-in-law is visiting once a year.)  I get secretly irritated when well-meaning people tell me I deserve to take a day off on a regular basis.  I want to say, “Are you going to come to babysit for me?”  I can’t expect my husband to spend all his free time with the boys – he needs to rejuvenate too.  There are simply no other options.

More importantly, by giving up guilt and worry over how much T.V. they are watching, I have found that I stay centered and cheerful (most of the time) while I’m with them.  I have more energy overall, so I can do more fun projects.  I can be fully with my children instead of being tired and wishing I had a little time for myself.

Usually in the afternoons around 2 or 3 o’clock I have a sinking spell.  When I was young and single and working full-time, my productivity went down around this time.  I will never understand our culture of having to work 9-5.  Those countries who do “siesta” have it figured out!  If I have to, I can keep going and force myself to work, but I become drained and uncreative.  Giving myself a break gives me the fuel to keep going the rest of the day.

So this is how I do T.V. time in our house:

  • My kids get to watch T.V. at certain times only.  They have come to expect to have their “T.V. breaks,” and I consider it their “quiet, resting time.” By having a set schedule and letting them each pick one show, I don’t get many arguments about watching more T.V.  If they do argue with me, I remind them that this is how we always do it. If I want to give them extra T.V. for a special occasion, I make it clear that it’s a special occasion, and they understand that.
  • They usually watch two, ~20 minute educational kids’ shows that we can watch via Apple TV/Netflix every afternoon around 2-3pm.  In the summer this is a particularly good time because they have usually been playing outside, and they need to come inside to cool down and rest.  It’s just too hot here to play outside all day.
  • Sometimes I let them watch one 20 minute show and one 50 minute show if I need more time.
  • In the evenings after bath time, they watch two ~20 minute, educational shows.  This is when I take my shower and get ready for bed.  After that, we go upstairs to play for about 20 minutes, then read a book or tell a story and go to sleep.
  • Extra perk:  This schedule has allowed me to have fairly well-behaved children.  Nothing works better in this house than saying, “No shows tonight…” to get these boys to cooperate with anything I need them to do.

And, surprise, this is not the only T.V. they watch.  They also watch T.V. with me and my husband at lunch and dinner.  I know some people feel watching T.V. during meals is the sin of parenthood.  I resisted for years, and it’s only been recently that I finally gave in to watching during dinner.  I grew up eating dinner by myself in front of the T.V. with a T.V. tray (remember those?) because my siblings were 10 years older than me and doing their own thing, and my father was usually away at work.  More than anything I have wanted to have my own family sit around a table and have a conversation about their day, but it just hasn’t worked out that way.  So why I am committing this sin of all sins?!

  • As my husband reminds me, he’s usually working at home, so we’ve been talking with each other and the kids off and on all day.  By dinnertime, we’ve seen up close what we’ve done all day.
  • We converse quite a bit about what we’re watching, and it can stimulate interesting, educational conversations.  We’re also stopping and starting the show several times during mealtime in order to get more food or someone has to use the bathroom.  Sometimes it can take an 45 minutes to watch a 25 minute show!
  • At dinner we usually watch a documentary.  (I think this is how my husband lured me to the T.V. during dinner.)  There are hundreds of wonderful documentaries and nature programs on Netflix, and we’re slowly going through them all.  We talk about them, and I bring out the globe to show my son where the show is taking us.  My husband and I both feel this is very educational for our children, and since we stay busy at other times of the day, dinner has just been an easier time to enjoy this type of programming.
  • I should note that we usually only watch about half of a program at dinner and save the rest for the next day.  They usually run from 50-60 minutes.

In preparation for writing this blog post, I thought I would keep track of my kid’s T.V. viewing during a two-week period.  Some days we watch much more and other days they watch very little because we fill our time with other projects and outings.  The weather has a lot to do with it too.  (Now we’re watching less because of the beautiful weather!)  So here I am, laying it all out for you.  I took these numbers back in early March:

March 5 – 3 hours; March 6 – 1.25 hours; March 7 – 3.5 hours; March 8 – 2 hours; March 9 – 3.25 hours; March 10 – 1.5 hours; March 11 – 2.5 hours; March 12 – 3.25 hours; March 13 – 2 hours; March 14 – 2.5 hours; March 15 – 2 hours; March 16 – 3 hours; March 17 – 1.5 hours; March 18 – 1 hour

This averages out to 2.30 hours of TV viewing per day, which is in line with the recommendations by The American Academy of Pediatrics.  As you can see, there are days that the boys watch more, but there’s also days they watch much less.  Considering the quality of the programming they are watching, I’m not worried about an extra hour here and there.

The reason I am homeschooling is so that my children can have more time to play, be creative, spend time outdoors, and not have their sleep interrupted by an early morning school bell.  I consider T.V. their time to relax and a time to expose them to places and ideas that I can’t do easily any other way.  Furthermore, they are awake approximately 13 hours per day.  We are spending a good 10~11 hours per day away from the television.

If you’d like to read more on this subject, Camp Creek Blog (my mentor in project-based homeschooling) wrote a series about screen time that was right in line with my thoughts on the subject:  “Why I don’t Worry About My Kids Screen Time, Part 1″ and “Part 2,” and a related follow-up, “Trusting the Process – Trusting the Child.”

In Part 3, I’m going to list of all the shows my boys watch and what we’ve watched with them.

19 Responses to “Will T.V. Hurt My Kids? Part 2 of 3”

  1. ha! here i am reading and then you mention me at the end. :)

    we are also home together all day. my husband and i both work at home and we homeschool. there is a *lot* of together time. lots of meals together, not just supper. lots of conversations throughout the day. lots of time to be outside, walking the dog or playing catch or hanging out on the patio. it’s easier to be relaxed about the “rules” when you are gifted with so much bonus time. one of my sons loves tv and movies, but he also engages creatively with that medium, making videos, films, stop-motion animations, and cartoon animations. i’m glad he has extra time to devote to something that is so enjoyable to him and that inspires him to be so creative.

    i love that you kept track over time so you could see how many hours they were *really* watching tv, averaged out. some parents get nervous that their kids aren’t getting enough of something or are getting too much and they let that nervousness dictate their decisions. so much better to dig down into the reality and decide whether it’s really a problem!

    • Lori, I’m glad you found yourself in my post before I had time to tell you! Yes, it felt good to really devote some time to this, research why T.V. is considered “bad,” think critically about it, observe the children, and weigh it with all the other things that we do together and that they do on their own. It really doesn’t seem like an issue at all anymore. I would rather other parents think through it and use T.V. constructively (and use it to give themselves a well-deserved break) instead of feeling so nervous about it. The word on the “playground” is that T.V. is bad, but I’m not sure all parents really think about it in fine detail. It’s easy to feel pressured by what other parents are doing and saying about it.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with you. I find my only breaks to be when the kids are watching TV. Sometimes it’s a movie we checked out from the library, but most times they’re parked in front of my big iMac watching A-Team and Knight Rider classic on Netflix! My husband works way too much to help me out, and I don’t get breaks when we’re out at park days or activities.

    When I was 8, my mom threw out the TV. When I was 12 I discovered she’d hidden a black and white TV in her closet and was secretly watching All My Children every day. Eventually the TV came out and lo and behold, we watched Discovery Channel, Learning Channel, etc. To this day I’d rather watch something off one of those channels than some of the insane drivel they put on nowadays.

    My kids have a hard time entertaining themselves (reading on their own, playacting, etc) and I don’t think it has anything to do with how much TV they watch because it’s not much, nor are they watching cartoons. I believe it’s because they weren’t pulled out of public school until almost two years ago. They’d been dumbed down and it’s been forever for me to prop them back up. Just recently I found my youngest with his face buried in Harry Potter and my oldest re-reading Eragon…I just smiled and secretly cheered for myself.

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Dawn! Gosh the A-Team & Knight Rider really takes me back! LOL I’m sorry to hear that you feel school did that to them, but yay for homeschooling!! I bet they just need a little more time to explore, and then they’ll find what they’re passionate about! And I have to snicker at “insane drivel” …my thoughts exactly. Thank God for PBS, Discovery, NOVA, Nature, National Geographic and the like!!

  3. We try to limit tv around here, because when our daughter has too much screen time (including computer time) she starts having bahavioral problems. But when i cut it off completely I get a lot less done. One thing that has worked for us (somewhat) has been to do no tv during the week, and she gets tv time during the weekemd. The only problem we have seen with this has been she ends up watching for longer over the weeked than we’d like. I need to find a happy medium with this. I could use a short break during the day, and letting her watch a show or two lets that happen. I’m thinking a timer to tell her when her tv time ends…something like that. Moderation is key in everything I guess.

    • Thanks so much for the comment, koalaborg! I know every child has a different temperament, and they need to be handled individually in cases like this. You probably use some of these tactics anyway, but just in case it helps, I remember that the very first time I let my oldest child watch a full movie – I think he was two or three – he started crying and having a tantrum when it ended! It was like he was in this wonderful world, and he couldn’t stand for it to be over. So the next time I went in the room about 10~15 minutes before it was over, and I paused the show and told him it was almost over and what we’d be doing after it was done. (I think I sat with him until the end and reminded him a couple of times as it was winding down.) After doing this a few times, he got much better and it didn’t upset him when a show stopped. He understood that a movie ended, but he’d get to watch another one some other time. Now, we use only Netflix or the shows we purchased from iTunes. They stop at the end and that’s it. The boys know they get two short shows at time (at the same time everyday), and I always let them know beforehand what we’ll do after they are done. Sometimes my two-year-old can get upset when they are over, but I remind him when he’ll get to watch a show again. (We’re going to play outside, eat dinner, take a bath, and then you’ll get to watch something else. Sometimes we discuss which show too.) This usually works for him. In fact, I have to do this all day really – getting them to come inside to eat their meals when they are having fun playing in the dirt can be much more challenging than getting them to stop watching T.V.! Telling them their schedule and reminding them about it throughout the day is a must for me. Anyway, thanks again, and good luck finding that balance!

  4. I completely understand the NEED for tv sometimes. Like you, we can’t afford babysitters ($10/hr for two kids? I don’t think so), we have no family nearby, and my husband works some long hours as a doctor. If I didn’t have the TV, I would go crazy. Not to mention, my girls are at an age (4 and 2) where they play together all the time and it inevitably leads to arguments because they’re not great at sharing. Letting them watch a tv show is sometimes the only quiet, relaxed time of the day. And one reason we got rid of cable television was because our girls were seeing tons commercials and paying attention to every single one! I think you are doing a great job and your kids are going to turn out just fine. And you should know that there are plenty of families (like ours!) who are watching the same amounts… maybe more… than you are.

  5. My husband and i have recently talked about how we no longer eat at our table anymore. First off its very old and broken so we are kind of afraid one day it will collapse while were eating. LOL! Secondly with all of us home so much ( we homeschool as well) there really is no reason to sit at the table to talk about our day becasue we have all been together all day and know what went on. My husband lost his job shortly after thanksgiving and that also makes it hard. We enjoy watching movies together as a family. We pick family friendly movies and have quite a few dvds of our favorites as well as netflix. Our DDs love shows about history or science and that is something that we watch also. Our yougest loves PBS shows and thankfully netflix has many of them. My girls do watch cartoons but they are all parent aproved before they can watch them.

    Your post was enlightening for me and helped me to see that my youngest (who is three) doesn’t watch as much tv as I thought.

    Thanks.

  6. We are a tv free family. I don’t see how anyone finds the time to watch tv. We also do not have a dvd player in the car. They kids wake up at 630 and play until breakfast which is at 730. In the mornings the kids listen to an audio book while I empty the dishwasher. Then get we dress, make beds, and homeschool until 11. Lunch is at 1130 (which is usually a picnic in the front yard so I don’t have to clean up after) and then we do our daily obligations like tend to the animals and our extra chores. Then some days we leave the house after and other days we stay outside until dinner time which is at 530. Then its bath, book, and bed by 700. My kids would never do anything if we had tv. I think it is a great learning tool to see the world and how things work but it is a crutch for most parents. Just because Dora speaks Spanish on occasion that does not make it educational or because Caliou has manners that will not make your child polite. My favorite poem is Television by Roald Dahl! It is so funny. Do people really have that much down time to be able to watch that much tv? I say this but then again after the kids are asleep I sit on the computer for an hour reading the news. My husband would love to trash the computer too. I think that may be a good option if I ever get too addicted.

    • Kat – Thank you for your comment and honest opinion. I’m sure TV viewing has a lot to do with lifestyle and family dynamics and personalities of the parents too. At 5 & 2 years old, I just don’t have the energy to keep them stimulated for 13 hours a day in the way that my little boys want/need, and we are not at the point yet where we’ll have several hours of sit-down school. We spend a lot of time outside, reading, creating and exploring the world, but I use TV for break times especially since the weather is usually too hot here in the afternoons to be outside. Although I don’t think TV could ever replace their real-life experience and relationships, I definitely think it can reinforce what they are learning from me, and my son has learned an incredible amount about the world through the nature shows. Obviously your husband is on board with the non-TV, and I think that’s awesome. There’s no way I could talk my hubby into letting TV go! I have had to compromise, and making sure they watch quality programming is how I’ve done that. But sometimes I definitely miss the days I lived by myself and kept the TV in the closet!

  7. My daughter is a visual and auditory learner so we use TV, computers, video games etc. to help reinforce. I am also happy to allow her to relax with a movie or TV because we spend so much time together talking, reading, exploring the world, etc. While some days she watches more than others because I also run three home-based businesses, I am not overly concerned.

    • Thanks for both of your comments and support, Kristina! Yes, there’s no way I could get my work done with some TV time for the kids. It’s a balancing act, and since I do so much with my boys anyway, I’m not concerned either.

  8. To be honest with you I don’t have amazing energy either. When I am tired sometimes I fall asleep on the floor playing with the kids (then they pretend I am a mountain) or I will put on an audio book and sit on the sofa asleep and have the kids flip the pages. My kids will be 4 and 5 this month. Also, I take a caffine pill twice a day once before I do anything in the morning (I have the kids bring me a cup of water when they wake up and I keep my pills in my night stand. Yeah, I know that’s awful! But it could be worse! And as a result the kids get hot breakfast rather than cereal and a grumpy monster mom.) and once after lunch or I crash around 2 or 3. It is the same as a cup of coffee but I think it works better for me and it is zero calories which is always a plus. *I am not telling anyone to take caffine. I am actually trying to go to sleep early and exercise more so I can get rid of my caffine regamin. I gave myself two months to accomplish this goal (that’s when my husband comes back from his buisness trip.) Just being honest here!

    • Wow, Kat, thank you for being so honest! Honestly I think that no regimen can give a person the energy to get through a full day with small children….unless you are a child! lol We do what we have to do to be good parents, and if we even try, then our children are lucky. There are many parents who don’t put in the effort.

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