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.

Will T.V. Hurt My Kids? Part 1 of 3

Break time for a 2-year-old (who's now 5).

Note:  The following is a column that I wrote for the Barrow Journal, and it appeared in that newspaper on September 29, 2010. Back then, my sons had just turned 4 and 1, so the one-year-old was not watching any T.V.  I’m revising this column just a little for my blog, and I’m going to follow up with a Part 2) about our T.V. viewing now – which has increased, and a Part 3) programming we watch.

I have heard a few mothers say that they do not permit their children to watch television at all, or they limit it to one 20-30 minute program or segment of a movie each day.  I usually remain quiet when I hear this because I can only imagine what they would think of me if they knew how much television I allow my son to watch.

I don’t blame them though.  There has been a lot of research done on T.V. and kids, and most of it favors limiting screen time.  (You can see a good summary of the findings on the University of Michigan Health System website.)

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of 2 watch no television, and older children should be limited to only one or two hours of educational, age-appropriate programming.

Research also points out:

  • Watching too much T.V. can lead to weight gain, sleep problems, and can have a negative impact on school performance.
  • Children under the age of eight cannot differentiate between what is real and fantasy, and telling them that something isn’t real doesn’t work, so scary programs can traumatize them.
  • There has also been research done to show that children learn certain attitudes through stereotypes depicted on T.V., and there is much evidence showing that aggressive behavior can be linked to watching violence on T.V.

As for infants, researchers do not know enough about early brain development, but there’s enough evidence to suggest that all those DVDs marketed to babies does not help them.  Babies need to interact with adults, hear their parents talking to them and be free to explore their environments.  Some studies suggest a link between early exposure to television and the development of ADD.

On average, my 4-year-old son probably watches 2.5 hours of T.V. per day, though not all at once.  We allow him to watch two educational programs each in the morning and evening.  We only use Apple T.V. or DVDs, so the programs last about 25 minutes each and are commercial free.  Sometimes he’ll sit and watch part of a program my husband and I watch too, though we are careful not to watch anything violent.

There are days he watches more or less T.V.  When he’s sick or there’s a special occasion or if we just feel like it, we let him watch a movie in addition to a couple of shows, and he always gets to watch the whole movie.  This does not include the time he spends in front of a computer each day.

My husband loves T.V. and watches at least one show each day on his computer.  I’m thankful he’s not someone who needs to keep the T.V. on all day, but since he loves T.V. and technology, he has gotten my son used to a certain daily dose in front of the tube.  It used to worry me, but there comes a time when you have to pick your battles, and I knew that screen time in my house was not something I was going to change.

Furthermore, I now depend on my son’s T.V. time, and I’m not sure I could get anything done otherwise.  I use the time to take a shower, do chores and tend to my baby.  I honestly don’t know how those moms manage with just “30 minutes of T.V. a day.”

I think there are other benefits to children watching television, but they are not talked about as much.  By watching educational programming, my son has learned much more than I ever learned when I was his age.  I am also surprised that he loves to watch nature programs and documentaries.  (He watched Michael Wood’s documentary, The Story of India, with my husband and I when he was two.  I think the stunning cinema photography kept his attention.)  How else could I expose him to such interesting places and things?

There have been studies showing that programming with a prosocial message can have positive effects on children and adults I believe that by watching a cartoon such as PBS’s Caillou, my son has gained confidence.  The show reinforces many of the things I’m teaching him, and he identifies with the little boy named Caillou who is so much like him.

When I read articles about the negative affects of television on children, I take note of the suggested alternatives to watching television:

  • reading,
  • talking to your children,
  • not watching during dinner,
  • exploring nature,
  • encouraging imaginative play,
  • music,
  • stories on the iPod,
  • and letting them be bored sometimes so they have to figure out how to occupy themselves.

The thing is – I do all of those things!  He has a variety of activities to fill his day, and we go out and explore the world and meet people.  T.V. is just a part of his day.

Much of the commentary on the effects of T.V. on children had to do with children watching the commercials and too much adult programming, especially programs with violence. 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.  

More coming up in Parts 2 and 3.  I hope you’ll come back, and please tell me what you think!