Television and our Family

Seeing as it is TV Turn-Off Week, I thought I'd tell the story of our family and television. We turned off our satellite dish soon after Lou was born. It was a decision that was a combination of N and I realizing that we were just staring at lame home improvement shows night after night and understanding more and more that we did not want television to be a significant part of our family's life. We have kept our DVD player for weekend movies and I confess I download A Daily Show and Grey's Anatomy.

The benefits of not watching television have become more and more apparent over the years:

More Imaginative Play
We had noticed that watching TV or movies in the morning led to a day of difficulties. It was as if our girls couldn't re-engage with life after a chunk of television. They would fight and they would need our structured help with play. Their imaginative capacities seemed lost and, rather than losing themselves in the world of play during the day, they needed activities figured out for them.

Fewer Materialistic Needs
We've noticed that our children don't have long lists of things they want for birthdays and Christmas. This is actually sometimes a problem because we then don't know what to get them, but their wish lists are shorter and reflect what they actually like to do rather than what someone else tells them they should like to do.

More Active Children
We've noticed that our children are much more active and creative without the television. If we say "no" to a movie, they are instead outdoors, crafting, or playing a game.

While in Florida, we watched some television. I realized that my reasons for not wanting our girls to not watch television have changed. When they were young, I was most concerned about TV's impact on their developing brains. Now, I'm concerned about its impact on their emerging adolescence.

Now that I'm more aware of Hels's increased interest in friendships, her body and clothing, it felt like every show and commercial was an example of how not to behave and what not to wear. It felt like the premise of so much television today is that people are unhappy or inadequate. The way to solve the problem? Take a pill. Use a certain handcream. Buy a certain outfit. Be a backstabber and vote the person off. While this would have gone over her head while in early childhood, it wasn't going over her head last week.


I'm once again grateful that we turned off the TV as early in our children's lives as we did. It's a complete non-issue for them. There's a rhythm to our lives that involves media on the weekends and television when visiting Grandparents. They seem to just live with this rhythm and have never challenged it.

Now...the computer? Another story, another challenge that I have more mixed feelings about.

Dawn  – (April 24, 2008 at 12:48 PM)  

I think you're so right about television and have listed many good reasons for keeping it out of daily life. I'm glad you wrote this post because I need reminders quite often to reinforce my desire to keep t.v. minimized in our home. Funny thing is.. I just finished a book that said almost the same thing that you wrote in this post- I know it's something I need to hear, and follow through on more consistently. My husband's job requires that we have every channel available so he can check up on whether they're working- and we don't pay for it, so it's a constant temptation- especially when the kids are fighting and I just want a break.

Tara  – (April 24, 2008 at 1:06 PM)  

We watch some TV together but we cut our cable and have worked more towards planned viewing as opposed to just flipping the thing on and sitting there for hours. Actually, some really great conversations and interests have been sparked from videos or TV shows, so in moderation I'm fine with it. Certain channels, for many of the reasons you mentioned (ABC family, Disney, etc) are totally off limits. I'm trying to create a space for the same type of thing to happen with the computer. My hope is that we'll fill mindless computer time with educational computer time and then turn the thing off and be done with it for the day. It's hard because my job requires me to be on the computer 5-6 hours a day, so I'm modeling the behavior I don't want. I have found some really neat programs for over the summer and next year, and I'll be teaching the kiddo some computer graphics, so we'll see what happens.
Thanks for the thoughtful post.

maymomvt (or Sarah)  – (April 24, 2008 at 6:31 PM)  

Tara-- it's tricky, isn't it? I'm ready to watch with Hels and engage in the discussions, but how to do it without Lou also getting involved?

I'm interested in what computer programs you've found. It's time to get Hels on the computer a bit more. Of course, it's Lou who is more attracted.... a perennial issue with siblings, I'm sure.

anthromama  – (April 24, 2008 at 8:29 PM)  

We're preparing for a trip to CA to see the grandparents next month, which in the past has always included liberal doses of TV. My parents' houses are the kind where the TV is usually on, most of the time, though they are pretty nice about restricting that when we're there.

I just try not to make the TV a big deal in any way. We don't watch broadcast or cable and only have a tiny TV for watching DVDs (adults only). I don't want it to become forbidden fruit, however, so we try to stay mellow about it.

We tell the kids that it's OK if they see a little TV at grandma's, or in a restaurant (much as I hate that in particular), and that some day when they're bigger we'll let them see videos once in a while. But we've also told them that we don't like TV because the commercials are yucky and loud, and sometimes even scary, which they have experienced before (a commercial about homeowner's insurance or something that showed a house on fire that disturbed them a lot).

Now, cutting computer time would be a hard thing for me. I also work on my computer, and we've developed some habits (blogging, for one!) that also take a lot of time online. But it certainly could be curtailed a bit in the evenings.

Jodi  – (April 25, 2008 at 3:47 AM)  

I agree about trying to keeping TV out of daily life for my 2 but this is only recently that I am trying this. My eldest son sometimes still askes if he can watch things but I always try to find something else to do, not always easy! My little one has no interest in tv, infact I was horrified when someone in our family bought him a DVD for Christmas, he was only 18 months! I also post on a forum and they all were talking about (an english) tv program for little ones, so I watched it and wondered why people let their kids watch it. We do have a movie day, Wednesday after school, but that is it.

Lisa  – (April 25, 2008 at 5:44 AM)  

My home ed daughter watches less Tv than the one still at school strangely enough. We're cutting back slowly, slowly. Mmm not sure I could live without my laptop though!

maymomvt (or Sarah)  – (April 25, 2008 at 6:02 AM)  

Anthromama-I agree about the "forbidden fruit" thing. Luckily, that hasn't happened for us. If they want to watch TV at their grandparents or at the hotel--no big deal. I realized recently (before Florida) that Lou had forgotten what TV was.

Jodi--I think it's harder when they are young because sometimes Mom so needs a break, but it's worth it in the long run as at our house where our kids just don't even think about it. They know they can watch DVDs on weekends and they just do it.

kristin  – (April 25, 2008 at 12:55 PM)  

this is such a great discussion Sarah. it's funny how last August, i was home alone for 3 weeks with my 3 year old and feeling the first trimester pregnancy agony...and sleeeeping alot. i "trained" my son to watch tv just to know he was zoned out and "safe" while i slept. how guilty i felt. and i was so worried it would be agony to break him of the habit, but surprisingly, he had no trouble leaving it behind once i got energy back and could get him started on activities. it's interesting the CHANGE in him..from non active to active play. he is so much happier in creative play.

i wish we could just do without the tv at all, but it's so nice to watch movies since we don't go out much. now the computer...that's a different monster ;)

Teaching Handwork  – (April 26, 2008 at 10:43 AM)  

wow we are on the same page!
we watch movies on the weekend but we don't have cable and really no interest in TV at all. my girls are totally fine with that....But I do notice that on weekend when they don't watch TV they are much more imaginative and they fight less and don't say "I'm bored"

Anonymous –   – (April 29, 2008 at 7:22 AM)  

Tell me how you watch football on Thanksgiving with no TV!

Livia  – (May 2, 2008 at 1:46 AM)  

You are so right. Of course there are few good things in TV - historical documents ( my favourite) and nature films, even good movies. But there's something almost unnatural of being entertained by television. I mean, it makes you so passive most of the times. You just stare at stupid shows and ridiculous trivias and questionable sit coms.

So I've deciced not to spend my life in front of TV, nor let my daughter do that. Sometimes something quality program, but not on everyday basis. There's so much more in life to discover and learn.

Simmy –   – (May 2, 2008 at 6:31 AM)  

Well done for sticking to your principles re the telly. As you know we've been telly free for about seven years but when we moved here we did get a license. Mind you the telly is small and old and not one of those flat screen affairs.

Funny thing is - I thought the children, especially Amber would be obsessed with watching stuff but they aren't at all. I do notice that the boys are sooooo much more imaginitve and creative not having had telly. They may still say they're bored but they always come up with things to do and they read a lot too.

BTW do you still want some Famous Five's? I saw some in the school shop t'other day.

amanda  – (September 30, 2008 at 7:38 PM)  

I am so grateful to have found your post! We have always been a "less-is-more family when it somes to TV, but I have found lately I have been slipping into letting my 2 yo watch more. I have been debating pulling the plug all together and think I will. You have inspired me to get back to my original plan!

amanda  – (October 7, 2008 at 12:28 PM)  

just an update...last week we totally cut out tv with the exception of a movie on the weekend with daddy. i don't know if the pendulum is simply swining back from our last phase of terible twos or if the tv really had such a strong affect on miller's behavior, but we have had such a wonderful week! about a 80% reduction in tantrums and almost a 95% reduction therefore in time outs. he is playing longer and more creatively with his toys! i cannot believe it. i am so glad i read your post and reverted to our original plans about tv!!!

Castlequeen  – (February 16, 2010 at 6:08 PM)  

I know this is an old post but I was happily wandering around your blog enjoying your posts as I have some time without my boys. We restricted TV about wo years ago - codl turkey and they were fine and my two boys play much better with each other becuase of the lack of TV. (5 & 7 yrs). They watch a special movie in the afternoons on some weekends. In fact they watched some live TV at their grandparents and couldn't understand why it couldn't be paused! LOL. now if I could get my husband to curtail just a bit.....

Redbeet Mama  – (April 20, 2010 at 9:07 PM)  

Great post.

Love your new banner - and how you changed from being simple to grounded.

I am going to take a bath and ponder that.

Namaste, Nicole

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