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Family Rules about TV

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Parenting, Families, & the Community > Family Rules about TV



Watching TV During Dinner

Sept 2003

I moved in with my husband into a place that doesn't have room for a dinner table. Since then, we have had a child, and I told him that I want our next place to have a dinner table that we all sit down to for at least dinner, if not breakfast and dinner. He doesn't understand this. His family always ate in front of the TV (his mom was widowed young, they were latchkey kids, they didn't have breakfast at all and she was too busy to fix proper lunches either), and he thinks this is normal. So far, it's been what we've been doing, but I thought it was for lack of space.

How normal is it to never sit down to meals at a table together? Also, I seem to remember some research awhile back saying that sitting down to meals together is good for the family, and other research that sitting in front of the TV for meals is bad for your health. He's not likely to believe much in the way of research, but just in case, can anyone send me links to relatively well-respected studies in this area? I would greatly appreciate it. new mom


Besides my own intuition that a family needs to regroup and connect at the end of the day, and that very often dinner is the only time for such connection, I have also read a few compelling articles (Newsweek, Parents Magazine, etc.) that says children seem to do better scholastically, emotionally, relationally, who have a dinner (non-tv, non-stressful) with their families. The articles all alluded to the importance of no TV. Another negative aspect to TV is it seems to dull one's awareness of whether or not one is full. Dinner Time should be used for conversation and con
Eschews TV, largely
Watching TV discourages the kids' verbal development and the emotional closeness of the family. I can't cite any of the actual studies any better than you can, but this seems obvious to me. I take it as given that focussing on each other as a regular part of the family's day, something which is most commonly and easily done as part of family meals, is a necessary part of family life. Even if you don't have space for a dinner table, you don't have to have the TV on while you eat dinner. If you have to eat in front of it, at least turn it OFF and have a conversation instead. Anti-TV mom
My family always ate together when I was growing up. I think its important. My husband wanted to watch tv during dinner - nice and relaxing after a long days work. When we had kids I told him it was very important to me to eat together at the table (and no tv). We compromised -- I agreed it didn't really matter as long as our kids were very little. I think when our youngest turned two (she's 4 now) we started eating together at the table. And, since the kids sit and eat for about 15 minutes - 20 at the most - I really don't think its too much to ask. Elizabeth
Hi, I do research on childhood thriving in the Berkeley sociology department. From everything I've seen and from my own research, I can tell you this unequivically: IT IS VERY IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO EAT DINNER WITH YOUR CHILDREN EVERY NIGHT WITH THE TV OFF. This is no small matter: children who report having dinner with their parents routinely are significantly happier and do better in school. If you are unable to convince your husband, make sure you make up for it in other arenas of your family life. Establish routines so that everyday your family has a chance to talk, bond, and interact as a group. In my opinion, and I'm not a child development person, but I've looked at a lot of statistics on this sort of thing, it would be especially good if you would allow this time to be child-directed -- let them have a time when they know they can count on you to listen and ask questions about their days and what is important to them. Even if your child is too young to converse with, I've seen research which indicates that just getting into the habit early is beneficial. A baby watching her parents converse is learning a lot about social, emotional, and launguage development; a baby watching the TV is being stimulated visually but is not LEARNING anything. If I had to choose between a television and a dining room table I'd pick the table in a flash, especially if you are considering the well-being and development of your child. I'd be happy to give you some specific academic research on this subject, but actually I'd recommend the popular book, ''The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness'' by Ned Halloway. Your instincts are right -- don't give up. Good luck! Christine
I'd like to add a slightly different perspective on watching tv at dinner time. It seems that for the most part when the family dinner is talked about, the image conjured up is Noman Rockwellesque. I grew up in a family where dinner time was 5 miserable people gathering together to have a miserable time sharing good food. And I'm sure that my family wasn't/isn't the only one to experience mealtimes this way. In my opinion, how we treat each other as family members in general is much more important than sitting down for a perhaps mythical happy gathering which in actuality is loaded with stress. I'm sure that there must exist family dinners where the family actually enjoys being together. In my own personal experience with my son I found that when I was feeling grumpy it was better for my son and I to have dinner in front of the tv rather than foist a tense time on him (and me). anon
I highly recommend having dinners without T.V. Here are some websites that have articles, studies and booklists about the subject matter:
http://tvallowance.com/research/

http://www.homemakingcottage.com/television.html

http://www.aaronshep.com/parent/

http://www.aap.org/advocacy/chm98nws.htm

http://www.jgs.net/ecf/jan961.htm

http://www.limitv.org/getthetv.htm
Good Luck! Laurey

TV - to have or have not

2001

hi----I realize I may be asking a loaded question, but here goes.......we just moved into an area that gets absolutely no tv reception without cable or satelite hook-up. I guess the hills in front of us block everything. So we've been living without a tv for a couple of months and with few exceptions I can say I don't really miss it (and my husband occasionally misses watching sports). I'm thinking of forgoing the cable/satellite hook-up. It would save money and I'd remove the temptation to indulge......my kids would have no access to the boob-tube. They would, however, miss out on educational tv programs. I'm interested in hearing real-life pros/cons from parents that have been living without access to tv (and did this approach eventually back-fire?), with limited access to tv(and how did you effectively monitor/limit it for the kids), and with complete cable-tv/satellite hook-up (and what the benefits have been). Although my husband and I don't watch tv constantly, I can see how the kids would want to watch more and more as they got older...... and I don't think I've ever heard of a study touting the benefits of tv viewing in today's world. Any comments are appreaciated! thanks! p.s. I have been renting videos for the kids.


As a child during the 60's, my family TV was always on, and I watched from 3 pm through dinner and into the evening, when I did my homework in front of it. I did not watch the educational shows - only sitcoms. But my husband HATES TV and so we agreed to watch no TV with our daughter. Practically, it means we need to spend more time with her, especially at meal prep time. We do more creative play and more book reading. We find she has no interest in TV at all now - if she goes to a friend's home and they're watching TV she will often go to another side of the room and ignore it. It would be interesting to find out, from parents of older kids, whether the kids feel bad because they miss out on "pop culture." Sometimes when we stay at a motel with cable, I relive my childhood and binge on TV for a few days, but really, it's a vast wasteland with alot of advertisements and alot of junk food! I don't know, maybe you should consider yourself lucky that you have no free TV access! You can always change your mind when they get older if you can interest them in the educational content.
I think you gain more by not having a TV than you lose. I didn't have a tv or vcr for the first six years of my children's lives. We ended up getting the TV & VCR just because we finally got a camcorder, and needed a way to copy and view our home movies. Now, we just watch videos on occasion. I think my kids know there is commercial television, but have no interest in it.

Sure, you might miss educational tv, or big news event...but there are plenty of educational videos and other ways to get news. Plus, left without the stimulation of tv, kids do plenty of educational things on their own, fantasy play etc. And think of what you can do with the extra money per month that would go to cable/satellite!

Having had kids both with and without television, I think the best thing about having a tv/vcr is being able to watch movies when they're sick or just really being a pain. Then, you can use the video to give yourself a break. Also, your kids can have some exposure to pop culture and not be out of the swim of things totally at school. But the rest of the time, you don't have to argue about the amount of time spent watching, what they can watch, etc.

On the few occasions I do watch tv, I don't enjoy it in general. I grew up glued to the tube, too. I think you'll find that giving yourself a break from the medium gives you both more time and more peace.

Good luck with your decision. Meghan


We have always had a TV, but it is rarely on. We allowed the kids to watch selected videos when they were little (our older one was 3 before he had any videos, but it was hard to keep the younger one as sheltered). We chose them carefully -- Thomas the Tank Engine, Winnie the Pooh, Road Construction Ahead. We allowed some educational programs (Magic School Bus, Theodore) but taped them to show on our schedules rather than being slaves to KQED. We did not use the TV as a babysitter (except when the younger one went through a period of waking up at 5 am). We never let the kids watch commercial TV shows. We didn't make a big deal about TV; we just read books and played rather than treating TV as an option for entertainment. That approach takes some discipline for parents -- there are times we all crave time and a "tranqu-ing" a kid in front of the tube can provide it. But if you are willing, it is very do-able. We have liked having a TV so the kids could watch history happening: the debates, election night returns and the ensuing saga.

Now, the 9-year old mostly scorns TV as a waste of time. He likes to watch baseball and has a new passion for Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, but abhors the commercials and has developed a healthy skepticism about marketing. He often will lose interest in the little TV he watches, and will go back to playing ball, using the computer or torturing his brother. The little one still likes videos -- now full-length Disney movies -- but is fine about watching only small amounts over several days, and never asks to watch TV. Leslie


I have a bumper sticker on my car that reads "Kill your TV," so you know where I stand. I haven't had a working TV in my home for nearly 10 years now and I've never missed it. This after spending my entire childhood in the '70s in front of the box. I learn everything I need to know about trends like "Survivor" and "Friends" via the newspaper Arts section, and we just go to friends' houses for events like the Superbowl. We also do rent videos, and my daughter has a healthy collection of Blue's Clues, Sesame Street and Disney classics (because they can be very educational and enjoyable for her, and it's not like we can keep her insulated from all of this stuff forever). Holiday consumer frenzy? Not at my house. Election craziness? Just in the papers, thanks. All Monica-TV? (OK, so I downloaded the Starr Report...I'm only human)

My point is, there's very little to lose by never watching TV again, and a great deal to gain. When you're not sitting slack-jawed in front of the tube all evening, you can:

* Cook meals
* Read books - to your kids and for yourself
* Listen to music and dance around
* Talk
* Have friends over.
* Play

Be brave! Take back your evenings! I'll get off my soapbox now. Julie


My kids are now 10 and 5, and we have always been in your position--not getting any tv reception, not buying cable, and using the tv to watch videos. I'm so happy with this set-up. The kids get plenty of "popular culture" because so much is available on video (and I get to choose what they watch!). The best part about it is they don't watch commercials. My kids seem like they ask for less stuff than their friends. Whenever they do watch tv, like when we stay in motels, the younger one especially will want whatever she sees in the ads. I would strongly encourage you to just stick with the status quo--you can always get cable later, if you feel you want it. Deborah
about tvs. - I have three kids, boys, and they have a lot of energy. Once I was fed up with their negative behavior and removed both tvs from the house for 3 weeks. For the first time ever, we all relaxed at dinner, hanging around the table talking. Once they allowed me to read an entire NYT magazine article. The very first day my oldest - in 8th grade - got so mad that he went to the library. They all read more - the littlest looked at books and was read to. I got my courage from my neighbor who removed their tv for 7 years when his kids were in middle and high school. When I returned them, he said it was too soon. I agree. Good luck.
We don't watch T.V. in our house -- it's been great for our family. I can't answer your question about it backfiring yet, it's too soon to tell, it may at some point. We know a lot of families who have the T.V. on all the time and a lot of families who choose not to have a T.V. in the house. It's more work for parents not to "do" T.V., because neither you nor your kids can vegetate in front of the tube -- it requires more work, more creativity and more interaction. But I think it's well worth it. In leiu of T.V., we have purchased age appropriate educational, interactive software programs. We can do that with our child or he can do it on his own. He has a great time learning how to use the computer and about the content of the software. We will likely rent videos in the future -- and we might provide tapes to friends to record educational shows on T.V. once he's a little older -- or maybe we'll have a T.V. that only gets channel 9. Who knows. Those are my thoughts. Whatever you decide -- Good Luck. William
I have an almost 5 year old and we don't have a tv. We do have an imac with a DVD drive and we rent and watch movies on the computer. I only miss tv occasionally but I'm mostly glad not to have it. I'm especially glad not to have my son exposed to all the ads. When we travel it is a big treat to watch tv for all of us but we all seem to get tired of it after the novelty wears off. Also the millions of channels with cable means lots of flicking around and not watching all of anything and although arguably this is the aesthetic of our time, it seems to encourage a short attention span. I think a set up like yours would be even better than ours because there is so much good stuff out on video. The DVD selection is not as good. That said I know many families who set lots of limits on tv and do fine with it. Leah
I have long been a supporter of a TV-free environment and have lots of articles to scientifically back up the reasons to go without it (if you would like them, please let me know). In a nutshell, TV causes the brain to go into alpha mode, which for adults is a nice way to relax, not so for children. Children need to experience life in a sensorial mode, doing, playing, working - not sitting for long periods of time doing nothing. They learn by doing, and need these experiences to establish basic cognitive and psychological growth that will sustain them throughout the rest of their lives. Despite what Hollywood would like us to believe, TV is an anti-experience and an anti-knowledge machine because it separates individuals from themselves and from the environment and makes them believe they are living while they are only observing passively what other people decide to make them see.

There are rumors of a link between ADD and TV - I haven't found any conclusive evidence to support that claim, but I do know that the U.S. prescribes more Ritalin than the rest of the world combined. Plus, we have the highest number of TV's per capita. Coincidence? There is also evidence to support the link between the kind of light emitted from TV and hyperactivity and many allergies in children. And, please do not even think twice about the loss of instructional programs - there is nothing on TV that cannot be learned another way.

I support whole-heartedly your decision not to plug in (even if it's only short term). By not having cable, you completely remove the inevitable argument of what to watch and when. Not to mention the crass commercials your little ones will gleefully miss. We have lived completely TV free for 2 years now - when my now 4 year old asks why we don't have one, I just remind him we are too busy. Hopefully, you will be too. Carol


We've raised our children without any commercial television. The result has been phenomenal. It is the best decision we ever made. We're smarter, they're smarter, and they are not held captive by the junk culture's hold on their urges, wallets, life-views and free of the competitive acquisition that comes with being bombarded by commercials. They watch videos. But more: they play, they read, they write, they get involved in all sorts of science projects, have broad ranges of interests and are far more actively involved in examining themselves and the world than other children their age. They do not miss it.

The down side is that they find it harder to "fit in" with other kids who have grown up with t.v. as their major influence. Our kids don't know who the stars are, nor do they care, and they are not interested in conformity. (But their vocabularies are excellent! No valley speak or reduction of language to the word, "KEWL", or "AWESOME".) And this can be a problem, as well as a strength.

I say, if you've already started this t.v.-less path, even if inadvertently, keep on keeping on. Don't get the cable. After a while, if you SHOULD watch some t.v., the shock will be memorable. Yes, there are good things on commercial t.v., but not most of it, and the set is available always. I shall, here quote my 13 year old daughter who wrote down, when I asked for her reflections:

"T.V., OR NOT T.V., THAT IS THE QUESTION! I can't say that t.v. is completely evil. Nor can I say it's a must. But what I can say to start out this letter is that t.v. has its very own personality. It is simple and complex at the same time. It draws your attention, yet you may have no interest in it. We aren't dealing with any normal personality, here (an animal, perhaps). No, we're talking serious........"

She told me she wasn't finished. But I think it's enough. Then, she went upstairs to make jewelry. Good luck. Tobie


We don't have a TV and it has not presented any known deficiencies in our household. In fact, I don't know when people find time to watch it, or keep up with the listings to find something interesting to watch. Maybe I should say that I have never had a television since I left home at 17, so this TV-free state is nothing new and is not because I am a parent. Our son (at 5.5) is definitely more media-timid than other kids his age, but that's not a problem especially. We take him to movies at PFA and have seen videos at friends' houses but more than not there is something in the program terrifies him. But then again, even the most kid-targeted media is full of manipulation and serious button pushing. (If any of you have been going to the PFA kids series, you might have been as surprised as I was to see a film (really video) "about Fairies" that actually included a scene of a baby kidnapped from the crib by a faerie disguised as the Mother. Talk about confirming children's fears... My son was shaking after that, and frankly, I wasn't that happy either!).

As it happens, "watching TV" is something we have done when staying in a hotel and usually it's torture for everybody. Once we watched a program on sharks (well, 10 minutes) and a program about the Andes. We tried watching some of the Olympics, which IMHO was horrible as media. Amazingly, the X-Games was the most civil, humane and interesting TV I'd seen in some time.

Once every blue moon, we will be finishing dinner after a long day, tired of talking about "important" things, and my husband or I will joke, "I wonder what's on TV?" Then we pull out some paper and do Exquisite Corpses. Claire


We have not had a tv for a year and it's been wonderful. I have three sons ages 9,7 and 3 who were disappointed when the tv broke and was not repaired. Their tv viewing had always been restricted to half an hour of PBS a day and one video a week. I used that half an hour an evening to make dinner. But it's been great not having the tv be an issue at all. The two older kids decided they would like to have a Gameboy and saved up their allowance to get one. I limit their Gameboy usage to one hour a day. I think it's fine that their exposure to commercialism is so limited, The kids read alot, play legos, draw, play with their Gameboy, listen to music and story tapes, play outside, take care our pets, etc. This past December, when I asked my kids what they wanted for Christmas, two of them said all they really wanted was more pets, the other one said more Gameboy stuff although he didn't know which games he'd like. I love seeing their creativity blossom! My husband and I occasionally feel a video would be fun . . . but there's aways other stuff to do. We are both reading more and getting to bed earlier. We listened to the election stuff on the radio, and we will watch the Super Bowl at friends. Wysstack
I don't see what the big deal is about TV. The TV has an on-off switch, the parents are the boss of the kids, so where is the problem? Do people fear that a TV in the house will prevent reading, playing games together, talking, and other activities? I can assure you all these things go on in houses that have TVs! In my opinion there is a downside to not allowing kids access to TV. A lot of the cultural glue that keeps us all together as a society comes from television, whatever your opinion of the content may be. There is some value even in the junky shows that kids like to watch, because it gives your kid something in common with other kids, a connection that he might not otherwise have. Sure there are plenty of kids growing up without TV, especially in Berkeley, but it seems important to connect a kid to the culture around him, just as it's important for adults to have that connection. It's good to check in once in a while and see what all the fuss is about with Survivor, or the Super Bowl, or that Million Dollar Question show. Uncle Louie will be talking about it at the next family get-together, and you like Uncle Louie - you don't want to dis him by being a snob, right? I have an officemate who grew up without TV, and still rarely watches, and while we get along very well, there are all these popular cultural references that she just doesn't get. She would probably say they are not worth "getting". So what if you never heard of Gilligan's Island or Saturday Night Live or Popeye? But there is a slight strangeness in making a joke about spinach giving you muscles to somebody who has no idea what you're talking about, even though they grew up in the same time and place you did. A strict no TV policy seems to me to promote a kind of "Me vs. the Evil World Out There" mentality that gets in the way of really engaging with our popular culture and connecting with people who are different from us. Ginger
I agree completely about TV. Watch the good stuff (like "Jazz," which taught my 11-year-old about music and 20th-century U.S. history and how gorgeous Duke Ellington looked and sounded). Turn off the crap. Or watch a little crap with your kid and make fun of it, especially the commercials. Everything's educational, viewed the right way. P.S. Dear Claire: WHAT is "Exquisite Corpses"? You cannot tantalize us this way. Tell, tell! Melanie
I agree that shielding your kids entirely from TV culture isn't a good idea. Joking with other baby boomers about Gilligan's Island, the Beverly Hillbillies, etc. is fun and not such a bad thing. That said, I think severely limiting TV and videos -- especially for very young children -- is the way to go. We thought about getting rid of our TV entirely, but I love watching Star Trek and all the spinoffs too much. I also occasionally watch things like PBS Mystery or Ken Burns' Jazz, or News Radio (my favorite sitcom). Here's what works for us: We don't have cable. (But, where we live, we get PBS and channel 44, which shows Star Trek, without having cable.) When our son was about 3 and wanting to watch more and more, we started limiting watching to Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. A friend with older kids recommended it, because, she said, when they start having homework they need to be doing that, not watching television and it can become a big issue. We've stuck strictly with the weekends only rule, except on very rare occasions when he's sick, and he completely accepts the rule. He really looks forward to his "watching time." He's now almost 6, and he watches about an hour and a half on each "watching day." He watches no commercial TV except when we're at a motel or at someone's house. We rent videos and I also tape PBS shows he likes, such as Arthur or Clifford or a nature show, during the week and sometimes he'll watch those instead of or in addition to a rented tape. We rent everything from Scooby Doo to Pokemon to Disney movies to Babar and Madeline. He goes through phases of being interested in one thing or another. We avoid violent things like Power Rangers. When he does see something with commercials on occasion, we talk about what they're really saying. And now he'll say, "They're just trying to make us buy that, right Mommy?" Not to say that he's immune to commercial messages -- even when he just gets a 10 minute glimpse of commercial TV at someone's house I can see the influence. But it doesn't worry me, and in fact I think kids need to have some exposure to these things so they'll know what they're up against. I guess what matters most to me is that TV not be something my son's day revolves around. And I also don't want him begging for it every day and having to constantly negotiate TV time, which we would have to do given my son's personality and his love of watching. We're not fanatic about keeping him away from commercialism. We let him play with Pokemon and have Scooby Doo sheets, etc. He absolutely loves Star Wars and knows the story of every Star Wars movie from books, but has never seen any of the movies! He's really looking forward to seeing them when he's old enough, but he accepts that he's not old enough yet. He spends hours playing with Legos (often acting out Star Wars scenarios) every afternoon or reading books with us or finding other things to do. With TV not an option, kids really do find other ways to entertain themselves. It's such a relief not to have to think about the television during the week and how much we should let him watch. And it's really fun on the weekend when the TV is a special treat. Sometimes we watch something together now that he's more interested in seeing slightly more sophisticated things. Recently we rented Disney's The Love Bug, and although he didn't get all of it, he found it really funny and loved curling up on the bed with his parents to see a movie. (The Love Bug takes place in San Francisco, by the way -- something I didn't remember. It's a very amusing period piece.) In sum, I don't think we'll ever ban the boob tube in our house, but a little bit definitely goes a long way. Dana
One of the better summaries of the research on the effect of TV on young children's brain develoopment was written in layperson's terms by Susan Johnson, MD, an S.F. pediatrician. I urge everyone to read it. It turns out that even "Sesame Street" for a few hours a day is too much for young brains. (Sesame street is flashy, quick- changing, and unsuited to appropriate neural development.) http://sooth.com/a/johnson.html

As for the effect of TV and video games on social development, you all probably read about the recent research which showed significantly reduced aggressive behavior when TV/video consumption was reduced. This initial study did not monitor the content of the shows/games, so it is yet to be known whether the improved social behavior was due to reduced exposure to media violence, or to the increase in time available for interaction with live human beings. The original JAMA article can be found at http://archpedi.ama-assn.org/issues/current/rfull/poa00191.html)

And then there are all the studies which show that we are raising a nation of couch potatoes - inks between hours of TV watched and school test scores, obesity, aggression, verbal and social skills...all seems like common sense. I think most of us know this, but I have been surprised that otherwise thoughtful parents have, I think in large part due to the stress of our everyday lives, not given much thought to allowing TV to be a partner in raising their children. Dr. Johnson's article, cited above, is aptly named "Strangers in Our Homes".

I worry about my daughter's former best friend, a boy of eight. My daughter no longer wants to go to his house as all he wants to do for hours and hours at a time is play computer games and watch cartoons. He even brought his Gameboy along to our shared summer vacation on a beautiful island on the Great Lakes. He couldn't be coaxed outside to swim, catch bugs, paint their bodies, build things...to him life took place on a screen. He probably spends 20 hours a week in front of a screen, which is *average* for his age (and ten times more than my kids do.)

I think that TV is a lot like junk food. A little bit now and then won't hurt - even a binge now and then - but a steady diet of TV means you're probably missing out on getting healthy helpings of some important nutrients - like imaginative play, exercise, art, poetry, reading, and conversation. Even a steady diet of PBS (which is what my kids had at one point) isn't necessarily all that great, compared to spending time reading, playing, and running outside. A few years ago, at our first kindergarten conference, my daughter's teacher told us that she assumed we didn't watch much TV. When I asked how she knew, she said that children like my daughter were becoming more rare - she has a much better attention span and ability to focus, a lively imagination which is not based on Disney characters, and a phenomenal vocabulary derived from lots and lots of books.

I'm raising my kids the way I was raised - with very very limited TV. We have family movie night every other Friday - "Duck Soup" by the Marx Brothers was a great hit with our 5 and 8 year old recently. We all watch together. When we do watch commercial TV, as during the debates, or the Olympics, when an ad comes along it is greeted with the same skepticism which which I was raised. My kids seem to be much more resilient and savvy about marketing, fads, etc. than some of their peers, who by kindergarten were already hooked on brand names. I know I can't put my kids in a bubble - that's not healthy either - but I think they can be at least partially inoculated by a skeptical approach to consuming mass media.

I don't think we want to get into a "holier than thou" place with it, where those who don't watch are better than those who do - but neither do I want to buy the argument that we *need* to watch TV in order to share a common culture. It may be true that TV is the greatest (lowest) common denominator these days, but it's nothing to be proud of, and it's nothing I want to be a part of. As for being left out of popular culture - I grew up with very limited TV - we were allowed to watch a total of 1-1/2 hours *per week*, (though when Star Trek came along my dad waived the limit for that show alone! So of course we know all the episodes by heart). Okay, I did sneak over to my friend's house to watch Dark Shadows.

I suppose I was somewhat "out of it" in terms of knowing all the TV culture references - but I was pretty good at faking familiarity with Gilligan's Island, just as my kids are very good at faking Pokemon knowledge. And on the other hand, my TV-plugged friends could also be said to be "out of it" in missing out on our truly nourishing culture - playing musical instruments, family plays, family poetry, art projects, building treehouses, playing cards, reading Greek myths, playing Scrabble, planting gardens...

It doesn't have to be all or nothing. I've put my kids in front of Kratt's Kreatures when I've needed a break, for crying out loud...but I do think there is much more to be gained by limiting or avoiding TV than there is by using it as a daily babysitter, or the default way to "zone out". People tell me their kids "need it". It is obviously a learned need. What did kids do before TV was invented? What they really need is time to cuddle with a parent and a good book, or time to build with legos, or time to putter around doing nothing. Sure, I grew up in a time and place in which I could just go play at the corner with the neighbors, and I had three siblings to play with, and my Mom was at home. But even though times have changed, there are plenty of families with one kid and two working parents who've managed to turn off the TV. These kids have vivid imaginations, superlative vocabularies, and rich inner resources that will carry them through life. That's a greater gift than the highest score on Duke Nuke 'Em or encyclopedic knowledge of every Scooby- Doo episode, no? Natasha


I agree with Ginger. In our house my husband and I set the rules regarding TV - when and how much TV can be watched and WHAT can be watched. TV's "don't kill kids", lack of parental responsibility "kills" kids. While you certainly have the right to set the rule of "no TV at all" in your own house, I confess that most "no TV" people I know are incredibly sanctimonious about it (and often about all popular culture) and impart that holier than thou attude to their children. I grew up with TV (and yes, while I have fond memories of Gilligan's Island - I also have life-shaping memories of the 60's riots and first moon launch) and I still managed to learn how to read (obsessively) AND became involved in community theater, art and social activism. Your kids will do as you do and as you guide them and as you let them do. If you read, do sports/music/art, etc. and obviously value such activities in your household, your children will too! ; And if you set clear guidelines about TV watching, WATCH TV WITH THEM (to discuss issues such as advertising, racial/cultural stereotypes, violence, etc.), TV can be not just entertainment but useful in preparing kids for the larger world. Karen
I'm wondering if any of the parents who have gone without TV could speak to whether their older child's friends prefer not to play in a no-TV household. Does the lack of TV mean that the kids are always at their friends' houses? Do the friends say, "Let's not go to your house because we can't watch TV"?
We have an almost "no-TV" household. We started early with only a few videos on weekends, but allowed watching Olympics and other special events (with appropriate parental involvement). Our children's friends while visiting rarely ask to turn the TV on (older kids are now 9 and 8) (if they do ask, we inform them that we do not watch regular TV, and they seem fine with that answer) and they find lots of things to entertain themselves - art work, building forts, develop plays, cooking, educational computer games, playing board games, etc. When my middle child visits friends, she will often get up and walk away from the TV/video after 30 minutes. She has occasionally complained that all her friends wanted to do was to watch TV (and then I heard what movies they were watching!!! yikes!) Now, when they all become teens, I can't predict what will happen then, but it's not a problem now. Janna
We turned off the TV completely--including movies--for a number of years when our kids were 2 and 3 (they're now almost 12 and almost 13). They didn't watch that much, but there were three nights in a row when they didn't even turn their heads when Daddy came home, until Sesame Street was over, and they suddenly came out of their trance.

Around ages 8-9-10, we noticed that our kids were requesting an inordinate number of playdates at the homes of people who were not especially close friends, and we figured out that they went there to watch TV. At this point, we decided we'd rather allow limited TV/movies (it is now 2 hours a week each, and they get to watch each other's, with various exceptions of more) than have them visiting people they didn't really care much about just to watch TV. (There are also the "screens" of computer games and gameboy, which we used to limit quite severely, and have loosened up on as well as the kids are older. We also take them to movies in theatres now, which we almost never did until a couple of years ago--this seems to be more important from a social hipness point of view than particular TV shows...) On the other hand, I know of "no-TV" homes where the children have little interest in TV even when they get older, so I think you have to play this issue by ear--every child is an individual.

Re whether other kids will want to come over to your house--somewhat to my surprise, we have had very little problem with this. Most kids know that at other people's homes, there are different rules and different activities, and they take it in stride. This continues to be true at 12 and 13--my kids often "use up" their TV/movie turns in one orgy, and have no turns left when their friends come to visit. Our kids are very social, and about 75% of their frequent playdates are at our home, so this is an encouraging fact. Good luck. Joan


I can speak on the subject of no TV from two perspectives; my experience growing up in a household where TV was very limited and sometimes removed altogether, and my own experience as a parent. My mother raised us in a strict home when it came to TV and movies. Being 8 years older than my 3 siblings, she had a 'Seasame Street only' mentality because she didn't want the younger ones to watch an 8 year-old's programs. The problem was that she didn't make a special time for me in which I could watch age-appropriate shows in a separate room. I grew up not being able to watch the Brady Bunch in elementary school, Magnum P.I. in junior high, or allowed to go see Top Gun in high school. I didn't even know who The Village People were until my early 20s (although friends tell me I didn't miss much there). I resented this strict upbringing, and it made me feel out of it with friends. As a journalist, I think it put me at a disadvantage not knowing 'the basics' of our American entertainment culture.

To answer your question, my younger siblings never seemed to be at a loss for friends, and our house was the one where all the kids came. When the TV was put away, my siblings would play checkers together, draw, play baseball with friends and ride their bikes. They spent a lot more time outside. When the TV was brought back out of the closet, they would resume their place in front of it, and consequently would be less creative.

Interestingly enough, as an adult, I watch very little TV, usually mute the commercials unless it's during the Olympics or the Superbowl, and married a non-TV watcher. As a result, my 13 month-old doesn't watch TV either. She doesn't know who Elmo or Barney is. She doesn't really care too much if the TV is on or off (but is facinated with the remote control, and the DVD buttons!). We've bought her some movies like Babe, Chicken Run, Tarzan, and Wallace & Grommit, but watch them only occasionally. angela


Never. TV just isn't that important. At other kids' houses they don't watch TV either. They do homework or play basketball or surf the net or listen to music or hang out or cook or eat or read or make up a game or play cards or play ping pong or do art . . . . . . .
We have so much stuff to do at our TV-free house, that neighborhood kids actually prefer to play here! carol
I raised my son without TV and it was unquestionably a pivotal decision. And a political one. I feel it made him a better kinder more progressive person and a more critical thinker (and of course other things contributed too). He missed all the ads, racism, sexism and violence.

I also excluded violent movies. He's never seen one that I know of. He wasn't interested. We talked a lot for years about these things. Still do. Orientation to the world is critical. It was part of a general education about resisting peer pressure (something which adults need as well). He was always okay about it and he and his friends did other things.

I taught him how to handle peer requests for things we don't do at our house, or alternatively to get new friends if TV was so important. I was a single mom who closely controlled where my son went so there was never a problem of "always at a friends house". I wouldn't allow that unless I knew the parents terribly well, and not even then.

I wouldn't want Jerry Springer educating my kid. Or some other parent whose standards are unclear or unknown. My kid was MY job! He is now a compassionate adult, dislikes TV, is inclined to resist social pressure, likes to be outdoors more than he likes computers, and is my good friend. It was a lot of work, but I consider the experiment a success. Christine


The only TV my 8-year old has watched is the last Olympics. It was never an option for her to come home from daycare or school and turn on the tv. She is this incredibly creative child- has always been able to amuse herself with games, play, reading etc, and loves to listen to books-on-tape. She reads constantly (I don't know what I'd do without the library) and writes on anything she can (her favorite gifts are blank notebooks). She has lots of friends and loves to engage in imaginative plan. Granted it helps that we live in a neighborhood with lots of kids and on a dead-end, where they play outside all the time in the summer and fall. She, of course, says she's bored sometimes, but not for long before she finds something in which to get involved. I absolutely attribute her incredible imagination, and love of reading and writing to not having t.v. It is simply not an option in our house and she doesn't seem to have any interest in it at all. Once recently she asked if she could watch tv to which I said "of course not," and she simply said "ok." Jane
I raised my daughter without tv until she was 12 or13 at which time she begged and cried for it saying she was the "weird" one because she didn't know what her friends were talking about when they discussed their favorite programs. I gave in and got cable. For most of those years without cable we had a VCR so she could see movies that I approved. I was *very sorry* that I allowed tv at all. It is arguable that there are some very good things on tv, but my experience was that those were things my daughter had zero interest in watching.

As for whether other kids choose not to come to your house because you don't have tv: I don't recall too much about this. Since we had the tv set and the vcr they could always have a movie. I encouraged and provided other types of activities and I think if this is done early-on other kids may find your house the one that's more interesting and engaging.

I bemoan the violence and salaciousness on tv and think kids of all ages should be directed to other engaging, positive activities rather than sitting and being passively "entertained". Linnea


We have never had a "plugged in" television since our children (8 and 6) have been born. They do not consider TV an option and do not miss it. Plenty of children come to our house and never has one of them displayed dissappointment at not watching television (even if we had a television, I would argue that play dates are about interacting, not passively watching, and would never allow them to watch during that time). To my knowledge, no play dates here have been refused because of a lack of television and even when my children visit their friends, TV is rarely offered. Most of the kids, especially those who watch little or no TV at home, have so much imagination that they play creatively and imaginatively without any help. AJPlow
My son is 10, in 4th grade, and we get no tv channels. We do watch videos and we have Nintendo 64. My son's friends love to come to our house, even though we make them turn off whatever screen they're staring at after an hour or so. They find lots of other stuff to do and like doing stuff with us too, even the 11 yr olds seem to enjoy playing board games with parents. I realize that probably won't last much longer, but it's fun now. Deborah
My kids watch tv and seem to be perfectly nice and moral people so far (9 and 12). We do try to make the alternatives equally appealing, but try very hard not to make the whole thing either a political or social issue. The major thing we do (always) is pay attention to them. If they watch garbage they're likely to have to discuss with me why it is garbage and why they are watching it.

Right this very moment they're watching a tape of "Junkyard Wars" from the Learning Channel (teams making fabulous machines out of junk to do tasks like catapulting cabbages at a target) -- and they also enjoy "Battle Bots" on Comedy Central (homemade robots doing battle one-on-one) and "Malcolm in the Middle". All three of these shows encourage thinking, problem solving, and taking life with a grain of salt. Good lessons for all of us. Heather


Eliminating or Limiting TV Viewing

1999

Now that our television is broken, our family (my husband and two young children) has the opportunity to see what is like to live without TV for a while. I would be interested in finding out how other families have adjusted to a TV free existence. How do you wean yourself and your family?

My daughter likes to watch Arthur, Blues Clues and Zoomobafu, I watch the news and my husband watches Star Trek and Discovery Channel. Occassionally we channel surf out of boredom. We rent videos once or twice a month. In addition to watching educational television my four year old watches Disney videos - I would be interested in finding out what others think. Are videos O.K. for kids? How much is too much? Is this better than watching TV?


We stopped watching TV when our daughter was about 2 years old because we really didn't like the glazed, zombie-like expression her face got fixed in whenever she watched a video or TV show. It's been great! Now in the evenings we have more time to talk, read books, or play together as a family. We missed a couple of our favorite shows at first, but after a while we didn't miss TV at all.

Of course you can't avoid it altogether--my mother-in-law sent us a video of the Lion King. Our daughter (now 4) insists on watching it every now and then. One thing I've noticed since we've stopped watching TV and videos: continual TV watching desensitizes you to violence. I never really realized how violent the Lion King is. It actually feels shocking to me today, although when I first watched it I remember thinking "what a nice children's movie."

Another plus: while all her classmates are demanding expensive brand-name toys, our daughter has none of those advertising-fed desires.

I respect your consideration of eliminating TV instead of simply buying a new one or fixing the broken one. TV has always been an issue in our household - even before our son was born, but we have managed to have happy, fulfilling lives even without Seinfeld and Barney.

We have never owned a TV, not even a small black and white that we kept hidden in the closet for special occassions! TV is just not a part of our lives. My son is five and we do not have a problem with him watching TV at his friend's houses. We are not radical, we simply do not want the stresses that TV creates in our home. At night, instead of watching TV, we take family walks. We visit friends in the neighborhood. We have long baths where my husband pulls out his guitar and sings with my son. Sometimes my husband or I will work and the other one of us will play with my son. We read a lot! And my son is not totally deprived on this kind of thing since we allow him to play on the computer for 30 minutes to an hour each day. We do not in any way miss the TV, but this could be because we never had it. We don't have a garage either or a swing set in the backyard or a dog. Some people have those, we don't.

I imagine it will take some getting used to by everyone in the family. It will certainly require more hands-on time with the kids since you can't just plop them down in front of the TV, but I believe they will eventually find other things to do. And they won't feel left out with other things to do. And they won't feel left out with their friends. My son has always been able to join the other kids when they talk about any TV-related thing, whether it be Pokemon or Blues Clues or Spiderman or Sesame Street or whatever. He is quite aware of all of the characters of Star Wars, though he hasn't seen the movie or even any of the commercials! Good luck with your decision.


I never let anyone in our family watch much TV, so weaning wasn't a problem. It's always been a special occasion to watch a tv program -- nothing regular. There are better things a child (and an adult) can do with her mind than watch tv. (Read, play games, do homework, go for a bike ride, etc.) My husband does like the 10:00 news, and he watches it in the bedroom because kids don't need to see that stuff. Videos are easier to control than tv (you have to go to the store to choose one) so if you choose well, the content is better. I still think that more than one/month is a waste of a good little mind.
When we were first married, my husband and I didn't have a tv. We would listen to talk radio and play Scrabble in the evening instead. Then somehow, we got one, and we became like most other American households, watching it from the evening news to the late night news. We realized we were watching too much, and looked fondly on our days without television. We took the step of cancelling cable, hoping to reduce the amount we watched.

Starting when my daughter was around 1, she would watch PBS both in the morning and evening, as well as some videos (like Spot). Again, I was impressed that this was too much, and tried to limit her to an hour a day. Recently we decided to move the television from the living room into our bedroon - it's not in the center of the house, and our daughter (now almost three) is not constantly asking for a movie or a show. We found this to work rather well. She now watches an hour of PBS a day, and an ocassional well chosen video. My younger daughter is just a year old, and she has no interest whatsoever in television. I wouldn't mind getting rid of it altogether, but we've decided to keep it for the sake of news, my husband and I to get a movie, etc. I really find this helps to have the TV out of the main part of the house. I only turn it on to see a specific show, and we never have it on as "background noise"


Since our divorce in 1995 I have not had a television. I have read to my son since he was 4 months old. We don't have time for TV. We read, play games, garden, play catch or tennis, do homework, take a bath (I read to him while he is in the tub) giggle,wrestle and do art work. He also entertains himself with legos and fantasy play. You will find out how resourceful everyone can be without the tv. I also limit computer and gameboy time .although, the gameboy is quite addictive, he understands that there are limits and accepts them. If limits are clear and consistent, then I find children accept them. There are several good books about the influence of tv on children's minds and health. "Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander (Quill Press). I am very opposed to the violence and sub standard programming on most channels. Disney is very violent too and many young children are frightened by the extremely evil characters Disney creates. There is quite a difference between seeing the imagery connected to violence and hearing about it in a story. Exposing children to news programs is in my mind a very harmful thing to do as the news is so violent. I do not know how a child could have a positive view of the world if they watch tv news. When my son is at his fathers he watches television, unfortunately. He returns to me imitating the body language and facial expressions of the characters in the programs he watches. It is disturbing to see the mannerisms of a cynical teenager on the face of an 8 year old and even more disturbing to hear him spout words and expressions such as "Life Sucks!!" which he picked up from the program "Friends". I watched this program with him recently at my mother's house to see what it is like: 90% of the dialogue was over his head, they seem to like the word suck and who know s what else.He asked me to explain this word and I told him that I am not ready to explain that one yet. My son knows I will explain it eventually. He has a huge vocabulary due to all the reading we have done together. I do not use curse words and neither does his dad, although he does let him watch stuff that I feel is inappropriate. I feel very sad to think that my son's first exposure to sexuality will be the negative version as presented on TV and that he is being exposed to all the sexist attitudes that are still perpetuated on TV. TV definately cuts down on children's ability to be creative, to concentrate and it is hypnotic: because of their brain development the images enter their brains in a way they do not with adults. My cousin recently put hers in the basement and her two children ages 8 and 6 are doing very well without it. They do more artwork and read and play with one another.
We let go of our cable after our then 2 year old cried when she saw someone fall on a television show. We live at the base of the Albany hill, and can't get broadcast reception. So we have no TV now. We were definitely watching it too much previously. Now we have a large collection of videos and recorded PBS children't programs that friends made for us. This way we have control. Many times something will bother our daughter and she will say "skip this." It doesn't have to be a scary part, sometimes it is just an intense person speaking loudly that will bother her. The fast forward button comes in very handy for those times. When you watch TV, the programmers and advertisers are in control, not you. We were We were visiting my parents and they had the television on. My daughter got involved with a kid's show and then a loud, dizzy commercial came on. She got a little upset because the program had been interrupted. I told her that is what TV is like. She said "I dont' like TV" and picked up the remote and turned it off. I recommend caution with regards to Disney. Just because something is Disney, does not mean it is good for kids. Their movies often have have fighting and over the top loud scary villians and people treating each other with contempt. We aren't sure when we will go back to cable and TV, but for now, videos and the radio work for us.
We got lent our TV to some friends for 7 mos. and that was enough to kick the habit (which had been 3-4 hours every night!) Now our 3-yr old and 8-mos. old get to watch videos on Wednesdays and Sundays, when we remember. And that's it. My daughter takes longer baths and paints for an hour a day. We take a walk every night after dinner, and roughhouse with our girls quite a bit. (Our poor downstairs neighbors!) It's not like more work gets done, or like a bunch of literate virtuous stuff has taken the place of TV. Having time for "doing nothing" allows us to talk and contemplate things more. It's been great and we will never regret wasting time in this way.
Just a note to agree with many of the thoughts and suggestions about TV: My 2-year-old adopted daughter spent her first year in another home with the TV on constantly, but has not seen it since moving in with me, with no apparent desire for it. Once she turned mine on by accident and seemed quite startled at first! It was a nature show and after a a few minutes of watching, she got that glazed look someone else noticed. It made me understand how easily it could be used as a pacifier/babysitter, but it also made me cringe. She doesn't watch it at home, though I won't say she never will, on a prescribed and limited basis. We listen to a lot of music and she really responds to it. (I do watch TV some after she's asleep, or get a video now and then.) I agree with all of the other possibilities for things to do instead, together or individually, and I also agree that there still aren't enough hours in the day to get everything done! (July 1999)
When my daughter was in first grade I got separated. The television went with him. We had never watched that much television, but she watched an hour or two every evening and also cartoons on weekends. I could not afford to buy another TV at the time and so we took it in stride, dancing, reading and drawing instead. About two weeks after we lost the TV her teacher called me and said: "Are you doing something different at home lately? Your daughters reading has improved dramatically! She's participating more in class, her homework is much better..." etc. etc. Mind you, she was talking about a child who was already doing well in school! That was enough for me. I did not get another television for years. Eventually someone gave us one, but the rule till this day is ..no TV on weekdays, limited movie watching on weekends. This way they learn that just because the TV is there, it doesn't have to be watched.

The benefit to us is great too. We don't turn the TV on either and there is so much to do I can't imagine when I'd get everything done if I sat down and watched television.

One more note: It's incredible how stupid some of the shows and commercials seem after you haven't watched TV for a while.


I found the comments on kids' (not) TV viewing pretty interesting. I agree that kids have a great life without TV. But I also think there are some really quality TV shows for kids on KQED-TV, and there's really nothing I can do that would take their place. There's always been a debate about the pros and cons of television, for both adults and children. I would guess that parents who work full-time find it harder to spend time taking walks than parents who don't. And what about the child who doesn't necessarily want to read or paint. Probably if you've *never* had a TV, and your child doesn't feel the pull toward the TVs in other kids' homes, it's fine. BUt if you didn't manage to dispose of that TV *before* having a child, it may not be worth the stress to be too rigid about not watching a TV that's right there for the asking. It depends on the child. My daughter has so many other interests now that she's six, so the whole TV conflict has been gradually diminishing, just naturally. But some kids are more mesmerized by it. Good luck, everybody!
We only use our tv to watch videos. Since we don't pay for cable and dont' have a fancy antenna, we don't get any stations, so there's no conflict about it--we just CAN'T watch tv. I really like this option for us since it eliminates ads, one of the worst aspects of tv for kids, I think. Also we have more control over the content, since we rent/buy the videos.

Berry Brazelton recommends having only one tv per household as a way to let parents be more involved in their kids' tv watching and to have tv time also be a time of learning to share/take turns.


My 9-year-old son would spend every waking moment on the computer if I let him. At first I limited him to an hour a day, and he was doing mostly "educational" programs. But every day I had an argument over quitting time. Just one more minute. Just have to finish this part. Etc. So we switched to one day a week, unlimited use. He chose the day, Friday. This does NOT mean he can skip other obligations for that day, however. He still has to go to school, to his after school appointments, and to any social occasions that arise. Even with the "interruptions," he gets a lot of computer time that day. He gets up early and gets ready for school and is allowed to be on the computer once that is accomplished. And because it's Friday, he stays up a little later. He has to take breaks for stretching and eating at regular intervals. He understands that if he goes to a party or a movie or something that day, he does NOT get to "make up" the time. He accepts this. Once in a while I'll let him earn some extra time (for example, playing the piano half an hour earns him 15 extra minutes), but even that is contingent on his good behavior and cooperation around the house. This system may not be for everyone, but it really works here. My son doesn't even ask for computer time if it isn't Friday. I know another family in which this works very well. As for TV, we're less regimented. The TV is in my bedroom, and he has to ask permission to watch. I agree or not depending on what's on and what else is happening. I find that my son likes rules and will move on to other things once he knows the TV or computer are not happening at the moment.
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