Family Rules about TV
Berkeley Parents Network >
Parenting, Families, & the Community >
Family Rules about TV
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
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
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
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.
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).
I highly recommend having dinners without T.V. Here are
some websites that have articles, studies and booklists
about the subject matter:
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!
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
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
Good luck with your decision.
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.
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
* Have friends over.
Be brave! Take back your evenings!
I'll get off my soapbox now.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
She told me she wasn't finished. But I think it's enough. Then, she
went upstairs to make jewelry. Good luck.
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
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.
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.
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.
WHAT is "Exquisite Corpses"? You cannot tantalize us this way. Tell, tell!
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
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.
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.)
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
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
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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."
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
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".
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
this page was last updated: Aug 6, 2005
The opinions and statements expressed on this website
are those of parents who subscribe to the
Berkeley Parents Network.
Disclaimer & Usage for
information about using content on this website.
Copyright © 1996-2013 Berkeley Parents Network