The Idiot Box and Us: Decisions About TV

8 years ago
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For a long time I’ve held the view that TV is not great for kids. I still hold that view, but lately I’ve been reassessing how TV works in our family.

Zoe's (7 years old) current favorite movie -- Ella Enchanted. Photo courtesy Disney.

The nickname "idiot box" well describes how I feel TV and kids generally get along. You plonk a child in front of the TV and all you’ll get is a stagnant, vacant, dumbed down version of what was once an active, bright, spunky, individual. There are so many other, better, things kids could be doing.

But if I believe TV is not good for kids then do I believe it is not good for adults also?

I like watching TV occasionally. I don’t feel like it is a terrible thing for me to be doing, but I often feel like it is a terrible thing for my children to be doing. Isn't that a double standard? Is TV just bad in general?

I asked this question of my Facebook friends and got some fabulous, thought provoking, replies which really helped me pin down my own thoughts on the subject.

In many ways I think TV is bad for everyone: big, small, or somewhere in between.

The mindless, zombie that often (but not always) occurs in front of the TV is not a positive thing for adults or children. All of us would probably be better off reading a book, or going outside, or chatting with a friend. Television can also be oddly addictive and terribly anti social.

Of course it is an individual thing, some people (children included) seem more easily engrossed in television, whereas others can take it or leave it. However, a big difference between adults and children when it comes to watching television is that adults are better equipped to make sense of what they are seeing and better able to self-regulate what they watch and how much they watch.

So where does that leave me and TV?

Of late there has been an awful lot of TV watching creeping into our lives. The Three Year Old has been requesting to watch a DVD the second we get in the door from dropping the girls at school, and with a small baby and a To Do List a mile long, I’ve been letting him. He is much more prone to zombie TV watching than his sisters, and will happily lie on the couch and watch for long stretches of time without saying a word to anyone. Now while that means I get a lot done without a little helper in tow, I don’t like it.

The girls (who are seven) have also been watching more TV than usual, sometimes coming home from school and watching ABC 2 (a Australian TV channel that runs preschool children's programming during the day without advertisements) until I drag them away and make them wash or eat. It doesn’t feel right to me, and I’ve been feeling guilty about it.

I’ve been pondering whether I should just ban the television all together. But surely that makes me, a person who has a TV in her bedroom, who enjoys an hour or so of TV each night to help my brain stop buzzing and worrying and whirring… surely banning my children from watching TV makes me somewhat of a hypocrite?

And then suddenly the light bulb went on.

I use TV as a tool… I control the television. I use it to my advantage, so why can’t I also do that for my children? They enjoy watching TV to wind down and veg out just as I do, and I am ok with that, in small amounts, and at certain times of the day. In fact, that could work for all of us.

So now my children are able to watch an hour or so of television before dinner. It’s that frantic time of day when I am trying to get dinner finished and tidy up and get everyone washed and ready to eat. It’s the time of day when we are all tired and narky; fights break out at the drop of a hat, and I yell way way too much. It’s a time of day when I think a little vegging out in front of the TV isn’t such a bad thing. It’s a time when TV can work for us in a positive way rather than a negative, guilt inducing way.

They don’t always watch TV. Sometimes they are too busy doing other things, but they know that they can at that time of day... if they want to. I still regulate what they watch, and I’m still around while they watch it (because I think that is important), but I am done feeling guilty about them watching TV because I’m making it work for us, not against us, as part of our faily rythym….. well hopefully!

How does TV work in your house? Do you think TV is good, bad, or somewhere in between?


I'm Kate and I blog at -  about life on the Pickle Farm in rural Australia, art and activities for kids, cooking, gardening, the craziness of four small children and more!

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