I took my kids off TV.
For two and a half weeks there was no Paw Patrol, no Cat in the Hat, no Curious George. Those days were long, but I learned a great deal about my kids, myself, and our relationships with television.
Let me back up and explain.
I’ll begin with a disclaimer that in during a wonderful time in my life I was a researcher of Media and the Developing Child. After getting a PhD in Sociology (which included a focus sociology of education, messages in children’s books, and child consumers, among other things) and teaching for a bit, I completed post-doctoral fellowship studying Media and the Developing Child. I was truly blessed to work with an amazing mentor at the Annenberg Public Policy Center at University of Pennsylvania in what was a truly wonderful period of learning and growth. I note this to explain that:
- I will always be tied to the academic research on children and media
- I believe media can positively and negatively affect children (and that it affects different children differently.)
So, the no-TV experiment. Before the experiment my children had watched 1 hour of screen media a day (screen media meaning TV, IPad, phones, anything with a screen) since they turned 2. The twins started a little before age 2 much to my chagrin (when you have an older kid you just make it work), but I’ve always stayed true to the AAP viewing guidelines (which is 1-2 hours/day of quality content for teens& kids 2+ years). As I tell my friends who ask, I’m more of a believer in the importance of content (what they watch) than amount (how much they watch), because I think it depends on your children. I truly believe that different kids can handle different amounts (and types) of screen media. (*If any of my former APPC people read this I’m wearing two hats these days-researcher and realistic mom).
My kids were watching 1 (commercial-free, On-Demand/DVRed) show in the morning, and one in the afternoon. It worked for awhile, until (like everything) it didn’t. They were fighting over which show to watch. They were destroying our family room during “showtime.” Logan would leave TV “rest” time in a hyperactive, anxious, and frazzled state. Jackson would retreat to his room, and refuse to play with/talk to his siblings for hours. There was more violence, more fighting, and generally more negativity following TV viewing time. So, I took action. After one particularly bad morning I told the kids that I was taking TV away. I stayed true to my words for 2.5 weeks.
Here’s what happened:
- My kids actually started playing together (without me!) more often. There were lego building marathons, dress up fashion shows, and even Jackson reading books to A & L.
- The violence decreased. There was less hitting/kicking/pushing/shoving. Mind you, these children were watching shows that are typically noted for violence (superheroes, TMNT, etc.), but it wasn’t all Mr. Rogers either.
- Logan was MUCH calmer overall.
- Jackson engaged with us much more than he was before I took away TV
- After I “gave” TV back, they were happy with 1 show, and were more willing to agree on a program.
Obviously, I wasn’t controlling all variables, but I was pleased to see these changes. They fact that they were playing together more was very heart-warming to me. And, I obviously let them watch TV again after the 2.5 week hiatus. (I caved at 5:30 one morning when I wanted to workout in peace without the door to my Pilates zone being open and shut 10X during my workout.)
Before you write me off completely, please understand that I don’t think this is a course of action for all families. My best friend and I have totally different approaches to media for our kids, and I 100% respect her beliefs. I truly believe that her kids (and maybe your kids!) can handle more screen media than mine. I think it’s about knowing your kids, and knowing what they can handle. Sadly (for me!) my boys cannot handle very much television.
My goal (in life/parenting/my health/my eating) is to strive towards balance. It’s not realistic to think that my children will never watch TV, and I would go crazy without some type of down time for me! What I can do is try to find the tipping point between enjoying our “show time,” and collapsing into a big hot mess.
I’m not itching to try my experiment again anytime soon (especially with the cold weather looming!), but I’m not sad that I did it, either.