What if little kids watch TV all day?
What can happen?

[From a discussion of whether young children would ever grow out of watching TV all day, a response to a response:]
I just can't imagine a three year old sitting still on the sofa through five movies. My last three year old was always doing something else AND watching movies. He always had a toy in his hand or something spread out on the floor. He listened to the movie with one ear while he made noises with his airplanes, or he glanced at the screen while he drew a picture, until his favorite part came on.

My kids did exactly this when we first moved here in the middle of August and we got cable for the very first time (previously, we'd gotten 2-3 channels in on our antenna at our old house and there were rarely shows of interest to them.) They were now exposed to cartoons 24/7 (heaven of heavens to them!) and sometimes would even stay in front of the TV not only all day, but most of the night as well, only to wake again in the morning and ask first thing, "Can I watch TV?" It really irritated me. i worried for their health and my sanity.


What's the Attraction?
What are the Fears?

Sandra Dodd:

It seems what will cause a kid to watch a show he doesn't want to watch is parental disapproval. If he's been told it's too scary, too adult, or forbidden, his natural curiosity might cause him to want to learn WHY. My kids, with the freedom to turn things on or off, turned LOTS of things off, or colored or did Lego or played with dolls or action figures during "the boring parts" (often happening to be the adult parts—what did they care?) and only looked back up when happy music or light or dogs or kids got their attention again.
Robyn Coburn:
It has been the most pronounced incidence of synchronicity that I have yet noticed on the lists where there have been three mothers posting almost the exact same sentiments on three Unschooling lists, specifically expressing the same concerns about "limiting to appropriate content" with children of varying ages, from 2 yo to 6 year olds, to a 10 yo, and a 14 yo.

This is not really the forum for a lengthy dissertation into the discourses of television comedy, or a dissection of the semiotics of the sitcom as a depiction of the American family - as entertaining as I would personally find writing such an essay.

Nor is it necessarily as helpful to get into a lengthy "I don't like show X"..."Oh I like show X a lot" debate - because tastes differ, definitions of "vulgar" or funny differ, and it doesn't really get any further into the principles behind the ideas of choice and learning.

There seem to be two issues in reference to the content of tv programs or movies. The first is the idea that the content, while not necessarily objectionable in itself, is too "mature" for the children - either too scary or too sexually explicit seem to the main concerns.

In the first situation I have found, similarly to what others have reported, that Jayn is very good at self-care if she starts to become scared of images, sounds or characters' behavior. She also seems to have developed her own specific coping mechanisms for exploring the scary stuff including fast forwarding, going away for a minute, desensitizing herself with repeated gradual exposures, and role-playing games. I too have learnt the kind of music or images that disturb her, and will warn her if a program seems likely to be scary.

In the case of sexually explicit - and people have different places where they will become concerned - I have found, again similarly to what others have reported, that Jayn has zero interest in the sexual or even mere romantic antics of people on tv. She certainly is not seeking it out. If something comes on in the course of changing channels or she walks into the other room and something is on, she gets a kind of "that looks stupid" expression and usually totally ignores it. At around 3, she used to enjoy "Sex and the City" because she liked the pretty dresses and sparkles, and would just go play with her dolls during any of the incomprehensible to her sexual scenes. Now she just lumps adult themed shows of any kind (eg police drama) together as "boring" or "stupid garbage" and asks for Disney channel. It is only a matter of time before she starts expressing ideas and seeking clarification (her version of asking questions) on the odd sexual scenes she bumps into at times on tv.

I will add that I believe that she will start seeking out or being attracted to programs with sexual content (of any kind) at the appropriate developmental time when her inner questioning arrives at that place - or to put it conversely, she won't be interested until and unless she is "ready" to receive that kind of information, coupled with the additional guidance that I will be able to give her about the level of reality that she is seeing. I try to see every new program as an opportunity for more communication between us.

The second issue of concern has to do with the "family values" and behavior and relationships of characters in the shows. I have to agree that both the characters and the situations in teen sitcoms and movies often depict values that are in conflict with the ideas of Unschooling, including lousy parenting, adults as adversarial and dumb simultaneously, and sibling conflict portrayed as normal and acceptable.

However whether these values are going to be genuinely internalized and adopted by our children is another question. I personally doubt it, despite the experimental forays into these less than charming behaviors our kids sometimes engage in. I am seeing it for the first time - Jayn has started calling me "stupid head" at odd times - from "Lilo and Stitch" (movie). I have Trust that it will get old soon. I also endorse the idea of talking over in a genuine way specific behaviors or ideas, rather than making a negative assessment of the show your kid loves. (I come and blurt the latter onto the lists instead of onto Jayn). ;)

Aside from the fact that I doubt that any of us are remotely like any of these detached, authoritarian or befuddled parents, the biggest, hugest, most significant difference between our children and 100percent of the kids portrayed on any of these shows is: they are all in mandatory school.

These TV children's primary bonding relationships are shown as being with their friends and age peers, and with few exceptions, the majority of their time is spent in the school hallways, on school related projects, including some really contrived nonsense, and conversing with each other about school stuff or school people. Additionally, with the one exception of Ren Stevens who likes it and is a butt of humor for that reason, they seem consider school a necessary evil.

I believe that these shows portray a heightened and exaggerated depiction of what we Unschoolers would consider some of the very real negatives of school as they apply to family life - the appropriation of almost all time with the concomitant disintegration of close family relationships, the culture of peer approval and cliques and personality labeling ("jocks", "geeks", "popular girls", etc), the separation and fostering of distrust and disconnection between parents and children, the adult (parent or teacher) as both incomprehensible and a killjoy even while they are "humorously" infantile (esp. males), children as directly powerless in the face of school or parental rules so resorting to underhand strategies (hi jinks ensue! :P~~).

The entertainment value of these shows to schooled children, who undoubtedly recognize themselves to a much greater degree, is likely partly in that very separation from the parents. The tv kids usually spend almost no time in class of any kind - more wishful thinking for the schooled kids. It is possible that these tv kids have more personal power and autonomy than the real children - they certainly will do more outlandish stuff. The didactic "mother knows best in the end" message of most of these shows, is a small price to pay (I mean for the schooled child viewers) for getting to watch people make really dumb choices (dumber than they might make irl) and follow through the absurd results. I notice that "grounding" is the universal punishment, applied even after the "lesson" has been learned.

I suspect that most of our children have much less identification with the characters. Maybe they watch this stuff with the same sense of disbelieving astonishment that some of us apply to Jerry Springer, or with the same curiosity as pausing to view a car wreck or collapsed building. It is the very "otherness" of these families that makes them interesting.

I asked Jayn what she likes about "That's So Raven", her current favorite. I discovered that her attraction to the show comes from her enjoyment of Raven's dress up as odd characters antics, and also she likes Raven's regular clothing which is heavy on the sparkle, feathers and embroidery. We record the programs, and sometimes if one of the other characters is the featured story that day, she will ask me to skip over those scenes that do not include Raven herself. In other words the actual narrative or internal "logic" is irrelevant to Jayn's enjoyment.

In the past Jayn has included shows that I don't like (for values) in her viewing schedule. Her interest has waned, not because I made any attempt to limit, but because she received all she needed and her interests matured. We had lots of conversations about specific moments that I disapproved of, along the lines of other choices the characters could have made in those moments.

Unlike schooled kids, our children have the opportunity to continue to have authentic relationships with us. We can continue to be the first and primary values influence in their lives, as well as their strongest safety net, regardless of what tv shows they like. I hope that it is our huge presence in their lives, and willingness to really listen without a hidden agenda, that will ultimately mitigate any of the experimental "bad" behavior that they may try on.

Robyn L. Coburn
September 2005

I tried play-doh, new art supplies, going for a walk, playing outside, offering to take them to the park, everything I could think of, and it didn't let up any. I started just leaving it be and trying to trust that they were digesting it as they needed to and all was well. I brought their food to them instead of griping about them not coming to the table (though I still miss our table time) and I sat with them while they watched some shows that I thought at first glance were asinine...turns out they're really funny! Beyond that, it was clear that they were getting plenty out of what they were watching...it was sparking them in ways that surprised, amazed and even sometimes embarrassed me.

Now that some time has passed, i see them doing stuff while they watch like Karen was talking about...playing with blocks, dough, trains, dolls, drawing, stuff like that. And they're spending less time watching...some days not at all and other days it seems like they rarely leave it. The only thing that bothers me about it now is that on those days when they are sitting for the majority of their awake time, they're usually jumping around and bouncing off the walls at night. We talk about how there's all this extra energy in them and how can we get it out so we can wind down and stuff...that helps.

I've had to let go of what seems to have value to me and let my children find value in their own lives and their own experiences...that's so huge. I always thought I was doing them a favor by first not having a TV and then later, restricting their watching time. it seemed unhealthy. My perspective has shifted so that I can honor my babies in each of their worlds and be amazed at how happy they can be about things i would never have dreamed for them. I learned to truly trust them to be whole and i became more of partner in crime with them rather than a dictator over them. I learned that sometimes they do know better than me and that they are perfectly competent beings.

So anyhow...know that this is definitely normal. It may or may not go away, and that's ok. There is plenty of value in TV/movies. It's as much of a dream world for kids as books (if not more). I know it can be frustrating when its all new to you... I can't tell you how many times I wondered if I wasn't doing something horrible my letting my children watch as much TV as they wanted. I was sure it would backfire and that it would make my kids passive. They're still lovely and beautiful and full of life....driven from the inside instead of following my lead so much.

Relax and enjoy the wonder of your child. :)

all is well...
love,
lisa


Young Kids and TV

My experience is that if a child or infant is not interested in TV he/she won't watch. My ds was expose to many hours of TV since he was born. ( I love TV ) but he did not watch any until he was 18 months old and found BOB THE BUILDER. At 4 he does watch TV but if something else is more interesting at that moment he has no problem just moving on from that. Also he watches a lot on discovery type stuff that you could say are "educational". He does because he wanst to. It makes no difference for me if he is watching "Mythbusters" or "Tom & Jerry". If something makes him uncomfortable he will cover his eyes or ask me to change the channel.

He has free choice and I also did when I was a kid. I love TV but if I have a good book I like it even better!! and I can't put the book down.

Alex
(polykow, on Unschooling Basics)


TV Redux
Stephanie E.

I used to restrict how much time my kids spent on the computer and tv. Felt pretty much that it was a drug and I had the proof because my oldest son would sit there and not do a thing... looking like he was hypnotized. When he went to friends' houses, if they had tv on, he would not want to play. He was much more active when the tv was off. But then when he was around 5, we started having struggles over the tv. He wanted to watch more, he would fight me to turn it off, he would whine if we were out all day and did not have time to watch tv that day (even if we had been doing fun things all day). Luckily around that time I found the unschooling.com boards.

We lifted restrictions on tv and computers about a year ago (Jason was 5 and Kyle was 2). At first there was lots of binging. But gradually I noticed something...the tv was on, but Jason was not "hypnotized" by it. He was playing with legos, playing with his brother, bouncing on the exercise trampoline, running out to do something in the other room and coming back. Basically doing all the "active" stuff he did without the tv on before. The big difference however is that we were no longer fighting about the tv and computer! And I started enjoying tv with them...before if they were watching I would feel guilty because they were not doing anything else. I have found it very freeing...I no longer feel guilty taping something that I think they will enjoy (educational or otherwise). The one drawback that I will say is that tv is no longer my ace in the hole if I need to get something done...seems if I want them to watch it, they decide they don't want to!

The other thing that has amazed me as I have let up on controls is that my kids have been making pretty darn good decisions! I too am pretty wary about our popular culture and its effect on our kids...but as I loosen up the controls, I am getting more and more comfortable with how my kids are handling it. My pet peeve used to be characters on shoes...don't know why but they bugged me. I would just steer the kids away from them. Now that I would buy them, they do not want them.

I worried about a lot of the tv programming too...I really do not like a lot of the Nickelodeon tv for older kids (love Nick Jr though!). We have TIVO (which is SO great) so mostly the kids watch what is taped whenever they want to. One day the tv was left on so the cartoons for the older kids came on. I kind of grimaced and normally would have immediately moved to turn on something else, but Jason seemed interested so we watched it (can't remember what it was, Fairly Oddparents or something like that). I found it weird, but I asked Jason if he liked it and if he wanted me to tape it for him. He said that it was ok, but no he did not want me to tape it. Just yesterday, Hey Arnold was on. It had lots of kids being really obnoxious to each other and for some reason was bugging me. I asked him if he would mind me switching to something else, since the negativity was bugging me...he said sure no problem. He also has not asked to tape Hey Arnold either. He seems curious about some of these kind of programs and watches them occasionally but he is choosy as to what he tapes. His most watched shows right now are Magic Schoolbus, Redwall, Max and Ruby, Dora the Explorer, Robot Wars and Junkyard Wars.

Now, just so you don't think that I (or my kids) are perfect(!) I will admit that some days are harder then others for me. My hubby just got a Nintendo Gamecube last friday, so that is pretty much all we have done all week. And we have had lots of adjustments and fights over it. Jason got really upset monday when we had to leave for Kyle's gymnastics class (after playing all day all weekend). The boys have fought over sharing it quite a bit. But I have told myself that it is new and this is to be expected. So instead of seeing this as "proof" of how my kids can't handle it, I have been working with them quite a bit and talking with them quite a bit. And I can see signs of it paying off... Jason has finally realized that Kyle doesn't like to play if he loses all the time and has been doing things to make it more enjoyable for Kyle. They started out arguing over who was going to play first today but have been playing most of the day without my intervention (except when I have been playing with them! They love the fact that I really am no good at these things...)

I did lose it last night when Jason was still up and bouncing all over at midnight last night and I still had to clean for my ILs coming down today...but we worked that out and we talked a bit more about how he really doesn't use up tons of his energy playing video games. But I am not going to force him to play outside or limit his gaming time. I really do think that this is just part of the transition to the addition of the new system. And I feel pretty comfortable about it coming more into balance as the newness wears off.

So, that is how this has worked in our family. And I started with anti-tv/popular culture bias with a "zombie" child...and I have to honestly admit that we are much happier and I have much more trust in my children the more control I give them.

Oh one more comment... I find it very interesting that Jason watches more tv then Kyle does...Jason is 6 and has had unlimited access since 5, controlled access before then. Kyle has had unlimited access since 2 (and wasn't much interested before then). But part of this is due to their personalities too...Jason, since he was a baby, has always liked to "be entertained". He hates to do things alone (including watching tv and playing computer games actually). Kyle likes to make up his own stories and plays by himself quite a bit more...so who knows?

Stephanie E.
2003


Direct Effects of Watching TV

[Sandra note: In early 2010, someone sent me an e-mail assuring me that tv was evil for children, and said if he/she knew me and my children that "I could point out plenty of things they did as a result of watching tv." I shared the note with the Always Learning list, and Deb Lewis wrote this:]

Why so eager to find rotten things festering inside other people?

Dylan achieved the rank of brown belt in Karate *and* Tae Kwon Do ; Five years of study and hard work and he got interested in martial arts from watching old Japanese movies. He saw those movies on TV because, well, they're old, and not shown in theaters (at least not around here) anymore.

He's learning Italian and he got interested in that from watching Italian TV on the web and from watching Italian horror movies on TV. (same deal, not shown in theaters around here.)

He got interested in digital music from music he first heard on Television and now owns three synthesizers and plays very well, has learned a bunch about electronics.

He got interested in playing the organ from watching a movie on TV, "The Abominable Dr. Phibes."
He now plays the organ really well, no lessons, just plenty of good Phibes.
(I make myself sick)

As a direct result of watching TV he learned how to use an old 16mm camera and to make stop motion films. He has a better camera today and is still making videos and taking really beautiful photographs.

As a result of watching TV he's written several stories and screen plays.

I can't begin to count the number of books he's read because he first saw the story on TV on some old Twilight Zone episode or saw a movie based on a short story or novel. Authors like Richard Matheson, August Derleth, H.P. Lovecraft, Henry James...

I have, a couple different times, tried to write all the things Dylan has learned as a result of watching TV. I haven't been able to finish. There's just too much.

Deb Lewis


Love Deb Lewis' bit about her kids exploring new things and excelling in them from the influence of tv. We have sooooo many wonderful influences in our lives from tv, too. I really don't understand people's negative opinions about tv as it's such a gift and treasure we all get so much out of--my husband and I included!

Paige Hendricks McKinney
on Radical Unschooling Info on Facebook


More on TV Principles vs. Rules Living by Choice
Raising a Respected Child other Parenting Considerations
Video Games