What if little kids watch TV all day?
[From a discussion of whether young children would ever grow out of watching TV all day, a response to a response:]
What can happen?
I just can't imagine a three year old sitting still on the sofa through five movies.
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
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.
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.
What's the Attraction?
What are the Fears?
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
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!
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
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
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
Relax and enjoy the wonder of your child. :)
all is well...
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
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.
(polykow, on Unschooling Basics)
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
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
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
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
and fights over it. Jason got really upset monday when we had to leave
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
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
over at midnight last night and I still had to clean for my ILs coming
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
bias with a "zombie" child...and I have to honestly admit that we are
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
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?
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
now owns three synthesizers and plays very well, has learned a bunch about
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.
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