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Why parents say they don’t limit TV


Christine Della Maggiora, Consultant to LimiTV

Things I’ve heard parents say:

  • "How will I get any work done?"
  • "My children will get bored if they don’t watch TV."
  • "My child needs to relax when he gets home from school."
  • "My kids will never go for it."
  • "My kid won’t be able to join in the conversation when other kids are talking about Power Rangers."
  • "TV didn’t hurt my brain."

Feedback from parents suggests that frequently its the PARENT who wants the TV on, not necessarily the kids. We train our children to watch TV so that we can get work done. TV is a great tool for control. But hopefully, we are learning that TV is not without its side effects.

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Probably the hardest job as parents then is not weaning our kids off so much TV, but it’s weaning ourselves off so much TV. You see, if you’ve conditioned your children to watch TV so that they leave you alone, it means they haven’t learned how to play independently. It’s a cycle. They are dependent on you to provide entertainment. But if they learn how to find their own activities, they are no longer completely dependent on you (and a VCR). Especially with young children, you will still have to set up activities, suggest options, and help with directions.

It sometimes helps to be more realistic with your own time and how much you reasonably can expect to get done and also provide adequate child care for your kids. But sometimes, like when you are cooking dinner, or have a special report due, it’s reasonable to expect your kids to occupy themselves.

Will your children get bored if they don’t watch TV? Probably not. As Steve Jurovics, founder of LimiTV says in his talk, children left to their own will not sit around being bored. They will find something else to do. So be sure to provide access to a variety of activities you approve of. Unlike watching TV, kids engaged in activities are thinking, and they may think up activities you don’t exactly desire (like emptying all the shampoo bottles in the sink) so they require more monitoring than they do when they are couch potatoes. You have to be on your toes, ready with ideas. That just means working up a list of things your kids like to do and keeping it handy.

As to the argument that kids need to veg out in front of the TV to relax, I don’t have any research to refute that. But, I have seen nothing to even remotely suggest that it is true. My own experience as an adult is that I am much more relaxed after reading a book than after watching TV. I look at my own kids and I see that same pattern. (Although I have to admit, it took me several years to admit my son seemed to get revved up from TV, not calmed down.) Again, I think it’s probably more about parents’ needs than the child’s. Perhaps parents who feel kids need TV in the afternoon to relax would consider reading to the children, or having the kids read their schoolwork to the parent. If your child is home alone in the afternoon, perhaps you could make a break in the afternoons to have a phone conversation with your child and discuss the day’s events in a casual, relaxing way for both of you.

Will your kids go for limiting TV in your house? As with most parenting issues, it’s amazing how compliant kids will be when they know you mean it! So whether your kids respond to negotiation ("what would you kids like to do today instead of watching TV?") or respond to putting your foot down ("the TV does not come on until 5 p.m. - find something else to do"), if you mean it, you’ll be successful. Visit Control Your TV for suggestions about limiting television.

For the life of me, I can’t see why a parent would be concerned that their kids aren’t up on the latest TV characters. My son Max was three, had never seen a power ranger in his life, but learned their names and their colors from his preschool friends. I’m sure all the kids in his preschool pretended to be power rangers. Difference was that Max pretended to be a Power Ranger going to the library. Kids may not always like being different, but where TV is concerned, it’s a difference I’m proud of. And the fact of the matter is, there will be many times your kid is clueless when it comes to the subject of some playground conversation.

And finally, sometimes I wonder if TV didn’t, in fact, hurt my own brain. I always did pretty well in school, but when I got to college, I became acutely aware of how short my attention span was. And, I several times noticed how I couldn’t seem to do homework without the TV on. At the very least, what else might I have discovered about life if I had been looking at it instead of a TV set?

Kellogg Foundation Grant
Annual TV-Turnoff Week
Feedback from Families
Activities for Children
Products to limit TV time



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