Children and Television Viewing

How do you feel about letting your children watch television?

I have to admit, my feelings have changed over the years. When I was a young parent, I only let my kids watch “Sesame Street” and “Mr. Rogers.” The rest of the time they played: in their rooms, in the living room, in the yard and at the park. VCRs were still new and expensive; we rented one once in a while so that we could watch a movie, and we often rented an old Disney movie for the kids.  But that was the limit of our children’s television viewing. We didn’t even buy a color television until 1989; even then we bought a tiny one, hoping its size would keep the kids from becoming addicted.

Then we had more kids. I found that homeschooling the older kids was a lot easier if the little ones had a video to watch. Yes, it was on the tiny television, but it kept them glued in one spot for a while so that I didn’t have to worry too much about someone climbing up the kitchen blinds while we worked on long division in the living room. The rest of the time, however, I limited how much television the kids could watch.

By the time we got a bigger television, the kids had become used to entertaining themselves most of the time. Sure, they had a couple of favorite cartoons that they enjoyed (I think the theme song to “Pinky and the Brain” is still lodged inside my brain!), but if the weather was nice, they always preferred playing outside.

I do have some fond memories of my children watching television. I clearly recall my eldest daughter at age eight or nine yelling “Stop!” when, while channel-surfing, we flew past a play being shown on PBS. We went back to it and she became completely absorbed in a performance of “Into the Woods.” It was the start of a love of live performances that continues on; today she enjoys working behind the scenes of plays in the city where she lives.

And how could I forget my young son and my husband gluing themselves to the television for Chicago Bulls games during those glory years of the early 1990s? How they loved watching that team together.

Over the years, even after we bought a VCR, we found that limiting but not eliminating television worked for our family. It probably helped that we never had cable television, so our family was limited to a handful of local channels. Today I’m not aware of my adult kids being channel-surfers, although they do like watching movies and television series on DVD.

However, I must confess that our youngest is television-addicted. Josh is typical of many people with developmental disabilities in that he loves certain movies. He will not only watch his favorite Disney movies over and over, but he’ll also sing along, belting out the lyrics by memory. Since he has speech delays, it’s good for him to sing, and to reenact his favorite scenes. It also gives him great joy.

So, I don’t think the television is a bad thing, if you control its use. Unlike this mom, I don’t believe your child will become a genius if you withhold television viewing from her. But I do think unregulated amounts of it will make dummies out of children. I think we see the proof of that decades-long trend all around us these days, don’t you?

6 thoughts on “Children and Television Viewing

  1. Great observations, Barb. I think you definitely have to know your child and monitor everything. No TV/Movies is not the way to go, I have found out because then the child is not taught to be discerning and when they are somewhere that a TV is on, like Walmart or Grandma’s, they do not know how to ignore it.

  2. In our home, when our eldest was our only, the TV was on almost all the time. I was the TV Addict. As I came to understand that nature of television: the modern man’s opiate, I came to dislike it more and more, but didn’t get rid of it until we physically moved to a new state.

    That move was life-altering in many MANY ways. We didn’t get cable or dish or anything like that. Now, we don’t even have the hardware to attempt to receive regular television broadcasting. And we like it that way.

    We do watch movies periodically. We watch them online and in video/DVD form. But our consumption is minimal. Some weeks the girls will watch a movie a few days each week – based on some predetermined level of task accomplishment. But ever more and more it’s extremely rare that they watch more than 3 movies each week.

    My two year old only recently became interested in movies. And she usually falls aslep whilst watching… so she’s not addicted or glued as yet. 🙂

    I think, as with most things, a TV can be a tool. When we use it as such we use it for purposes of light and improvement, but when we misuse it (to avoid life or otherwise) we bring great darkness upon us and those we love.

  3. That’s a good point, Carol. Reminds me of something a relative who lives near the Amish told us. He hired Amish girls to clean his house, and said he learned to turn the tv off before they arrived, because if it was on, they would stand in front of it, mesmerized, instead of doing their job.

    Tori, you’ve shared true wisdom here. I hope other parents take it to heart. Thanks!

  4. Great article as usual, Barbara!

    If you were to watch TV in our house, you would find a very noisy atmosphere. We regularly comment on what is happening, give opinions on what will (or should) happen next, and use commercial time to discuss the storyline. We are not really passive about our shows. 😀 I also use my TV time for exercise, usually weight training, stomach crunches and stretching. My kids have switched their favorite shows on DVD to Spanish or French dubbing just because they like to hear it in another language. TV can be a useful tool if it is used wisely. Just like computers!

    I have some issues with that article. I’m guessing her daughter is around 8 or 9 (I couldn’t find her actual age anywhere). I wondered how much of her “genius” was actually normal development for her. For example, two of my kids were slow to start with reading. It took them time and the right book to get started. My almost nine year old just picked up Harry Potter for the first time about two or three weeks ago. She’s almost done with the fourth book now. It really lit a flame for her. I would suspect the author’s daughter is reading now because she is ready for it. The same could be said about her attention deficit. Sometimes they just aren’t ready to sit down to certain activities until they are ready. Teaching watercolor, I’ve dealt with plenty of kids who couldn’t sit for more than a few minutes and then in a matter of months or years, or just because I hit on the right topic for them, you couldn’t drag them away from the paints for hours.

    Just something to think about. 🙂
    Peace and Laughter!

  5. We do watch TV. Sometimes more than I’d like. But I am picky about what. We DVR PBS shows like Arthur, Electric Company, Martha Speaks, and Ruff Ruffman. I do let them watch limited amounts of Disney as I don’t like the behavior or the messages these shows engender. We have lots of wonderful educational DVDs (nature and history mostly) and love to view them.

  6. Sorry, Cristina, just now found your excellent comment. Thanks for weighing in!

    Marlis, PBS was a big draw in our house, too. I wish there had been nature and history dvds back then as my kids would have loved them. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

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