TV or not TV?

How much media do you let in your kids' lives? What's your own relationship to the glowing box? Salon's reader community, Table Talk, weighs in this week.


Salon Staff
January 18, 2008 3:47PM (UTC)

Family Life

Kids & Media: What's Your Take?

thatsheila - 11:46 am Pacific Time - Jan 16, 2008

In a media saturated world, we all have to make judgments about how to screen/censor/guide or live and let live with regard to our children's media diet. How do you handle television, books, movies, and branded toothpaste and underwear in your home? What's your media philosophy?

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I'm working on a doctorate in media studies, but I am one of the least wired people I know. We don't even have a TV in our house. We started letting our son watch one DVD per weekend day around the time he turned 2 -- and I feel conflicted about that! We never buy him toys that make noise when you press buttons, and I put the ones his grandparents send away in a closet, only to be taken out when they visit.

I just don't think there is any redeeming value to television, lots of content I don't want my child exposed to, and I don't think kids really learn by pressing buttons.

Not to sound judgmental or anything. Seriously, I know that if I were SAH, we would have a much more permissive media environment, because I would need the help of media to keep my son occupied and give me some space.

On the other hand, we have TONS of books in our house, and the lad loves them, especially song books. But then, I have to admit, there are ideas in the songs he sings that I don't want him to absorb and accept, either.

Jenni P - 12:16 pm Pacific Time - Jan 16, 2008 - #4 of 113

We probably watch too much TV on the weekends, but I try to limit Evan to a few of his favorite Noggin shows or DVD most weekdays. He's easily distracted (from the television) and loves to read books and do puzzles, so we haven't really run into him begging to watch anything except when he is sick. We did have to wean him off of "Drake and Josh," a Nick show he saw at his cousins' house and fell in love with. There's too much name-calling and slapstick on most TV shows and this one's no exception. At 3, I just don't want him talking in the sassy tone heard on "tween" shows or modeling the hitting, pushing, etc., as seems to also be prominently featured on so many shows these days.

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Christine E. - 12:43 pm Pacific Time - Jan 16, 2008 - #12 of 116

My daughter (age 6.25) watches way more TV and movies than I ever thought we'd allow when she was younger. Since Christmas when she got them as gifts from relatives, she's been playing on the Webkinz and Shining Stars Web sites, so we've included time on the computer in our policy about her daily screen time allowance.

We have digital cable and a DVR and we decide what shows we'll record for her to choose among. She can watch On Demand programs with our permission. This allows us to pick the programs based on our own criteria, and keep better track of what and how much she's watching. The DVR and On Demand make it far less tempting to just turn on the TV and channel-surf for whatever happens to be on. We turn the TV on to watch something specific (or for a specific amount of time), and turn it off when that program is over. If the show has commercials -- and a lot of the stuff we record for her doesn't -- we skip them. That's how we watch grown-up shows too, so she knows that in our family, we skip the commercials.

On the occasions when we happen to see commercials in her presence, we talk about how most products aren't as great as they seem on the ads and how they make you want to spend money on stuff you don't really need. Lately we've been talking about how ads for cosmetics are intended to make you feel that you don't look good enough unless you use them. We've been analyzing commercials and making a game of guessing what they want you to think the product will do for you. As she gets older, reads more widely*, and is exposed to lots of pop culture at school, it feels less and less important to keep her from watching TV and movies, and more important to teach her how to make sense of the messages in them.

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thatsheila - 03:10 pm Pacific Time - Jan 16, 2008 - #29 of 116

The biggest issue I have with TV in our family is that it takes time that would be spent on other things. I worry about the teen years, when I'll have less ability to encourage them to spend time reading. Second irritant, now that my older son is in the Cartoon Network demographic (and we don't have TiVo) is the ads. I have doubts that TV watching has any lasting impact on learning or intellect, although I used to believe that more strongly, so maybe I'm rationalizing about that.

There are several things here that resonate with me. Time watching TV is time we could be doing other things -- check. People are always amazed at all the stuff we do on the weekends (farmer's market, church, museums, long bike ride, etc.) and I am sure that we are driven to do it because we must, lacking many entertainment options inside the house. Also, our family time is so limited, I don't want to spend it in front of the TV.

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Not that I think we're sealing our child off from the world of media -- but I do want to keep my hand on the throttle until he's pretty darn cooked and ready to go off in the world and make his own choices about how he'll live.

Christine E. - 04:11 pm Pacific Time - Jan 16, 2008 - #33 of 116

My 3 siblings and I grew up with few limits on TV and we all still watch a fair amount. All of us have also always been bookworms. Despite my nonstop diet of brain-destroying television, I still somehow find the time to read 2 or more books a week, not counting audiobooks, which I usually have on when I'm alone in the car. I would have received a Ph.D 12 years ago if I hadn't burned out on grad school after I finished all the coursework and passed my qualifying exams (working on my dissertation now, though). I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be significantly more active if I didn't have a TV. I'd just be inside reading or writing or doing something crafty.

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I support people's choice to have little or no TV at home for themselves and their kids. It's certainly not necessary for a happy life, and you probably do use the time you're not watching TV to do beneficial things. But I'm not crazy about the blanket generalizations about people who watch television.

Sky Bluesky - 08:32 pm Pacific Time - Jan 16, 2008 - #44 of 117

I watched tons and tons and acres and acres of tv, but i was also a voracious reader. But ... I was an enormous tv head.

I read enough of the studies (read: the headlines describing the studies) that I didn't want Oliver watching tv before he was two years old. That seemed like common sense to me. So he didn't -- at home. But his daycare had him watch a little tv every once in a while. This disturbed me, but I let it go because our chances of finding a tv-free daycare were slim to none.

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Now, he gets the idea that he can put shiny discs in the funny machine and Charlie and Lola movies will come out. (He owns 2 DVDs: Charlie & Lola, and Schoolhouse rock.) We let him watch a little tv (like twenty minutes) either in the morning or at night. It's not even a once-a-day occurrence yet.

I hate and resent all the licensed character crap out there, and have a knee-jerk violent reaction to most of it. Mrs. B got him a Dora toothbrush, and I nearly threw it out of the house. But I relented. I was afraid for a while that he would think "Dora" was the name for a toothbrush, but he's determined that the proper name is, in fact, "toothbrush."

But he reads and reads and reads. He owns more than 100 books, and he loves reading. He still treats books as his favorite "toy" and we regularly read him between four and ten books every day. So that's something.

Sheera Queen of the Universe - 10:02 pm Pacific Time - Jan 16, 2008 - #55 of 117

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Oh goodness, where do I start? Um let's see. Growing up, I had no limits on TV, for the most part - I could watch whatever I wanted to watch before 6 p.m. The news came on at 6 and my parents pretty much monopolized it after that. I think that's probably why I was also such a bookworm. I had a friend who really had no limits on her TV watching (single mom, only child, three TVs in the house) and I can remember really boring playdates at her house, where she would stare at the TV the whole time, like a zombie. But she's really smart -- has her doctorate in some sort of anthropology now.

In any case, three kids, ages 6, 11, and almost 13. They have few limits on their television. The older two just have to be aware of what they're watching when the little one is awake and about, and they can't hog the remote -- they have to let her watch shows she likes, even if they're boring as hell to them. The almost 13 year old also has ADHD, and I was one of those moms who didn't let him watch TV at all before he was about 20 months old or so. And then his sister was born, and I'd turn on the TV in the hopes that I could catch a small nap while he was entertained and the baby was napping. The other two have had fewer limits on their TV watching, but neither has ADHD.

As for computer time, they are each allowed 30 minutes per day, unless they need more to complete school-related work. The 6 year old has certain sites she's allowed to visit, and I'm less strict with the older two. The computer is in the main area of the house, though, so we are able to monitor what they are doing the whole time they are on the computer. The older two have e-mail addresses that I have the password to, and we have the understanding that I will check their in boxes at random times. So far, we haven't had any problems with that.

The main rules at our house related to television/PS2/computers are: all homework has to be done, you may have 30 minutes of one of them per day (unless special arrangements have been made in advance) and parents have final veto power over programs/games/websites. And if you're behaving inappropriately with any of them, you lose the privelege for awhile.

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I think it helps that we only have one TV and it's also in the main area of the house. Most people around here boggle that our kids don't have their own TVs in their bedrooms, but that's my own personal pet peeve, and so it probably won't ever be happening here.

Quandong - 02:36 am Pacific Time - Jan 17, 2008 - #60 of 118

I'm having difficulty putting my thoughts together on this issue, mostly because I do feel some knee-jerk defensiveness and I'm not really sure why. It's certainly nothing that anyone here has said, everyone has points that I agree with about restricting/prohibiting TV. It's probably that, like many TTers by the sounds of things, I thought we would be watching less TV than we do.

I guess I kind of have a reaction against the idea that Television as a medium in general is a bad thing or is harmful to children. I have no problem at all with the idea that many, many shows that purport to be for children are pretty crappy content-wise and/or nothing more than extended advertisements and that these shows are horrible.

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I do, however, think that there are some kid’s shows that are great and that can be as entertaining and educative as pretty much anything else a kid does. We’ve sung songs and danced with TV programs. We’ve had imaginative play loosely based on the shows or characters. In many ways it is just another medium to build on, like stories from a book or from a live show or whatever.

The problems I have with television watching for children, probably in order, are:

* It’s sedentary. Too much sitting on their bums is bad for kids (and adults for that matter). The same though can be said about reading or putting together jigsaw puzzles or whatever.

* The advertising. I detest and refuse to accept the increasing commercialisation of childhood and so I hate TV commercials like a great white hot hatey thing. This is pretty easily sidestepped by not watching commercial or commercialised TV. We watch mostly DVDs, but there is also the public broadcaster which has some excellent content for kids.

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* Violence and Sexism and Such. Some TV shows may contain concepts that I don’t agree with. Eventually, I actually want my kid to be exposed to these kinds of things so we can talk about them, which is another reason I like DVDs – you can pause and explain them. I really value critical thinking and it is something I mean to do what I can to encourage as he grows up. I mostly keep him away from this sort of stuff now, (because he’s, y’know, two) but not too far into the future I want to be having debates about the rights and wrongs of pink only for girls or blue for boys and Why You’re Not Allowed to Have a Gun.

BaileyQuarters - 07:35 am Pacific Time - Jan 17, 2008 - #81 of 119

I have a friend who grew up with no television. Arguably, she is probably the most intelligent person I've ever known. But she is not able to participate in some discussions that begin with "What I saw on TV ..."

Anyone could argue that it speaks volumes about both her and the TV watchers, but more often than not, she is the outlier and feels excluded and "out of it."

I think the big point a lot of people here are making is that balance is the key.

For me, TV is fine. I love it for many reasons. As I love books and movies and board games and just running around doing nothing in particular, with no specific agenda.

Lynn - 08:09 am Pacific Time - Jan 17, 2008 - #88 of 119

I watch shallow crap and my kids do too. My son comes home from school for lunch and we watch "I Love Lucy" or "Fairly Oddparents" together. It gives him a much-needed chance to decompress--he's pretty intense-- and a time for us to be together but not annoying each other.

I like to watch things with my kids as a shared experience, and some of them have odd themes, like "Ugly Betty" and "Project Runway." When they want to watch things like Aquamarine, I might watch the first time but not the 25th.

For the most part, they're nice, respectful (to people other than their parents ) kids. DS (10) likes to read, though, like everything, it doesn't come easy to him so he doesn't lose himself in books like I used to. DD (7) isn't much of a reader, but right now is focusing on socializing. Maybe reading will come later.

TV has a big impact on kids in general, so I find that having a common language helps the kids understand some of the social shoals they encounter at school. Also, the difficult themes they encounter on TV can provide some learning opportunities and conversations at home.

I like books, but I also don't see any particular virtue in them vs. other media. Books can be just as trashy as other media, for one thing. Also, I have found that encountering difficult issues in books can be different, mainly because reading is a more private experience and DS can gloss over them because he thinks it might be an issue of vocabulary, or he can make (erroneous) assumptions, unchallenged by the outside world. When it's a shared experience (and this can be books I read to him, but also TV) it puts the idea out there to talk about or challenge.

I am in the minority among my friends. Most of the people around here are very anti-tv and movies. My neighbor says that it TV is a passive medium. Maybe it's the way we watch it -- deliberately, using TiVo, and never as background noise, but I have never found it to be passive.

Best of Table Talk is an ongoing feature of Salon's vibrant community forum. Older posts of the week may be found in TT. Want to join the discussion? Sign up here.


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