TV or No TV?

As an experiment, we banned our kids from watching TV mid-week (like my Dad did to me.) How did they react?

I love good TV and when I find a show that I love, I’m all-in. Over the decades, there have been many shows I’ve truly loved: Friends, The West Wing, Ally McBeal, ER and, more recently, 24, Law & Order, Greys Anatomy, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Homeland, Downton Abbey. And many more in between. In fact, I’ve loved many of these shows and their characters so much so that I follow and often tweet with them on Twitter, which makes me feel ridiculously happy. (Yes, I know these are not real people but, please, indulge me.)

Back when I was a kid, I watched a lot of TV, like most kids do today. Saturdays, in particular, you’d find my brother, sister and I lounging around watching Noel Edmands’ Swap Shop in the morning and Doctor Who in the afternoon. And much more. Until the day that my Dad decided we watched too much and it was, in his opinion, harming our grey matter and ruining our chances of future brilliance.

He took away the TV for a whole year; locked it up in a cupboard. Twelve months later, we kids were social outcasts, unable to join in the conversations at school about whatever were the latest goings-on on the popular shows. It stunk, big time.

When Dad eventually returned the TV, much to our jubilation, watching it came with terms and conditions. Dad and demanded we sign a "TV Charter", which listed the rules that were to govern our TV watching. I remember, in particular, one clause relating to when we were allowed to watch TV mid-week during the day. “Only if genuinely ill and in bed,” the charter stated.

Did Dad’s extreme measures make an iota of difference to the amount of TV I watch? Not one teeny bit! I'm still a TV fiend.

Fast-forward to present day. I read in emarketer that, according to Nielsen, 2- to 11- year olds average 23 hours 34 minutes per week watching “traditional” TV. That’s almost one whole day per week spent in front of the tube – like non-stop Dora, Yo Gabba Gabba, Power Rangers, Clone Wars, Pokemon, Disney, iCarly and so on! (By comparison, time spent online was just shy of 2 hours per week.)

Even before reading this, I was feeling concerned by the amount of TV my kids were watching, even though we were limiting it to 30 mins each evening mid-week and longer on weekend mornings. The problem wasn’t so much what they were watching but their stroppy behavior when asked to stop watching and the spiraling moods as bedtime closed in.

Three weeks ago, after displaying some particularly bad behavior, we banned the TV in the evenings for a week as punishment. The first night the kids complained vigorously. “We’re so bored,” they moaned. “There’s nothing to do.”

The second night, we discussed their options for evening entertainment before they had a chance to start complaining (they built forts.) By the third evening, there was no discussion, they headed straight for their books, crayons, and toys and played. And guess what? Bath time and bedtime were less highly-strung, more relaxed and everyone went to sleep calmer and happier.

We’ve so enjoyed the transformation that we’ve decided to make it half-permanent. No TV in the evenings Monday to Wednesday. Honestly, I don’t think the kids have even noticed. My son heads straight to his books, my daughter to her Transformers. It’s a beautiful thing.

And, best of all, I can catch up on emails, blogging—and tweeting with my imaginary TV friends!


Samantha McGarry lives in Framingham and works in Waltham. She's a working Mom, juggling her career, family, household and life one crazy day at a time—with a smile on her face. You can read more of her blogs at Keeping the Glass Half Full.

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Shannon Pataky February 12, 2013 at 03:11 PM
Growing up, the tv was always on. Someone always had something to watch. Mom watched the waltons and other old shows, dad was sports, younger brothers watched cartoons, and I kept MTV on whenever no one else was using it. We didn't do much though. My kids have a much busier life. The tv is on in the morning, but I'm usually watching the today show, and for the most part, the hour they are getting ready is pretty entertaining and educational (my 7 year old loves where in the world is matt lauer, and I foundly remember watching the royal wedding with her at 5am). Other then "hey, cool, you finished homework and snack, we have 10 minutes, why don't you catch the end of a show before we run out the door again", my kids earn their tv time. this includes to use the xbox. We have a chore chart on the fridge and if they do the chore, they get a magnet under their name for however many minutes that chore was worth (1-10). OR they can convert those magnets to money (which they both almost always do) and get paid for it. It works. No arguments about tv, because they want to save the magnets for cash for the weekend to spend.
Samantha McGarry February 12, 2013 at 04:14 PM
That's a great approach; we do the same thing for earning screen time on iPad or laptop.
Kirsten Vandijk February 13, 2013 at 12:43 PM
With seven kids in the family, my Mom learned quickly that TV made a great babysitter. I remember watching Rocky and Bullwinkle and wondering if the Professor and MaryAnn would ever kiss.
Brian Northborough February 13, 2013 at 02:05 PM
On Friday, during the snow day, my daughter was checking out the HDTivo and asked if we could watch Nova. I love PBS programming and was happy to see she was interested...We watched 4 straight...Egyptian Chariots, Volcanoes, Neanderthals and Viking Swords...All educational for young and not quite as young...TV doesn't always have to be mindless sludge food...If you make educational programming exciting they'll never know your teaching them!
Samantha McGarry February 13, 2013 at 04:07 PM
So true Brian, my kids are always intrigued by National Geographic stuff. However, if they are left in charge of the remote, they all to quickly find something less wholesome!


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