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Why My Kids Don’t Watch TV: We are the 1%

Updated on May 8, 2013
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Television was invented less than 100 years ago, yet it has become ominpresent - in homes, restaurants, airports, and just about everywhere. Indeed, 99% of households have at least one TV. It’s no surprise then that people react with shock and disbelief when I tell them I don’t have one. Parents simply can’t fathom how we survive. How can we possibly get cooking and laundry done or simply get a much needed break? Are we Amish? Do we want our kids to be social outcasts?

What’s more interesting to me are that some parents seem personally offended that we don’t have a TV, as if we’re depriving our children, or, worse, that we are doing them harm. I’m surprised at how often I have to defend my decision to do something that is beneficial for my children.

The research is clear: TV watching, especially in excess, contributes to obesity, poorer academic performance, and increased aggression and fearfulness. So, why do so many parents ignore American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations to limit TV viewing among children?

Kids and TV Watching

The AAP recommends that children under 2 watch no television and that those over 2 limit their TV viewing to less than two hours per day.

Today, kids are watching more TV than ever, an average of 3-4 hours per day. Virtually all households have a TV (99%), with 36% of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers having a TV in their bedrooms. That number rises to 71% of 8-18 year olds. In addition, 67% of kids under age 6 live in homes where the TV is on all or most of the time.

Why Our House is TV-Free

My husband and I both grew up with very limited television. When we moved in together, we had cable, but rarely watched it. When we bought a house, we never bought a TV, never got cable, and never looked back. For us, not having a TV was somewhat of a non-decision.

Tempting as it is at times to plop our kids in front of a video, we have remained resolute in our decision not to have a TV. Don’t get me wrong, my children (ages 2 and 5) do watch the occasional video or movie for entertainment - it’s just not part of our daily lives and we plan to keep it that way.

Myths About Kids and TV

I’m not on a crusade to have everyone throw away their TVs and there are plenty of articles out there about how TV can be harmful. But, I would like to dispel some myths about the benefits of TV that I have heard in talking other parents.

Myth: TV helps kids go to sleep
Many parents have their children watch TV right before bedtime in hopes that it will help them wind down and sleep better. Research, however, says that the opposite is true. A 2008 study from the University of Washington saw that the more TV kids watch during the day, the worse their sleep habits at night and naptime. According to the Seattle Children’s Research Institute, sleep disturbances increased for children exposed to violent media (including animated violence), but even just watching non-violent TV before bedtime is associated with sleep disturbances.

Myth: TV is educational
For children under 2, research shows that there are no educational benefits from watching any kind of TV and that TV can actually be detrimental to language development. For older children, there may be some potential educational benefits of high quality programming, but only 1 in 8 children's TV shows meet high quality standards. What's more, research shows that TV for children over 2 are related to decreased academic performance, decreased creativity, and increased rates of attention deficit disorders later on.

On the other hand, the benefits of parent child interaction in improving cognitive development are well documented. Interacting with your kids by reading, singing, and playing, are known to contribute to healthy brain development and better educational achievement. Even children playing independently helps stimulate healthy brain growth and learning.

Myth: It’s great bonding time for the family
Some families do watch TV together, and it can be fun to share the experience of watching a show or movie, laughing at funny parts, and recapping which parts you enjoyed. However, time spent watching TV, even if it’s done together, takes away from time spent building relationships through interaction, talking, sharing meals, or playing games.

Myth: TV is necessary so your kids will fit in
While it is true that kids who watch TV may have an easier time joining in on lunchtime conversations about Phineas and Ferb or The Simpsons, research has shown that kids who watch TV actually have worse social skills. This makes sense because they spend less time interacting with others. While some kids may focus their relationships on talking about the latest TV shows, most kids have a wider range of interests on which to base their friendships.

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Benefits of Limited or No TV

Children Become Better at Entertaining Themselves
Parents fear that if their kids don’t watch TV that they will never get anything done. It’s true that parents who limit TV spend more time actively engaging with their children. This is a good thing, but not always possible. But, kids who live in TV free homes tend to find other ways to entertain themselves and play more independently. In fact, recent research suggests that boredom can be good for children. It forces them to explore new interests, be creative, and learn about the world around them. They spend more time with friends, playing outside, reading, and learning.

Parents Are More Creative in Finding Ways to Entertain Their Children
Parents need a break. It’s important for children to learn that they sometimes need to leave mom and dad alone. Sometimes this means they will play independently, and sometimes it means mom and dad need to be more creative about ways to keep them busy. At dinnertime, I often put my kids to work helping with some aspect of dinner prep or put out an art project to keep them busy.

With a little creativity, parents can figure out ways to keep their kids busy so they can get things done without using the TV. Put my son in front of a puzzle, and he’ll usually play for a while. Give my daughter some kid-friendly scissors and a few pieces of paper, and I get an automatic 15 minutes of peace.

Not Having a TV Reduces Conflict in the House
In my house, there are no arguments about what channel to watch and no whining for another show or video. My kids know watching a video is “treat” reserved for special occasions. They are very excited when they do get to watch something, but if they ask and I say no, they generally drop it.

Ready to Get Rid of Your TV?

TV is an easy and effective way of entertaining children. Yes, in small amounts it’s probably harmless, but relying on TV to get some free time may be short-sighted and create a vicious cycle. Kids who are used to watching TV will continue to demand it. Those who aren't become better at finding other ways to stay busy.

For us, not having a TV was a no brainer. Our children were born into a household with no TV, so they don’t know anything different. It has meant that as parents we have unknowingly structured our lives in such a way that our children have learned to play more independently and we still are able to get the things done around the house.

Rather than asking why we don’t have a TV, perhaps parents should be asking themselves why they have one and what might be gained by getting rid of it, or at least, turning it off more frequently. The results may surprise you!

Become part of the 1%. Get rid of your TV! :)

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    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 5 years ago from Arizona

      Great hub. TV is just a habit and if you live without it for a period of time you won't miss it. Thanks for sharing this.

    • profile image

      whowas 5 years ago

      Thank you thank you thank you! I thought we were the only family in the developed world that didn't, out of choice, have television - but we are not alone after all!

      My kids have never had television and show no interest in it. Indeed, my daughter recently said that she found it annoying when she was staying at a friends house this weekend and doesn't understand why people would want to waste time watching it when there are so many other things to do! I completely agree with her.

      I hate television (even when I worked in TV as a scriptwriter and presenter I never used to watch it - I'm not morally perfect, it paid the bills!) I applaud you and your TV free lifestyle. It is one of the most negative influences in modern life, in my opinion.

      Thank you again for getting the word out.

    • profile image

      comom 5 years ago

      I think it's true that TV makes dir conflict in the house. My kids used to fight all the time about what to watch until. turned it off for a week and set some strict rules.

    • LauraGT profile image
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      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Joy M: Thanks for stopping by! Yes, it's much easier to avoid TV wars when there simply isn't one in the house. But, I have to believe retraining can happen. Good luck!

    • Joy M profile image

      Joy M 5 years ago from Sumner, Washington

      We used to not have television (we had a tv to watch an occasional movie but no cable). At Super Bowl time my husband descided to get cable so he could watch the game. I've regretted it ever since because once it was there I started using it and once the kids started watching they started demanding it! It's terrible! I can't wait until our contract is up!

    • LauraGT profile image
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      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Collegedad: Thanks for reading and commenting. Glad to hear about another successful TV-free household! :)

    • collegedad profile image

      collegedad 5 years ago from The Upper Peninsula

      No TV in this house. We study, read, spend time with family, enjoy the outdoors. Well done!

    • LauraGT profile image
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      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Natashalh: I'm sure my kids will irritated about it (among many other things!) at some point, but I'm glad to hear that you appreciated being TV free growing up too. :) Thanks for commenting and voting!

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      Nice! I love it. You're keeping the no TV lifestyle alive! Hopefully they will be like me - irritated about it for a while in middle school and thankful forever after that. Voted up and awesome!

    • LauraGT profile image
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      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      TXmom: go for it! I do think that kids find other ways to entertain themselves, though I imagine it would be hard to get rid of TV once kids are used to it. Thanks for reading.

    • profile image

      TXmom 5 years ago

      Wow. Very impressive. I had no idea small children watched so much TV. I think i would go natty though if they never watched it! My kids have started fighting about it more though, so maybe I should throw the darn thing out!

    • LauraGT profile image
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      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Quavery: Thanks for reading and commenting. You are right, some educational programming can help kids learn certain things. The problem is that most programming on TV is not educational (especially as kids age), and TV viewing has been associated with lower test scores, poorer short-term memory, poorer attention span, and lower academic achievement.

      While this video is focused on the effects of TV on kids under 3, I highly recommend spending 15 minutes watching it.

      http://seattlemamadoc.seattlechildrens.org/tag/dr-...

    • LauraGT profile image
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      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Billybuc: Thanks for your comment. Reading about how many hours most people spend per week in front of the TV (28 hours) blows my mind as well. I'd have to stay up until 3am every night to accomplish that!

    • profile image

      qnavery 5 years ago

      I understand where your coming from but I don't agree. My son is 3 he only watches certain shows and he does learn from them. He doesn't sit in front of it all day but when his shows do come on he watches them he knows some words in spanish and chinese from watching shows like Dora the Explorer and Ni Hao Kilan. So I do believe that kids show can be educational.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I love this hub! I haven't had a television in six years and don't miss it at all. My friends wonder how I get through my day without it and I wonder who they can stand missing out on so much life.

      Great job!

    • LauraGT profile image
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      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Danette: Thanks for reading and commenting. Interesting that you'd never heard those myths! I thought they were "common knowledge!" I'm surprised by how many people have their TVs on as background noise - most Americans do! I think people just don't understand how distracting it is in subtle ways, even if they're used to it.

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 5 years ago from Illinois

      I was much stricter regarding the amount of TV my older son watched but got much more lax when my younger one came along 7 years later. I had to chuckle b/c I never heard any of those myths -- tv helps kids go to sleep!? and it's educational!?

      I did make sure that when my kids did watch tv, that's what they did. It wasn't on for background noise while they played. They either watched it or it was off.

      Voted up and stick to your guns!

    • LauraGT profile image
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      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Davesworld: Thanks for reading and commenting. That is so sweet that there was special dad play time and that the kids remember it fondly. Very inspirational!

    • Davesworld profile image

      Davesworld 5 years ago from Cottage Grove, MN 55016

      You go Girl. My wife and I did much what you describe with our two kids. They watched Sesame Street and that was about it until Jr. High. Instead, I came home from work and we played together. I don't know about them, but I enjoyed our time together - actually, they do, even at 35 and 32 they remember that after supper was "play with dad time." Both of them are readers and neither of them is glued to the TV set to this day.