Children and Television: Yea or Nay?

Way back when, I used to love good TV dramas.  Back when I had time to actually watch TV, of course.  Shows like Criminal Minds and CSI were favorites with Law and Order SVU being at the top of the list.  Those shows are very well written and usually pretty suspenseful too so I enjoyed watching them.

The problem is, they’re not exactly kid friendly.  Now that Henry is aware of what’s going on around him, he definitely takes notice of what I’m doing.  Since I’m working again, I spend half of my day on the computer with Henry right beside me either watching me from his swinging chair or sitting in my lap.  I always wonder how much he picks up as he seems to be reading along as I do work things or check out my daily blogs or look for new recipes to try.  And when the CPA and I catch an hour of TV in the evenings, it’s everything we can do to keep him from twisting around in our laps to get a better view.  I mean the kid’s only four months and he already seems to be entranced any time the TV or computer is in sight.

It’s got me thinking about the whole issue of TV and kids and when, where and how much they should be allowed to watch.  I even tried a little experiment the other day – I put in the Signing Time video we have that’s geared towards little babies.  Henry was fascinated with it for about 10 minutes.  Then he’d had enough and he started fussing.  Whether he was overstimulated or just needed his diaper changed (the latter was definitely true) I’m not sure, but I went ahead and turned it off.  But there are other times when he’ll sit with us on the couch and watch a whole episode of Jeopardy without blinking an eye.

The thing is – I have no idea if it’s damaging him to watch TV or not.  Research seems to indicate that it is.  The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that too much television (under the age of two) can “negatively affect brain development.”  Then there’s the AACP who said that kids who watch a lot of TV often have weight problems, lower grades in school and read fewer books.  Umm… none of that sounds good.

So what do I do?  I think that not watching crime dramas around him is a given, but do I limit all TV programs (and computer usage) when he’s around?   Or do allow it to stay on in the background so that he’s used to it and doesn’t see it as a “treat”?  And what about programs geared for children – are they acceptable or do they cause problems too?

Based on what I’ve been reading I have an idea of what the experts suggest, but what about the real world?  What happens when you have a fussy kid and you have to get dinner ready and there’s nothing else but the TV that will calm him down?   What then?

I’d love to hear how real moms and dads handle the issue of TV and their kids:  is there none at all, only a little, or is it on all the time?


Heather @Critter Chronicles - June 28, 2010 - 7:13 pm

I tend to fall into the camp of not limiting how much time my kids spend watching TV as I do WHAT they’re watching. When they were infants, though, I didn’t censor anything (other than HBO shows because those are pretty rough sometimes). If we were watching something that was adult in nature, I didn’t worry about it too much. I think it was probably around 14 or 15 months when I began censoring what was on the TV when they were awake, and mostly we stuck to PBS Kids or DVDs that I chose.

Too much of anything is never good, and there are definitely some children who are exposed to much more media than books or outdoor activities. I, personally, don’t have an issue with turning on the TV in the late afternoon after my kids are done playing outside and their homework is done and I’m trying to get dinner ready, or even hanging out for a few hours on a weekend morning when my husband and I are trying to squeeze in a couple more minutes of sleep. I try not to leave it on all day, but there are times when that happens, too.
.-= Heather @Critter Chronicles´s last blog ..Tuesday Tidbits- Facebook Edition- 29 June =-.

joy - June 28, 2010 - 7:24 pm

When Chris was a baby, it was easier to limit TV time because, well, he was a baby. We didn’t really limit him, and he tends to be the kind of kid who will do other things while watching TV such as stickers, play cars, etc. In fact, it is rare he will just sit on the couch and watch the TV. Despite this, he loves having the TV on and knows all the shows he regularly watches on Disney channel and PBS. Jack, on the other hand, seems to love the TV. And because we all spend time in the living room, it is hard not to have the TV on for Chris when Jack is there. We jokingly call Jack our couch potato which I’m sure should not be a joke or funny. But he’s like my husband. He is not interested in food and will probably have the metabolism like my husband who could eat anything while he was in high school and not gain a pound. My husband is embarrassed to say he was something like 125 when he graduated high school and though he was not his full 6’2″ height (he grew that summer), he as well close to it. For now, we try to limit the type of shows on such as extreme violence or inappropriate stuff. But I think we are of the mindset that while we don’t want to expose our children to this stuff, we don’t want to shelter them. It reminds me of a story of when I babysat a little boy while I was in high school. His mother was crunchy (hippie) and would not allow her son to watch any TV except PBS. She did not like violence, etc. But somehow her son, like other little boys, would use his hand to make like a gun (though he didn’t do it the traditional way like other boys). But he knew somehow. Some people say it’s the nature of boys. So I don’t necessarily believe keeping them from watching certain things will prevent them from learning about it. But I wouldn’t knowingly expose them. Just do what you feel best. Some days, unfortunately, the TV is your best friend and babysitter. :)

Jessica @ One Shiny Star - June 28, 2010 - 8:38 pm

Too much is completely relative! How much is too much? And what kind of TV the kiddo is watching. It is true that kids learn better from manipulating things on their own, and especially with language. I think that TV is perfectly fine, as long as it is not a replacement. Kids develop skills through experience. If you have some down time, I don’t see a problem with it, but don’t let the TV become the baby sitter – that’s where the problems come in. When parents let their kids watch TV, instead of playing out side or with toys or other kids. You will find the balance that works for you and your family. Just like everything else in life – all things in moderation.
.-= Jessica @ One Shiny Star´s last blog ..How in the world- =-.

Jacquie Love Bunker - June 29, 2010 - 12:01 am

This is an excellent question :) . When my first son was a baby, I watched grown up shows (Law and Order and stuff) while I was nursing him or doing stuff, but I never sat him in front of the TV (like baby einstein or anything like that) because I read the same research you did. I was really nervous I was going to ruin him. And then I moved to Utah when he was about 10 months old, and started working part time…and my mother-in-law and sister-in-law watched him and started showing him Sesame Street (much to my dismay and against my wishes, I might add). When I got pg with #2, I was sooooo sick that the tv became a necessity…but by then he was almost 2, so I didn’t feel as bad. I try to limit the time he is in front of the boob tube, so I try to have him watch programs, not just tv. We DVR his favorite shows…Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Handy Manny, whatever, so when it is over, it is over…and we turn off the tv. I think I’m like most moms. I am sometimes guilty of using the tv as a babysitter so I can get dinner cooked or laundry folded, or so I can sleep a little longer in the morning (especially useful when you have a newborn :) . But for the most part, the tv is off more than it is on, and that in itself makes me happy. I’m trying to let my kids gain what they can from the tv that is positive, but still allow them the ability to have their own imaginations and not become totally dependent on it for their entertainment. Just go with your gut…I’m not even going to get into the things you deal with when you have 2 kids that are different ages. Ugh! That is pretty complicated…

sparkly jules - June 29, 2010 - 1:12 am

Although I don’t have kids, my sister has twin girls who are six. They never watched any live TV until the last year. It was strictly videos or DVR’d kid programs. Now they watch different kid-centered shows. If my sister or husband want to watch something other than news or sports, they watch it on the TV their bedroom. And they are very good girls.

And to Jacquie Love Bunker: I’m curious, why would you be dismayed and upset that your children watched Sesame Street? I grew up with Oscar the Grouch, Big Bird, the Count, and so on–and I have very fond memories of that program.


.-= sparkly jules´s last blog ..keno win =-.

Tracy - June 29, 2010 - 3:44 am

oh goodness, i have no clue. when we watch burn notice drew will start to stare at the tv and i always reposition him so he’s not looking. it freaks me out to think of hurting his brain development in any way!

admin - June 29, 2010 - 4:24 am

excellent comments – I love seeing the varied view points. Sparkly Jules – I’m guessing (maybe Jacquie can say for sure) that the reason she said she was upset with the Sesame Street watching is because some research claims that all TV, even Sesame Street, can be harmful to kids under two. maybe she can add more to clarify…

Joanna - June 29, 2010 - 5:00 am

Oh goodness …

When my first was a little over two months, I read Buy, Buy Baby: How Consumer Culture Manipulates Parents and Harms Young Minds by Susan Gregory Thomas.


Immediately, Julia did not watch ANY television AT ALL. Very strict rule. And we didn’t watch TV when she was awake. Very strict.

Annoyingly strict.

Then when she was six months old, I found out I was pregnant and promptly started with the morning (all-day) sickness. And Clifford the Big Red Dog became Julia’s best friend. :)

But because of that silly book, I felt so, so, so guilty every time I had to turn on the TV so I could be very, very still and try not to throw up.

Now, both my kids watch TV. I only let them watch Noggin and PBS because those channels don’t show commercials. And we sit down to watch ONE show and then the TV goes off. (If I have something to do, like make dinner, I set a timer so I remember to turn the TV off.) I do this mainly because if the TV is on, my daughter will sit like a zombie and not do anything else all day long. But it is also teaching them compromise and decision-making: “Okay, if you choose to watch Miss Spider now, that means no Little Bill this afternoon. What do you think?” and “Wow. We watched Julia’s show yesterday and today Dax wants to watch his show. You guys had better decide which show to watch or we’ll just have to skip the TV time today.”

I’ve learned to cut myself some slack. There are days when we watch quite a bit of TV and days when we watch none. As always, you do what works best for your family.
.-= Joanna´s last blog ..VBS a la Julia =-.

Joanna - June 29, 2010 - 5:05 am

Also, joy … totally agree on the nature of boys. My boy has an older sister and so he was surrounded by princess dresses and pink, sparkly things for many, many months. Now, he’s two and his favorite things to do: carry around his Matchbox cars and find any stick longer than his arm to use as a sword.

Cracks me up.
.-= Joanna´s last blog ..VBS a la Julia =-.

Carolina Baker - June 29, 2010 - 5:20 am

Law and Order and CSI are my favorite shows. Now that we moved into the city we decided to skip the cable to save some bucks (ah!)

I don’t know much about infants but for a child, I believe TV is not such a great past time. Outdoors. Playing. Socializing. So much better.

I was at a wedding this weekend and a six year old kid was glued to a gameboy (or today’s version of what was a gameboy). It was a bit sad because the wedding was outside and there were other kids running around and playing. But he was stuck to a screen!
.-= Carolina Baker´s last blog ..Social Exhaustion =-.

emilyG - June 29, 2010 - 5:50 am

I read that TV as background noise while a child is mindfully playing and learning (like doing puzzles, reading books, playing with blocks; pretty much doing something other than running around like a gypsy), is harmful in some kind of cognitive way. Instead of them focusing fully on the task at hand, part of their brain is paying attention to the TV sounds.

We watch TV. Not constantly, but probably more than we should. But I try to limit it to a few “educational” shows for our little one. I don’t like the TV to be on all the time, because I think it encourages the need to be entertained all the time. Plus, I’ve found that our evenings are more peaceful, and J winds down for bed easier, when it’s off.

NickJR is my favorite, though. As a side note. There are several shows that I don’t mind J watching at all, and she really likes them. She’s learning colors and shapes and words. :)

Everything in moderation!

Kristy - June 29, 2010 - 6:53 am

I have three little ones. My first didn’t see TV until she was 2, but that means that her sister was a baby and was around it, but she didn’t really watch it for quite some time. I do limit the amount of time and what they watch. We allow “Sesame” Street and sometimes “The Electric Company.” Then on Saturday we allow about an hour of cartoons, but we get DVDs so they don’t get the ‘gimme’s’ from all the commercials. There’s no TV on Sunday. That all goes out the window when we travel, but that’s not very often and we don’t plan our days around the TV, so we are gone during the shows sometimes too.

At Henry’s age, they were sometimes up for shows that we watched, but at some point before the age of 1 that ends and we don’t watch our TV when they are up…

My family thinks I’m a little over the top, but they don’t have shows like we used to watch anymore and I really don’t want “Barney” on all day–it would drive me crazy.
.-= Kristy´s last blog ..My Old Kentucky Home =-.

Lynn - June 29, 2010 - 8:34 am

I think everything in moderation is good. My 2 1/2 year old has his favorite shows, and he asks for them. He prefers to go outside or play with his toys though.

Kelly - June 30, 2010 - 5:37 pm

I can’t really say from a mom perspective (not having kids). But my family didn’t have a TV at all growing up (I’m now 30). I remember watching Mathnet or Mr. Rogers at the neighbors occasionally, and that was so exciting to me!

I think the plusses are that I started reading early and now love books a ton (what else were we going to do during the day?) Then when my dad came home, we’d all go to the pool in the summers or play games with each other.

I wouldn’t beat yourself up if you let him watch TV occasionally, but I can say there are a lot of upsides to not having had a TV when I was a kid.

Jenna @ Newlyweds - June 30, 2010 - 9:20 pm

Oh the dreaded TV! When they were babies I thought no TV, and it helped that they had no interest in it. Now they love certain cartoons, and I am ok with that, like Sesame Street, etc. They really do learn and they love it so much.

Overall I don’t feel bad about it because they don’t watch too much TV, almost wish they would watch it more, lol. So I could have a break, ha ha. Do what feels right for you!
.-= Jenna @ Newlyweds´s last blog ..The Watermelon Chickens =-.

Eryn - July 1, 2010 - 4:50 am

Moderation is the key. Jack watches PBS in the mornings for about an hour, then that is pretty much it for the rest of the day. Of course there are exceptions! But moderation is the thing.
.-= Eryn´s last blog ..27 =-.

Erin - July 1, 2010 - 5:52 am

Like most things…we handle it with moderation.
.-= Erin´s last blog ..a change will do you good =-.

Liz - July 1, 2010 - 8:15 am

Oooh… good topic. I’ll chime in on my childhood experiences with this. We grew up without cable tv. We had tv’s and rented movies, so we weren’t totally cut off from culture. The upside, I read books like crazy and still do. BUT, when I got to college and finally had access to cable, I nearly flunked my first semester. :)
.-= Liz´s last blog ..My Friends =-.

Sarah @ - July 6, 2010 - 1:55 pm

I don’t have television and somehow I’ve managed to make dinner and clean house and take showers without it. It takes a little longer, I’m sure, but not having to worry about our choice makes it well worth it.

I grew up without television, so I don’t think it’s a bad thing that kids are exposed to television periodically. I hated always being out of the loop, after all. TV was like a magnet at friends’ houses. But I think that in homes with television, moderation is important.

And I guess that my opinion of moderation differs significantly from most. When I say moderation, I mean less than a couple hours a week. What need is there for more than that, really? Wouldn’t you rather your kid were playing with the dog than staring at a screen?

Studies have shown over and over and over again that children are healthiest developmentally when they interact with their environment and people, as opposed to the television, and that the human brain has an on/off switch for learning that turns off not just during the duration of watching television, but also for anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours afterwards. They can parrot, but they can’t absorb information and experiences they’re exposed to during that time span. I think if more people realized that one hour of television isn’t only one hour, it’s one hour plus however much time it takes the kid’s brain to re-set, they’d adjust their perception of moderation too.

But that’s just me. I know people who let their children watch several hours of television a day and think it’s just fine. So I guess to each their own. Who knows what’s really best?
.-= Sarah @´s last blog ..On the twentieth of July =-.

Jacquie Love Bunker - July 14, 2010 - 12:20 am

sparkly jules…just to clarify (although a little late…sorry) it wasn’t Sesame Street specifically that I was dismayed about (I still love that show :) , but that he was watching TV at all when all the research I had done discouraged TV watching before the age of 2. And he wasn’t even 1 yet! Even the APA recommends NO time in front of the TV until after the age of 2. Some studies I have seen show that early TV watching could contribute to ADHD. It is still debatable, but I think there could be some validity to it because it is such an important time for brain growth.
Anyway, he does watch Sesame Street now, and I happily let him…unless his little brother is awake. I am still trying hard to limit his TV exposure (although I’m not as strict with him as I was his brother) until he is 2 in December.
And Joanna, story of my life when I am pregnant! I understand the necessity and guilty feelings of the TV when “all day” sickness kicks in :) . What did our grandmothers do?????

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