Let’s talk about kids and TV. Everyone have your dukes up? Good, let’s begin.
Asking a mom how much TV her child watches is akin to asking a woman her weight. Or perhaps demanding a busy mom admit to how many times her children eat macaroni and cheese for dinner (at least once a week over here). Basically, there is no right answer.
2 shows in one day?
Oh my, don’t you love your children enough to play with them instead of rotting their brains?
No TV ever?
Wow, learn to lighten up you crazy control freak.
Yup, you can file this alongside all the other mommy war topics from breast/bottle to SAHM/Working mom in terms of topics that somehow divide loving moms that really all just want the best for their babies (while maintaining their own sanity).
So let me assure you that this isn’t a finger-wagging post in any way shape or form. However, the fact that it took me this long to find a solution to Hailey’s afternoon crankiness and bedtime resistance is a little embarrassing, so I’m sharing it here as perhaps a possible solution to any other mom that may be exhausted and looking for a new method to try to remedy the fierce meltdowns of a whiny three year old.
Roughly three weeks ago we had a hectic week. I had a million things to get done and I leaned a little on the television to help me with the process. It wasn’t excessive in my book, but Hailey’s 1 show a day routine bumped up to 2 or 3. A little mom guilt sneaked in with this obviously but I pushed it aside in the name of necessity. I thought it could be a win/win situation with Hailey enjoying some extra down time and me getting some things done, but it didn’t take long for me to see that this plan was backfiring.
I began noticing that when TV time was over, even if she happily shut the set off when I asked her to, she just seemed more discontent. I call it crankiness, but really all the frustrating parts of parenting a threenager (or newly four year old) came at me full force. The whining, the irritability, the resistance to getting in to bed at night… it was flat out exhausting.
In a moment of frustration I decided we were going cold turkey- no more TV. I originally planned on a week of this as a form of half punishment/half experiment. However, that was about 3 weeks ago and TV has yet to make it back into our regular schedule because I was BLOWN away at the results. It’s like a new child emerged. In three weeks we haven’t a single night that included screaming or fits at bedtime. Creative play is in full force and overall she just seems happier, which in turn, makes me happier too.
I was so pleasantly surprised by our results that I mentioned it to a few friends who confirmed they had done a similar “TV cleanse” and saw similar great results. Many of them made it their new normal. Intrigued, I started googling and sure enough found more than one study that links TV to poor behavior in kids.
One Dutch study showed that two and three-year-olds that watched more than 1 hour of TV a day were more likely to develop behavioral problems such as aggression, disobedience, hyperactive behavior and concentration problems than their peers who watched less or no TV at all. The symptoms were more prevalent as the amount of exposure to TV per day increased.
Another study published in the journal of Pediatrics in February of 2009 found a child’s risk for antisocial behavior increased 30% for every hour of TV they watched per week night.
I know study results are correlation, not causation, but still, crazy right?
Now let me hop back real quick to the point that this is a non-shaming post. I’m sharing because I had heard similar statistics but they never sunk in until I noticed the night and day difference under my own roof and now feel like I need to let everyone in on this secret!
TV is not part of our daily routine anymore, but it’s not like we have tossed our TV in the trash. Family movie night on the couch? Sign me up! Long road trip? Sure, pull out the kindle. A third rainy day in a row? Sure, let’s choose a show. I won’t be parading around anytime soon with ‘death to TV’ signs or anything, but I am thrilled with the results we are seeing from making it more of a once in a while thing.
So back to that original question, how much TV do your kids watch?
…just kidding 😉
Don’t answer because it doesn’t really matter. Do what works for you and your family, but if you are like I was and at your wits end with the whining and short temper, maybe give a TV cleanse a try. I wish someone would have mentioned it to me a while ago because now our days are filled with so much less drama and I really hope we can keep it that way… at least until the infamous age of 14 comes along…
Have you ever changed something in your kids’ daily routine that created surprising results?
What did you change?
I have found saying yes to connecting with my daughter changes her completely. She was having a meltdown the other day in typical 2 year old fashion. So I put her on my back in the ergo. Meltdown finished. She was so happy!! When her baby brother needed his time in the carrier she was happy to get down and was changed for the rest of the day!! Happier. Cheeky. Playful. And at dinner we sat right next to each other and she ate so much better than other nights. So now I say yes to cuddles and connection. The results speak for themselves.
Brittany Dixon says
What a sweet solution! <3 I have noticed that days with worse behavior is usually when I'm the most frazzled/distracted myself. If I can get myself to realize that and spend time playing and connecting I see a huge difference too. Thanks for the sweet reminder! 🙂
We pulled the plug in tv over the summer for our son. It got to be too much. He just turned 3 in September. We also started to notice the tantrums and stuff when we tried to turning it off and decided that’s it. We’ve also noticed how much better is independent/imaginative play is getting when we do have to get something done around the house. We don’t always have the tv off, college football and the baseball playoffs are on, but he watches for second or cheers when we do and goes back to his trains. We did let him watch a movie the other day while we got ready for company and it was a treat for him and he didn’t argue when it was over. I don’t care what other parents do with tv time but we noticed a huge difference in his attitude with it, now I’m worried what will happen when baby number 2 comes in a few months.
Brittany Dixon says
Hi Angie, I had the same concern when I was pregnant with Kaitlyn (How am I going to keep my older child entertained?!). Two things helped me- first how surprised I was how much H wanted to help and that kept her busy (bring me a diaper please?) and secondly, that the newborn phase is a crazy time of survival so whatever you need to get through that is just fine. One of my best friends dropped off a couple kids movies and said don’t you even think about making yourself feel guilty. Having someone just tell me that it was OK to lean on distraction through TV at that time really helped ease the transition. Congrats on your second baby on the way! <3
This is so interesting and I absolutely agree! We have been guilty of too much tv and we have been cutting it. It was hard when our second got here and we relied on it too much so we’re working out way out of that!
Ugh, I was hoping you weren’t gonna say TV 🙂 We do rely on it often, but our girls don’t seem to be phased when we turn it off. Half the time the TV is just on in the background while they play with their toys, so I guess we could give it a try of just turning if off altogether and see what happens. Anything to get rid of tantrums I’ll try!
Courtney @ Sweet Tooth, Sweet Life says
We’re the same way, Jennifer! My husband and I always have the TV on in the background, and it’s never really phased our 2 year old. Sure, he has shows he enjoys, and we’ll let him watch 1-2 a day, but very rarely will he sit in the zone and watch it. Usually he’ll watch for a few minutes, go play, tune in again, go back to playing. Turning it on or off never seems to be an issue, and I’m hoping it stays that way…but we’re always open to trying new things, too!
Yes, exactly!! We have a 2 year old also and a 13 month old, who really doesn’t even pay attention to the TV when it’s on. Glad we’re not the only parents who like having background noise 🙂
My daughter watches way too much, especially with the new baby in the house now… but yes, I need to quit it. I’m going to start tomorrow actually (because this morning was ROUGH) and at first limit it, then possibly cut it completely. At least during the week.
Brittany Dixon says
Congrats on your new bundle of joy Chantal! And while I love the results I’ve seen from giving it the boot, I definitely used it when Kaitlyn was just born to help with entertaining H. That transition is a crazy time of survival, so give yourself grace if you need it every now and then 😉
I’m printing this post to share with my husband, so we can work on an agreement about what works for our family.
A question i have for you, how do you handle ‘Adult TV’? Do you ever have the news on in the background so you can catch the weather for the day? And even if the kiddos aren’t paying attention to it, do you notice it affects their behavior?
Brittany Dixon says
It just so happens that David and I just aren’t background TV people. The TV doesn’t come on in our house until around 8:30 pm when David and I sit down to watch a show. However, I do have to work on my phone time (that’s where I catch the weather/the news/the blogs and instagram ;)) and have been really vigilant lately of putting it away when the girls are around.
So I guess long comment short, I’m not quite sure about background noise since it isn’t something I’ve experienced. Sorry, I’m no help, but maybe another reader can chime in?!
Wow, I’m sorry, but what a rude comment. I hope my daycare provider doesn’t talk about me with such disdain. God forbid I rely on a TV show so that I can dinner made on days my husband works late. It’s hard enough being a working mother without knowing that your daycare provider is judging your choices too. For what it’s worth, it’s well-documented that toddlers and preschoolers who are well-behaved at daycare will act out with their parents because they feel safer misbehaving with their primary caregiver.
I agree, that was a harsh comment to make. I’m sure it may be hard to hear them complain about their kids misbehaving at home, but having some empathy for parents who are just doing their best goes a lot further than judgment.
Oh jeez, please ignore my other comment. I didn’t see your reply to Jen and now I feel like a jerk for piling on you. I’m sorry.
Just for the record I didn’t think your comment was rude at all! And I was a single mother who probably let my daughter watch too much TV when she was younger (& she’s definitely WAY too zoned in to electronics now as a teenager). Some people are just ultra sensitive.
Wow! TV time really is a contentious topic…! Since my son is only 10 months I ‘m still closer to the breast/bottle front line than the TV time one… 😉 It’s really interesting though that cancelling TV time had such a dramatic effect on H’s behavior!
Kathleen Ojo @ My Ojos says
I’m glad you addressed this topic, and posed a challenge to us. What IF we considered the possibility of turning off the TV once in a while? My husband and I work long hours and my daughter goes to daycare. She’s newly 3 and very creative, but isn’t ready yet to play independently for long periods of time. I rely on TV for the 1.5-2 hours after daycare so I can make dinner and talk to my husband for 20 minutes (often our only time to connect during the day).
I have noticed that her behavior is less than ideal when we watch TV, but it’s a trade-off – I can turn it off and play with her all evening, but then we’d probably be eating pre-packaged or fast food instead of a home cooked meal at the dining table. I do involve her in cooking, but she often has little patience for it after a long day at daycare. And there are good things, too. While my meal is simmering on the stove, I sit with her on the couch and we both snuggle and decompress in front of some Daniel Tiger. Like I said, none of it is ideal, but frankly, nothing about our schedule is ideal right now. We’re making the best of the situation we’re in until things can change, and until then, TV is a tool that I don’t mind using.
A couple weeks ago we DID decide that there’s no reason to watch TV on the weekends when we’re all home. We’ve been turning it off and spending our time in the yard, exploring the town, or playing creatively, and I think it’s made a world of difference for all of us in terms of our happiness.
I guess my point is the same as Brittany’s – don’t let the TV own you. Don’t see it as an inevitability or something that you have no control of. It’s a tool for entertainment and education, and should be used strategically.
Thanks for the great post!
First off, I want to say my comment is coming from one mom to another out of care, not judgment.
I think trying a week without television after work might be a good experiment. Research has shown that kids who watch more tv actually have more trouble independently playing than kids who don’t watch television. Television is so exciting and always changing that comparatively, the real world is boring. Kids who watch a lot of tv are used to being entertained rather than entertaining themselves. There are a few things I do with my kids to involve them with meal prep that are really easy. My son counts carrots, stacks can goods, drops food into pots, stirs veggies and soups, measures ingredients, gathers ingredients, or just sits on the counter playing with utensils. I try and keep it interesting by letting him taste ingredients, smell spices, etc. It’s fun! To foster independent play, maybe turn on music. My kids will play by themselves for an hour if Barney radio(Pandora station) is on.
If you want to start small, take the time that dinner is simmering to turn off the tv and play. Read a book, make up stories with Little People, do a puzzle, play hide and seek, or color a picture together. I’m sure it will feel like quality time when you are focused on each other without the tv.
This is definitely something I want to try. We have tried limiting our kids to one episode each of something in the morning (the only way I can get ready and out the door on time) and then one episode each of something in the evening, but I think I want to start by cutting out the evening TV. They mostly watch educational shows that really have been useful, but too often one or two episodes turn into more and I really do think if we cut out evening TV they’d be easier to get to bed and on the weekend I really want to cut out TV. I have a feeling having TV on has greatly contributed to their weekend crankiness.
Oh, how timely. I was just talking with my husband this morning about how our bedtime routine is horrendous, and how I think we have to cut the cord with TV (particularly in the evenings). I used to let A watch one show while I put C to bed, but now he’s big enough that we read books all together. Because A stays up later (~8:30), I was letting her watch ~30 minutes (okay fine, sometimes 60) of Angelina Ballerina while I finished up work/relaxed for 10 minutes (OMG)/etc. (My husband is rarely home for bedtime). All that said — I think it has backfired. She tends to be absolutely out of control and off the wall after that show. Probably because she’s tired, and because of TV.
I’m going to be brave and try to cut the cord tonight. The news is NOT going to go over well. How did you do it with H? Did you just tell her? Did she protest like crazy?! Will report back.
PS: How long does Hailey sleep? A has stopped napping and only sleeps 8:30 – 6:30 most nights. It’s so hard to get her to go to bed much earlier and she wakes up on her own, but it’s just not much sleep!
Brittany Dixon says
Haha, I worried about breaking the news to her too so I actually never announced it. When she asked (and she still occasionally asks) I keep it really casual of “oh, we aren’t going to do that right now but I can tell you a story or we can build a fort.” …or you can color or play upstairs if I can’t play at the moment. I was actually shocked at how well she took to it. Usually she is fine to do the alternative choice. Once or twice she has whined a little more but I keep a cabinet full of “surprises” in case of a time of need and pull out a new sheet of Frozen stickers and BAM- distraction 😉
PS- H doesn’t nap anymore either. 🙁 She goes to bed at 7 and gets up between 7:30/8. I know, I’m lucky! My sister in law puts a clock in her kids room and they know they can get up and play but can’t come downstairs until the first number is an 8. That works really well for them!
I can’t get over how much H sleeps! Wow. Yes, A ditched her nap right at 3. It was either no nap or be prepared to stay up until 10 pm with her which is past MY bedtime!
I’m already steeling myself up for tonight – wish me luck 🙂
I’m one of the friends Brittany references in her post. We went cold turkey at the beginning of September, but our rules are a little different. We will allow either (their choice) Friday night movie or Saturday morning cartoons. Whenever they ask to watch something I tell them they can watch it Friday night. They look forward to their Fridays, and it’s not like I’m telling them no TV ever. I, too, am shocked at the behavior improvement since stopping. I also noticed they read way more books. I couldn’t have done it when Valentina was a newborn, but now that she doesn’t nurse for 18 hours a day it’s actually easy to just say NO all week.
We also never have the TV on in the background because I don’t like the noise. My husband would prefer CNN all hours of the day but I can’t stand it and I don’t want the kids exposed to it anyway.
Also, R only sleeps 10 hours in a 24 hour period most days. I hear it’s a sign of intelligence to have low sleep needs, so I’m rolling with that lol. Ali, on the other hand, needs about 12-13 hours in a 24 hour period to be happy.
We had always limited TV when our girls were growing up too. We did notice a severe difference in our youngest daughter after she would play a Wii Mario Cart game. Needless to say that game disappeared and our happy child reappeared. I know there are people who enjoy the background noise of TV and having it on all day. I am just the opposite. When I was at home with my kids the TV was off until it was time for a particular show, then it went off again and back to the fun of imagination. 🙂
Brittany Dixon says
Hey Karen! I could see how they would laugh because I probably would have done the same initially, but then would have thanked you later! I never knew what a difference it could make in our particular situation. I actually see now that it was more of a crutch for me than for her. I know different families work well with different set ups, and I am a firm believer of to each their own <3, but wow, I'm shocked at the difference I've seen.
I JUST sent this over to my husband! We are expecting our first in a few weeks and he is hell bent on getting a TV for his room. I am TOTALLY against having a TV in his room- we of course have one in the living room and our room (it is rarely turned on). I am not against all TV at all and I don’t know what will work for us. But I just hate the idea of a TV in his room where he can be so isolated- i want TV to be used as family movie nights!
This is a great post and it was something I NEVER would have though of! Now how do I quit watching my favorite shows so often 🙂
Erin @ Her Heartland Soul says
Wow! Filing this away for when I have kids someday!!
My son is 14 months and we used to put on Daniel Tiger in the mornings on the weekends to give adults time to wake up. I realized that we were wasting that time and could be “waking up” by taking a walk instead, so that’s what we do now. Little man loves being outside and a casual walk with coffee in hand is a nice start to the day for me and my husband. The rest of the day is usually spent visiting friends and family or running errands so we just aren’t home to watch tv when little man is awake. After he goes to bed however, Mama and Dada definitely turn on the Netflix!
Good for you! We did something similar with our oldest (now 4) and we noticed a HUGE difference in her behavior. I never researched it, though, like you did. It’s nice to know tv/behavior issues really do potentially go hand and hand. Thank you for sharing your experience!
I’m in the minority here I homeschool my kids and when they are done school (they are 9 & 10) they put on the tv and watch until their friends are home or until daddy comes home not sure if it would make a difference at this are but my kids are relatively easy and listen with no complaints if I say tv off . My husband o the other hand loves History channel and Animal Planet could never give up his tv its how he unwinds from work 🙂
I actually can’t wait until my daughter WILL sit still and watch an entire movie 🙂
This is such a great post. I’d really like to implement this with my 3 and almost 5 year old. It’s such an easy tool for me with the 3 year old when I need to do something like cook dinner. Also, he is a super early riser. Like 5:45 – 6:00 every single day. In the morning, I watch a show with him just because it is so early and I’m still so tired. How do you handle football season or Saturday morning game day? Do you watch it or have it on? I only ask because I’m curious if that works in your house and doesn’t impact kid behavior in a negative way. We’re both very active with our kids, but love to catch gameday when we’re able to and always watch the Auburn game when we can.
Julia @ Lord Still Loves Me says
You are an outstanding momma, Brittany. I don’t know how often you hear that, but jut in case you’re in need of someone to appreciate you, let me reiterate that: You. Are. An. Incredible. Mom. Those two sweet babes of yours are blessed to have you. <3
Kristy Burgess says
I read this post this morning and have thought about it all day before commenting. My opinion may be in the minority, but I wanted to SHARE my feelings. In this day and age, it seems as though we have a systematic approach to everything in life. “Play dates,” “television time,” organized sports, organized EVERYTHING!! I am by no means attacking these things, I am simply pointing out a difference. The difference in my childhood and my kids’ childhood was/is simplicity. I played until I heard my dad whistle, watched a couple of television shows to unwind and (gasp) even drank a glass of Hawaiian Punch from time to time. My mom (who was not a career mom, but definitely a working mom), woke up every morning and as she so eloquently puts it, “never knew what was in store for her that day.” Some days we watched more television than others….that was (and is) life. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t even something that my mom thought about. Television wasn’t a crutch, it wasn’t a babysitter, it was just……..television. I always say that if you look hard enough you can find data to back up anything. I think we, as a society, have to focus less on the approach and more on parenting the actual being on a day to day basis. Finally, maybe it isn’t the child who is suddenly behaving differently without television, maybe it is the parent who is parenting differently which leads to the child REACTING different. Just my thoughts.
I whole heartedly agree with this and truly believe in moderation in all aspects of life 🙂
I completely agree as well. Surprised there weren’t more comments like this!!
Brittany Dixon says
Hey Kristy! My favorite thing about this blog is the discussion that takes place in the comments so I thank you for sharing your opinion, even though you feel you are in the minority. I actually think we have very similar outlooks as I also believe in moderation. My TV moderation is now a once a week or so, and to you maybe moderation is a couple times a day. I think that’s fine because what works for one family won’t work for the other. I just happened to notice positive changes by decreasing the TV time, which is why I wanted to share that experience.
Also, I fully agree with your last statement because my kids feed off of my temperament for sure!
Finally, as for the scheduling stuff, I’m not sure I agree in all aspects, just because I know my family thrives on having a balance of play dates (both for the girls and for my connection with friends) and down time. Because of this I don’t think having organized activities is a negative thing, unless every minute of every day is scheduled out because that would totally drive me crazy!
Above all, I totally feel you that moderation is most important. Of course, moderation looks different to everyone and looks different based on the ages of the kids in question as well (for example, I love the idea of telling kids to just “go play” but that doesn’t work at this point in time with my 17 month old).
Thanks so much for your input!
yep. great comment. definitely to each his own on this one. And Brittany, I think you did a good job of explaining what worked for you, just like any other parenting tip or idea that succeeds or fails. But I think its important for moms to look at the bigger picture of how we do parenting in general. We spend so much time planning and organizing ( no fault of our own, just how it is today) and then spend downtime kicking ourselves for how we did or didn’t do right. For us, TV works at certain times of the day or on certain days based on how our week is going. And that works for us. I think my kids enjoy a few minutes of down time in between the craziness that is our schedule. But the day it seems like it isn’t working, is the day I would stop and readjust. But otherwise, whatever works is what works. Heck, half the time my kids aren’t even really watching the TV, but playing with it on. But I attribute it to it not being super special, just a regular part of our lives during the day. But lets be honest, ultimately, main goal as a mom is just to do well enough that my kids don’t join a gang… 🙂
I completely agree too! Parents these days seem to set up so many rules for their family, It only sets you up for a guilt trip when you don’t stick to it. I’m a child of the 70’s and I know my parents didn’t feel the need to overthink every decision, TV, kid snacks, structured play time etc. My brother and I both ended up being healthy/active adults with a college education. I personally feel as long as my kids know they are loved and happy I’m good. Life is to short to sweat all of the small stuff 🙂
You would love the book “Growing Up Social” by Gary Chapman(author of the Five Love Language). In this book, he explores how to navigate your child in a tech-saturated world. It’s very eye opening. Highly recommend it!
Brittany Dixon says
I’ll google it now- thanks for the suggestion!
Thank you so much for posting this! We’ve been having a tough time with our three year old in the mornings. I sent this post to my husband yesterday and we figured we would try it (why not?). AND AMAZINGLY, our little guy was so great this a.m.! He played well with his brother (hooray for creative play!), ate breakfast, did everything we asked without complaint and we got out the door with our sanity!!! THANK YOU!!!!
I like to think of TV as kind of like calories – save them for when you really need them! Just like when I was losing weight I would eat well / healthy at home so that if I wanted to go out for dinner I didn’t need to get worked up about what I was eating. I do the same thing with TV for my 3yo – only put it on when it’s a terrible day outside or I need to keep her occupied while I work on something. if we’re just hanging at home, I put on a cd (she loves The Lion King or her dancing music) or we head outside. As it is, I’m not even sure my girl realises that cartoons aren’t just on dvd’s!
Thanks so much for this post Brittany! As a teenager I tend to get caught up in social media and Netflix. But, your post has definitely inspired me. Recently I’ve cut back a little on my “screen time” and have discovered new hobbies/things I didn’t even know I enjoyed. Thanks again <3
Turning off the TV makes a world of difference. We lucked out that our 4-year-old loves puzzles and coloring, so he sits at the kitchen table and puts together a puzzle or colors while I make dinner and talk to him, and while our 1 year old eats her dinner. However, I can totally relate to needing TV sometimes as a distraction while I clean or do other chores. 🙂
Ok so I am raising my granddaughter! She turned three in January! The more I think about it the more I realize that I have become DEPENDENT on rv! It is mostly in the form of DVDS so I guess that is why I didn’t make the connection as fast! So do you just stop RV time cold turkey, or set a timer? How do you start implementing this?
Brittany Dixon says
I started with limiting it, but ultimately what worked best was going col turkey for two weeks. Best to make a clean break! Good luck 🙂