Turn the TV OFF, Please


We have always been a “TV family,” meaning that we have watched a lot of television over the years. When I cook, study, or write, I usually have the TV on for background noise. I seem to concentrate better when the house isn’t silent. With my oldest daughter seemed unaffected by this; it didn’t make a big difference one way or the other in her behavior. She would get into zombie mode sometimes and zone out when watching TV, but other than that, TV didn’t seem to affect her mood or behavior. She still wanted to get outside, play and ride her bike more than watch TV. But I have learned over the last eight years that she was my easy child; I barely have to parent her. I also grew up watching a lot of TV, so I guess I just naturally did what I was used to with my own kids. It’s not that we promoted TV, but we didn’t restrict it either.

When we had our second child, we parented her the same way we did our first. I stayed home for her first six years and I often had the TV running in the background with the news on. Disney channel was also on as she became more interested in kids’ shows and her sister was watching, too. Later, when she refused to eat all solid foods — and after trying speech therapy and everything we could think of — we turned a tablet on with her favorite show to help distract her while she ate. That eventually became a habit: eating and watching, for most meals except dinner, which we always ate at the table as a family.

Before the haters try to crucify me, we are also very active. We camp, hike, ski, ride bikes, run, swim, etc. We read to her daily and she also sees us reading. We just like to watch TV in our down time. I also have had several broken bones and surgeries in the last few years and spent a lot of time laid up, too, so the TV was my entertainment while I healed.

Kindergarten was a breeze, but when first grade rolled around, so did some behavioral issues. And if I am honest, we had been dealing with a temper and fits for a while with her at home, it just hadn’t been a problem at school yet. After a particularly bad couple of weeks she ended up grounded from all electronics…like for life. What started out as a punishment really opened our eyes though.

Almost instantly we saw a change in her behavior for the better.

We of course didn’t attribute the lack of TV to her improved behavior, but rather on more consistency and better quality time as a family. We all spent more time together in conversation and interaction, something that TV watching might restrict. Instead of being zoned out watching TV, we played games, took walks, had good conversations, and found fun things to do together like crafts. Because we didn’t want any screen on while she was up, it forced our teenager to do more with us too.

The behavior issues at home and at school started getting better and eventually disappeared altogether. So then we started allowing 30 minutes a day of television or a movie on weekends. The temper returned as soon as we turned the TV off; she would turn into a grouchy monster for a couple of hours.

I am not blaming all of her behavior on TV.

I understand that consistency and spending more quality time together also had a huge impact. But when we only allowed 60 minutes a week of TV time, the behavior immediately returned. Likewise, when we cut TV time, the behavior disappeared. There has to be some connection. Now, instead of throwing a fit, she is able to calmly state her case and listen to reason. I think TV over-stimulates her brain.

She also started sleeping better without TV time. She had sleeping problems from birth, rarely sleeping through the night and often waking two to four times a night. She was a preemie and spent her first three months in the NICU. We jokingly blamed her sleep issues on her night nurse at first, but then we decided it was part of who she is. She would have nightmares and have a hard time going to sleep and staying asleep from age three on. But now she sleeps through the night and hasn’t had as many nightmares. Bonus: when she sleeps through the night, I usually get to sleep through the night as well.

Bottom line: we are no longer a “TV family,” and I am happy about that. We do not plan to go back to the way things were and she will not get any more tablets or phones to watch while she eats or rides in the car. This over-stimulates her and then she has trouble with those feelings. We set our phones down when we get home and aren’t constantly checking social media. Most days we don’t even turn a TV on. I don’t miss any of it, either. I think I am actually a lot calmer and able to handle stress better without the constant negativity and distractions.

I know this is something I could have/should have figured out sooner, but for some reason I didn’t. While I can wish I had, I can’t turn back time, so I will forgive myself and move on. I will put this on my long list of parenting mistakes I have made. Guess I’m no June Cleaver or Carol Brady!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here