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TV as a Parenting Tool?

A lot has been said about the pros and cons of TV viewing. Does the content affect kids' behavior? Is it addictive? Is it educational? Or is it completely neutral?

FYI, when I use the abbreviation "TV" I'm referring to ALL kinds of screen time.

I recently read an article that said a growing number of parents object to Peppa Pig; apparently Miss Pig is in the dog house due to her disrespectful attitude toward her parents and unkind comments to friends. And she's certainly not the first TV character to exhibit behavior or speech we really don't want our kids to imitate.

Should we just pull the plug on TV?

There are many who strongly believe that we should, that the benefits of TV are minimal at best and that the negatives are harmful enough to not even have TV in the home.

I truly respect this perspective, and greatly admire those who are able to manage it. We got rid of our TV for several months when we had just three little ones at home, and it went pretty well. In fact, the kids hardly noticed; I was the one with the problem! I wanted the brainless entertainment TV provided after a day of constant engagement with little ones.

I realized that if we got the TV back, I'd need to establish some guidelines. I

I read a fascinating book called The Plug-In-Drug by Marie Winn; it examines the effect of all sorts of tech on kids' brains. It was first published in 1977, and although it's been updated several times, some of it is out-of-date. Still, it offers a lot to think about in relation to the various ways TV and computers have shaped our brains and behavior.

Conversation. Interaction. Imagination. These are the things of life! I absolutely did not want my kids to miss these by zoning out in front of the TV.

One of the most interesting take-aways for me was this: the content isn't the biggest problem; it's that when kids are watching TV they aren't doing other really important things, like engaging in conversation, playing outdoors, or using their imagination--it's a one-way activity. Their developing brains need the interaction and stimulation that TV simply circumvents.

Conversation. Interaction. Imagination. These are the things of life! I absolutely did not want my kids to miss these by zoning out in front of the TV. So I came up with some guidelines:

  • Avoid programming in which the images flashing on the screen assault the senses fast and furiously; instead of the flashy Sesame Street, I'd opt for Mr. Rogers, for example.

  • I might use TV as a babysitter when I had a quick task to do, say, a shower, but I'd avoid plopping them in front of the tube for hours, no matter how "harmless" the programming.

  • I tried to avoid completely mindless junk; if we watched, there had to be at least some redeeming quality to the show.

  • Kids had to ask permission to watch, regardless of age, and to have a particular thing they wanted to watch (instead of just whatever was on).

  • The same rules applied to adults: don't just turn it on for mindless, unending watching in the evenings, and don't just leave it on for background noise.

  • We often enjoyed special programs or movies as a family.

  • No TV in kids' rooms.

  • Never expose kids to adult content, including situations, violence, and of course overtly sexual stuff.

As the kids grew older, we modified some of these from time to time, but generally they held firm.

Ok, fine, guidelines for watching are great. But can parents actually use TV as a tool? It may be a stretch, but I found it valuable in a couple of ways, one of which I mentioned in the above list: babysitting for short periods.

The main way I used it, however, was by controlling the remote-- turning the TV off or pausing a program in order to get kids' attention for chores or something else I wanted them to do.

I found it could also be a tool to teach how to evaluate entertainment--kids need to know what YOU find worthwhile so they can cultivate discernment; programs that distorted history, glorified foolishness, or were just vapid entertainment I would nix, and I would do my best to succinctly explain my thinking. Often, however, I'd just say, "This isn't worth spending our time and attention on."

To sum up, I think parents can, with discernment, use TV for short spurts of babysitting, to get kids' attention or as motivation to get work done, to teach kids to think about the value of what they engage in, and as a special family activity.

Regardless of how you use it, it should be used in moderation, with a time limit, and with intention, not just as background noise or to kill time.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and opinions! What are your TV "policies"? Leave a comment and I'll respond to you!

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