TV: a Tool or “The Devil”

365:32 - Television
Photo by Sarah Reid

As more of our society has become screen driven, the controversy over children watching television has increased. On one side you have companies specifically marketing television, movies, and all sorts of related products to children. There are companies targeting commercials at children in hopes that those children will then bug their parents enough to buy the products, shaping our society from a young age into a consumerist society, while some parents say they just need a break or how the look forward to family movie night. On the flip side, you have organizations saying television is bad, detracting from time which would be otherwise be spent doing other activities, adding to childhood obesity and other health problems. There are parents crying out that TV is the devil (said jokingly in reference to the mother in Adam Sandler’s movie The Waterboy) and banning all reference of television or movies from their child’s existence. Both of these sides tend to take the topic of television to extremes, when there is a middle ground. We are a middle ground family. We have direct tv . In graduate school, my husband really wanted to watch his beloved Red Wings hockey games. It seemed a minor issue to promise him those games out of grad. school. For a long time, hockey games were pretty much the only thing our television was used for, much to the astonishment of my in-laws who have a television (on) in every room, as I’m not one to sit down and surf channels to find something to watch. Later, when we upgraded to a DVR, I found that we could actually plan to record items to watch later, without it interferring with life (hence, I would actually be able to watch something without trying to remember to turn the television on). Since that time, we have found quite a few wonderful documentaries and shows to record and watch. We have seen things that we would never have otherwise seen (deep sea adventures, historical documentaries, erupting volcanoes, and more). There are also the occassional family movie nights. We are able to use this technology as yet another tool for learning rather than something that rules our lives. Just like anything else, it’s not an all or nothing thing. It’s what you make of it. For families worried that television may take over, keep a few things in mind:

  • Given the opportunity, children are quite good at self-regulation. Something which is currently forbidden now may capture their attention at first, but in every family I know who allows self-regulation, the kids do actually regulate themselves in various life areas, often much better than adults (says the woman who turns to sweets in times of stress while my kids have a heathly relationship with food).
  • Kids would rather spend time with you. If you feel that the tube is on too much, offer an alternative. Go cook together, garden, read books, make a craft, go for a walk, or play a game.
  • Turning on the screen doesn’t mean it can’t be turned off. That’s what the power button is for. Don’t be afraid to use technology as a tool for your family where there is benefit. It’s not permanent and you control how much you let it into your life and how it fits. If it doesn’t fit, that’s fine. Just remember that there can be happy mediums in life. If you choose to watch television, continue to be present with your children to help them navigate those messages presented. Child need your presence in life.

Just as with anything, a tool is what you make of it.

Disclaimer: Links to are not an endorsement for the site or for directtv.

12 thoughts on “TV: a Tool or “The Devil”

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  1. Thank goodness for middle grounds. Though we don’t have a TV, we choose certain online media (well, we did when our internet connection was faster in the city) or media from the library as desired. There are ebbs and flows to our interests in the amount of screentime desired. It works for us.

    Love the suggestion to offer an activity to do TOGETHER if the screentime is getting unbalanced.
    Synergistic Acres – Kansas City Natural Farm

  2. So happy to see another middle ground family. We aim for balance and good content and my oldere two will happily agree to a limit and turn off the tele accordingly withouth struggle. Thank you for presenting a balanced, positive view on the topic!

  3. I also love your middle way approach. Each family is different, but its best to use tv as a tool and not be a slave to it. What I find hard is how much tv is too much? I let my 4 y/o son watch 1.5hrs a day. It is my only break in the day and I work at night. But I feel like it is too much. But without it I know I would be a worse mom. It’s such a struggle for me. My son is very high in needs for interaction. I am hoping that maybe when he starts to read we can cut down tv time to 1 program a day. Do you manage to keep tv/videos/media to a weekly thing instead of daily. Do you have any advise?

    1. We don’t really limit screen time at all. The kids are quite capable, when in charge of their own limits, to handle it. Sometimes they have more screen time, but then they will swing to choosing not to turn on the television at all. I find that children will generally choose to do something with a loving adult when given a choice.

      1. Fascinating. I like that they choose not to some days. I am always surprised when my son is done watching before his time is up. Usually when I am right in the middle of something and think, “oh no not yet!” But it’s true, I also believe kids opt for some fun one-pointed adult time if given the choice. Thanks for this.

  4. We cancelled our cable in January. Our kids voiced their displeasure but we have found that having limited TV choices definitely encourages other activities. And…we are saving about $1000 per year!

  5. Love your measured take on this issue. We’ve been so happy to have a Tivo, given to us by a friend. We weren’t sure how we’d like it, but it’s proved invaluable. I like that we can find specific things to have on hand to watch, but we don’t have to watch everything. I do wonder some days if we need to limit TV for our older son, but if we offer him alternatives, he’s almost sure to take us up on them, so I think that’s what “limiting” ideally looks like for us.

  6. My baby is just over a year old, and he has two older half-siblings (10 and 11). They are with us on weekends, and they watch tv all the time; they set their alarms to get up at 6.30 am to start watching on Saturday morning, they sprawl in front of the tv all weekend long, even eating in front of it, and sleeping in front of it, until they go to school on Monday morning. They are overweight, they never take exercise, and they are obsessed with money and buying things (not my kids -I can’t do anything about it). I can’t bear the thought that my son will grow up like this. I’ve not had a tv since I left home at 18 and I’ve never ever missed it – no, not even the “nature documentaries” that people usually cite to justify buying tv.

    1. I hear in your words that you are really worried about these children. I would be, too. I think parents are quick to blame television for such problems, though. Television, as with anything else, is what we make of it. We can use it as a tool, and we can abuse it. My question would be regarding why they are acting in such a manner. What needs are not being met and how could I better meet those needs, if no one else is? I think we can definitely be a positive influence on others, regardless of our blood relation to them. We can model kindness and healthy relationships (with people and in other aspects of our lives), and we can interact with them in positive ways. We can definitely make a positive difference.

    2. I love your answer Boheime. From your viewpoint Sausannah, I can see you being a positive influence on them already. I imagine this must bother you quite a bit though. Looks like you may have to work hard to get those step-kids’ attention, but certainly you can try to find some fun group alternative activities that will bring your family closer together instead of always isolating and hiding behind the tv. They may not like you for it at first, but secretly will hold onto the positive human connections made during the tv-free time. And may even have fun! And not to fear about your baby. You have lots of time to lay the ground work for a healthy lifestyle that doesn’t revolve around tv. Best of luck!

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