My Child Doesn’t Watch Television

I mentioned in my 2011 goals that I didn’t want Ella to watch any television.

For me, television means anything that comes through a TV screen – movies, television, Netflix, etc.

I think when I make a blanket statement like “No television for Ella” that some people might take it to mean I’m deeply anti-television and think people who let their children watch a lot of shows are negligent monsters or that children who watch TV are going to grow up to be brainless zombies.

In fact, none of those are really true.

There are two main reasons that I feel strongly about my child not watching television:

  1. I personally cannot stand the sound of the television playing in the background. I didn’t grow up in a television watching house (which is one reason that for me when I say “television,” I usually mean “movies”), and the constant noise of it just gives me a headache.
  2. I know that I’m a pretty lazy person and if Ella starts getting into television, it will be hard for me to not turn it on any time I want to read or cook or waste time on the Internet. So, I just don’t even want her to know it’s an option.

And it’s not like Ella has no screen time. She occasionally plays with my phone while we’re driving (this seems to go in spurts – sometimes she wants it almost every trip and sometimes we go weeks without her asking for “babies”), she uses the Tumblebooks program from our library’s website (where it reads books aloud to her), and she continues to love the Christmas digital advent calendar my in-laws gave us last year (which is why many mornings this summer, I have dressed for triple digit heat with “Once in Royal David City” and “Jingle Bells” playing from my living room).

So, do I demand that we leave someone else’s house if their television is on? No. Has Ella watched ten or fifteen minutes of a show at a friend’s house here and there? Certainly.

But for now, Ella continues to have no idea what the giant black screen in our living room does. And that’s just the way I like it.

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  1. I remember before Nat was born thinking that 2 years was a long time with no TV. But now that we're almost there, I can't really imagine when he would've watched, anyway. I'm with you – if Nat knew it was an option, it would be all too easy for it to ALWAYS be an option. Does this mean that he hasn't seen bits and pieces of the occasional kid-friendly movies (generally musicals) we've watched? Of course not. But for me, it's easier to just avoid the (annoying, anyway) kids' programming altogether than to limit it to "sometimes."

    Maybe it also has something to do with the fact that our remote doesn't work and our DVD player is in our VCR so that means I have to turn on all kinds of contraptions and I am lazy.

  2. I've got to tell you that as a child raised in a home without a television…it was glorious. I remember reading all the time, doing crafts and playing outside. I also remember kids at school asking in horror "You don't have a TV? What do you do all time time?" I'm so thankful that my parents chose a different route for me. I believe it made a huge difference in my education (not to brag, but I was in the the top 10 of my high school graduating class and had my doctorate at 24). To this day, in my mid-thirties and a television owner, I rarely watch it and can often be found lost in a book. I think it has made all of the difference.

  3. I feel the same way about television — I hate having it just "on." I despise commercials, and I hate the idea of just plopping in front of it to passively vegetate. For the first 5 years of our marriage we didn't even own a TV. (And I have to admit that I was a little obnoxiously self-righteous about it.) But then last year a relative offered to give us his really, really nice big flat screen, and the mercenary side of me thought — well, even if we don't keep it I can at least sell it for a couple hundred bucks. And we rarely used it. But then third trimester hit and I was barely sleeping, and suddenly having a TV was a godsend to entertain my 2-yr-old while I got some much needed sleep. Same goes for after the baby was born. Especially because my husband was working so much, I HAD to have something to keep her occupied for an extra hour. So while I'm a little sad at my withered idealism, being well-rested has prevented me from being "monster mom" the rest of the day. Also, it is fun to see how excited Maren gets to see a show every now and again. It's certainly an effective incentive. So I have mixed feelings about it now.

  4. I hate having television being on (we don't have cable), but I do turn on movies while I clean, cook, do whatever. I think growing up in a big family made me accustomed to background noise, and now with it being just the two of us, my apartment is too quiet. That being said, I feel VERY strongly about not letting our kids watch television until the age of 2 and even then carefully regulating it. I see how addicted my younger siblings are, how they can't entertain themselves the way my sisters and I did, and I can't stand it. Our kids will most definitely be the weirdos with no television.

  5. Haha! The ad that came up at the end of your post in Google Reader was for Hulu Plus: "Instantly watch TV shows & movies."

    I agree that limiting television is a good thing to do. I need to learn how to do it for myself before I'll be able to do it for my kids, though!

  6. Way to be mama! I don't watch tv, haven't had it in my house since August 2011, so almost a year. Sometimes I watch tv at my parents. I used to get netflix then cancelled my account last month. I just feel like there are 100 things that are better to do.

  7. I grew up in a house where the tv was often on. My mom watched the news while she cooked and law and order while she graded papers. I watched tv when my friends weren't able to play, but usually chose outside play with them over screen time.

    I love tv now, I'm a bit of a pop culture nut, but the big tv is rarely on while Tate is awake. Sometimes, I watch Netflix on my tablet while I work but always with head phones. I can't bring myself to watch tv without catching up on chores or blogging but I still watch.

    But I feel good that Tate doesn't watch TV & has no interest in it yet.

  8. Our one-year-old does not watch tv either. Although, I have to admit that I am one of those people who used to have the television on for "background" noise. It's been a little difficult for me to adjust. I used to love having the news on in the morning while I got my breakfast ready and ate. BUT, I feel that I still get to watch plenty of tv when my daughter is sleeping. I probably read more often than watch when she is sleeping now anyway. So, it's been good for the whole family.

  9. i haven't turned the tv on since being home with T. She's too young to even know whats going on, but I just hate the noise… hopefully I'll go many more months without turning on a show!

  10. amen to all of the above. we don't even have a tv and i love that it isn't a constant battle of asking to watch tv all day. 🙂 and since mine are 2 and 4 its nice that tv is such a treat that they actually pay attention to the occasional movie!!

  11. This is something that I need to work on. Andrew and Sadie broke our T.V. in April and it was so nice not having the option to even turn it on (although I missed my t.v. time after they went to bed), but being here in Spain the kids have basically zero toys (except for some legos and I'm too cheap to buy toys for two months) and so the T.V. gets turned on, especially during Sadie's nap when I need Andrew to be quiet. I don't like this and I think I've decided not to get a new T.V. when we go home, Nick isn't a big T.V. person so I know he would be on board.

  12. We were really good for a long time. I don't think Wes watched TV for his first two years or so. But then Jones was born and Wes stopped taking naps and I still REALLY needed that break in the afternoon. So he has movie time. And I am embarrassed by how long that movie time can be some days!

  13. I never had cable growing up either. My dad was a huge fan of movies though and every Friday night we would gather together as a family and have pizza and watch old Disneys or musicals. Those are some of the sweetest memories I have with my dad. I love him for creating a tradition where we were safe at home, watching movies together that were clean and timeless. Now as a mommy I find it super easy to have no TV time at all until our beloved Friday nights. This summer the girls are loving those musicals!

    NieNie of course has no interest in any of it. She's either already in bed or will beg to “dance wis moosic”, which is just the way I like it too!

  14. We never watched TV growing up. Occasionally the weather or the news, and sometimes the Olympics and football games, but never TV shows. It was just hardly ever on. Ty and I don't even have a TV now — we figure everything we want to watch can be found online, and always after T is asleep. I agree with you though, it's more about not wanting to fall into the easy habit of "putting something on" for T while I go do something else. I do like background noise, but that's what Pandora is for. 🙂

  15. So far I haven't found it too tempting to put a movie on for Amelia all the time. I LOVE that she is so good at playing with her toys by herself and so I am very strict on limiting tv time. She'll often go days without it. I am one that likes the background noise, but Amelia never even looks at the tv if it isn't a cartoon, so that's good for now. You do inspire me to read more, I love to read and often find the tv distracting me from that because it is just there and easy.

  16. I grew up in a family of 10 kids. My parents had a deal where we got paid NOT to watch tv (our age X 12 and we got paid at the end of the year – basically this was our allowance too). We were allowed to watch 1 show a month, and we always watched the Olympics. Movies were allowed on Fridays and Saturdays if we asked permission first. We never had any regular channels on our tv due to my dad's system setup.

    We never knew what the trendy shows were, so I never actually cashed in on my one show a month. I remember in high school that people were shocked that I never watched "Friends" or "the OC". I was blissfully free of something demanding of my time. My parents encouraged us in whatever struck our fancies – My brothers and I preferred sports, my older sister craved books that she would pass on to me, my mom encouraged us to do crafts and sewing. I think it benefited us in being able to be independent and entertain ourselves – to use our imaginations and to learn to develop skills in other areas.

    I HAVE noticed that anytime a TV is on, some of my siblings will GLUE their eyes to the tv and sometimes have a hard time paying attention to anything else. I plan to limit my children as much as I can (especially when they are little and can't really comprehend it), but my husband loves watching netflix so I guess we will see how that works out.

  17. Hmmm, I have mixed emotions about this. Not knowing about some movies and TV shows is now the same as not knowing about some books. I'm glad you don't let her sit for hours in front of the mindless wonder, though. Ella is still very young so it isn't a problem, but it could become one as she gets older. One of the problems may be resentment.

  18. We never had cable growing up… And it was just fine. My dad is a movie buff, so there was definitely a lot of Gregory Peck and Jimmy Stewart (and I must confess that we were classic Disney movie junkies) but the idea of tv as a babysitter or background noise was certainly not present. Good for you 🙂

  19. Ike doesn't have any unaccompanied screen time. The vast majority of his screen time is with Eric watching animal/nature videos on YouTube. But I've also come upon them in the living room watching some of Eric's favorite movies – including Lord of the Rings. For real.

  20. I grew up watching TV, but there were restrictions. I can remember being 7 years old and not being allowed to watch Beverly Hills 90210 because my mother said "there was too much kissing." How she knew this I don't know because she's never seen the show in her life. I watched a couple of episodes a few years ago and the kissing was definitely not the problem with that show.

  21. I have found myself steering clear of TV. Movies occasionally, a DVR'd program every so often, going to a movie theater sometimes for date night, but…yeah. It's much less part of my life now than it ever has been before. And I'm still okay!

    Growing up we didn't have "TV" and were only allowed to watch one movie on Saturday night while my Mom put my and my sister's hair in ping spongy curlers. For years the only movie we had was Disney's "Robin Hood" with the foxes and lions and whatnot. And guess what, I turned out okay! 🙂


  22. Hannah watches TV with Joel in the mornings and I don't love it, but I also really want to sleep during that time and I don't want to make a big deal out of it since he's getting ready for work and watching her (and he has always watched TV in the morning). We don't watch any during the day because 1) we have no cable, and 2) she doesn't pay attention, and the noise bothers me. I wonder how things will change when she actually becomes interested in TV… some afternoons I would kill to just sit down and watch How to Train Your Dragon, but she is having none of it! Except for pushing all the buttons on the receiver. She is REALLY into that.

  23. I admire that you've made that decision. My son and his wife are 'anti-tv' for their twins, who are now 3. Except, of course, like you, if they are at someone's house. I'm really proud of them.

  24. I think this is an awesome standard to stick to. She will inevitably get her screen time, like you said, through phones and as you walk through any sort of public place… no need to make it the norm at home. I have found with my infant that sometimes I have a hard time getting things done and the TV is a great distraction (of course!). Though this doesn't happen all the time, I am always interested in knowing what other moms do as an alternative. We've obviously got to have two hands every once in a while, and sometimes it is at a time when Cannon really wants interaction.

  25. Television is part of our culture. I raised my children with the freedom to watch PG shows on TV and guess what they often choose to do other activities. I have to say as a public school teacher many standardized tests refer to the popular culture ie television shows on many test questions. Be prepared for your children to feel left out as teens. I think that you desire to be free of the noise is very legitimate I hate the background noise of football games. I think you should be more moderate and let your child choose shows that are age appropriate as she becomes older. Use it as a tool for incentives. If you cut your child out of the mainstream that creates other problems. Watching computer games on your cell phone is another type of media (visual stimulation) just a newer version. Just an old ladies opinion.

  26. We don't have cable. I watched very little TV 18 months ago when I changed jobs, and then my work hours were incompatible with staying up late, so I quit altogether. We watch movies from Netflix, we watch football, and I watch TV with the subtitles on at the gym while I run. When people find out we don't have cable, they frequently say, "But what do you DO in the evenings?"

    Around here, people use the "we don't watch TV" thing as bragging rights. It turns into "we don't watch TV" versus "we don't even HAVE a TV" versus "we watch TV but only in French and my toddler is already fluent." I'm very glad that my kids are past the age where the playground mothers try to one up each other.

    Mine watched very little TV as toddlers. When my daughter was born, my son watched it (he was 2) because I was exhausted. You do what you have to do to survive. During the school year they watch almost none during the week. Between homework and sports and stuff, there is almost no time.

    I don't think a little age appropriate television is a bad thing, but I do think there is a lot of crap on TV and it's way too easy to overdo it.

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