Your Eyes are Going to Melt Out of Your Head (and Other Reasons You Should Turn the TV Off)

We've all been there. You're trying to communicate to your Little One but they're in The Zone. You're on your third or fourth or maybe fifth time of calling they're name, raising your voice despite them being 3 feet away, clapping your hands even to try and get their attention when you've had enough. You pause the TV show or even snap the TV off.....and there it is; the flicker of life that indicates your Little One has come out of The Zone and is now back in reality. 

As a caregiver, I've had a longstanding battle with children and TV. My first gig as a nanny was at age 15 for four children ranging from 3 months old to 10 years. It was on a farm in Ohio and there was only 30 minutes of TV allowed of a dedicated Spanish language program so the children could become multilingual. I would have given my left arm for an extra 30 minutes of TV time during those 8 hour days. Flash forward to 15 years later and I find myself hating TV time. It's a combination of the content and the timing and it's something that needs to be talked about.

I sometimes watch for a family that LOVES the TV. Zero rules on when the TV can be on and the TV is always on. No joke, I have never been there when the TV was off. I switched the TV off one day when we left for the park but on our arrival home, I found that it had been turned back on again by mom. The kids would zone in for 3 minutes here, 5 minutes there and then resume playing for a couple minutes before repeating the staggered TV watching/playing routine. Between the constant noise and flashes of light as well as the kids inability to focus the whole experience gave me anxiety. I can't wrap my head around why these parents would want that for their 3 year old. At best, there is ZERO benefit and at worst, it's damaging their child. 

Nothing on TV could ever replace the feeling of going outside and playing!

I'm all for TV. I love watching a good show at the end of the day and my husband will tell you I get emotional about making a big bowl of popcorn to settle down with for a movie. But I'm an adult and even with my "Don't tell me how to live my life" adult mentality, I STILL don't watch as much TV as some children I know. In 2009, The Nielson Company found that on average, children ages 2-5 spend 32 HOURS a week in front of the TV. They also found that older kids, ages 6-11 watch about 28 hours but the decrease is mostly likely due to longer school hours. Let's focus on the Little Ones though - at 32 hours a week, that is almost a FULL TIME JOB. That study was 8 years ago so I can only conclude that those numbers have increased. (I tried to find more recent data but the most reliable info is the Nielson study cited above). We also know that increased TV watching can lead to obesity, lack of actual playtime, sleep issues, and behavioral problems. 

It's not movie night with me if there isn't an abundance of freshly popped popcorn!

So let's chat about what CAN be done to break this cycle. First, your child should not be in control of the remote. TV is a treat and just like you wouldn't allow your kids full access to sweets, you shouldn't allow them full access over the television. Asking for permission is a basic requirement in all children's lives and the TV shouldn't be any different. Next, vocabulary needs to be established that subtly lets kids know that the TV being on is not an indefinite thing. Start saying "Do you want to watch a show?" instead of "Do you want to turn the TV on?" This defines the amount of time the TV will be on for - the length on one show instead of whenever your child wants the TV to go off. I also stick to no more than 2 shows in a row which puts TV time at about 44 minutes. Anything longer than that and we're moving into movie lengths. Speaking of movies - WATCH THEM! But do it as a family and do it at night! Set up special days where you pop some popcorn, snuggle on the couch, and watch a beloved classic. Co-watching with your kids lets you interact and have an experience which means your child is less likely to zone out. Most of all, remember that your TV is not a substitute for actual childcare. You can't just plop your kid down in front of the Boob Tube and expect for their minds to expand. Just like you would get a headache or feel dizzy after watching hours of TV, your kid is going to have the same physical side effects and more. Television is great but it's a poor substitute to what your child needs most --- YOU!

What are your thoughts? Do you have dedicate TV time or movie nights?