Taking questions: How do you control your kids’ TV time?

I can’t muster the energy to blog tonight. I just need sleep. Instead, I’ve decided to give you a quick update about managing our son’s TV time. I had asked for help a few weeks ago because we went from being cable free (for 10 years!) to installing cable after our move…and then Charlie started throwing series of major tantrums. You had some nice suggestions, but my husband ended up just saying that Charlie would get no more TV. As in ever…or the foreseeable future.

Guess what? The daily tantrums are gone. Sure he still whines when he’s tired or hungry, but the major scream fests are completely gone. After a week he even stopped asking for TV. Now it’s been three weeks (I think)! Here’s why I think things are better:

1) Overstimulation — Charlie has had such little exposure to TV in the past that I think the whole experience was overwhelmed his system. I adhered to the Academy of Pediatrics recommendations that children under two get no TV. So when Charlie turned two, he started watching parts of baseball games with my husband. At three he got a little kids programming on Qubo. I should say that Charlie does get some video exposure on the computer — mostly related to a topic of interest. For example, we’ve watched videos about whales, space shuttles, and mammoths on YouTube.

2) More Mommy/Daddy time — I had let Charlie watch TV while I unpacked and did stuff around the house. Now that most of the big stuff is done, the time he spent in front of the TV is now spent with my husband or with me. That’s what he really wants (and needs).

3) Inconsistent Limits — I wasn’t consistent about how much TV he could watch. Even using the timer, some days it was 15 minutes other days it was over an hour. So I am definitely to blame for violating the cardinal parenting rule about consistency.

So we have cable and no one is watching it. Once a week, my husband watches some Netflix movies, but I’m spending my free time on the computer. I don’t see the cable lasting unless I really need it when we have baby #2, but then again do I want to risk the tantrums? You know, TV doesn’t add to my life. In fact, I find that it subtracts. I lose time when I sit there — time I never get back. Did you know that most hospitals keep the TV off in the rooms of people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries (TBI)? It’s because TV is confusing and disorienting to them. I think that is true for many kids and adults without a brain injury (like me).

My husband and I were flipping around the other night and we found a show called “Storage Wars.” Essentially it’s people fighting over abandoned storage units. I couldn’t really believe that this was a show. We watched one episode out of curiosity and then all of a sudden I had spent an hour of my precious kid-free time (Charlie was asleep) watching grown men and women try to outbid each other for people’s old stuff.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’m not missing out when the TV is off.

How do you manage your child’s TV time? Are there any shows out there related to real food?

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15 Responses to Taking questions: How do you control your kids’ TV time?

  1. Shelby September 8, 2012 at 12:39 am #

    TV is nice when kid #2 comes along. I actually didn’t let my son watch much TV at first, he seemed happy to play by himself when I nursed the baby or put him to bed, but that lasted until the baby got old enough to HAVE to nurse in a distraction free environment, meaning I was not able to be around my older son several times a day. This is when my son became more explorative with his “free time” and I worried for his safety (or that of my house).

    So I let my son watch TV when I put the baby down. However, we only have Netflix, and he knows how to restart the program his was watching – and he loves to watch the same program over and over. So, he only gets to watch TV after lunch (baby’s second nap) and must entertain himself for the AM nap. In the PM, if I take longer than the 20 minute program with the baby, then my son will watch the episode a second time. As my son does not know how to select his own show I have full control of what he watches (we use Windows Media Player, and the remote with it can get a little complicated, especially since he can’t read yet (he’s 3)).

    I am tempted to simply say “No TV” but days I have not let him watch it have been bad as he is without supervision for so long. I know that once I can be consistenly less than 15 minutes with my baby, the TV is going to be even more limited.

  2. jenna @kidappeal September 8, 2012 at 7:50 am #

    we are sensitive to screens too. they give me headaches, and over all over stimulation of brain. the kids will get headaches, or worse, migraines. we are being seen by a neurochiro to help build up weak areas of the brain and calm down hyper parts. we wear tinted glasses, my son blue, mine are pink when we look at screens so they don’t as much damage.

    when they watch now, i ask them to take breaks every 20-30 mins and do a lap around the block on feet, scooter or bikes. the focus on far distance (vs near for the screen) and the absence of light from screens helps. sunglasses outside are key too, the bright sunlight can be just as overstimulating for a weary brain!

    glad you are getting relief and your boy is feeling better. isn’t it sobering how intolerant to modern life our wee ones are?

  3. Cheryl September 8, 2012 at 8:24 am #

    Don’t stress too much if you have to go back to tv when the baby is born. It is a short time in the scheme of things and now you know how to reverse it and that although it is difficult to cut off, it is possible and well worth it. Do what you need to do for yourself though when the little one comes. The way I saw it, that extra hour of sleep I got in the morning while my son watched tv after a long night up with a newborn enabled me to function and be actually present mentally for him the rest of the day. Plus he learned all of his letters and sounds by watching leapfrog phonics farm (it’s on Netflix).

  4. Katie September 8, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    We limit screen time for our kids (now 7 and 5), but I did use TV some when baby #2 came along. When I just had to put the baby down for a nap and I needed the then 3 year old to stay in one place for a few minutes it was worth it. Now we have no screen time during the school week for the kids, but on weekends they are allowed to each pick one 30 minute show in the morning (on DVDs or netflix, we don’t have cable) and then that’s it. They don’t ask for it the rest of the day because they know that’s their TV time and then it’s done for the day.

  5. Meredith September 9, 2012 at 7:46 am #

    My daughter has always watched TV but just in moderation. There was a point when she was younger, like your son, I wondered if I should pull the plug on her. The problem is that my husband is a sports nut so keeping turned off is a problem. So we have learned to treat it as a daily habit. After breakfast, she gets to watch a show, then she can play with her toys, then it’s craft time. Of course, there were some tantrums to watch another show at first but by keeping to the schedule, she now turns off the TV by herself and goes to her room. TV can be beneficial to a child and I have always believed it should be a tool not a crutch.

  6. Shereen September 9, 2012 at 8:03 am #

    I think the key, as you mentioned, is consistency. That’s what’s worked for us. My son (3 yrs) knows that he gets to watch one show after breakfast and that’s it. Sometimes he still fusses and asks for more, but usually he knows that’s it and it’s not a big deal. I pick mornings because I’m not a morning person and need a little time to myself to just wake up, but I think any time works as long as it’s consistent and doesn’t seem random.

  7. lucy September 9, 2012 at 12:47 pm #

    I’ve never had cable in the 19 yrs that I’ve had my own household (apartment or house). I get about 6 channels free with an antenna that picks up digital signals. So all we get are the basic Canadian channels like CTV and CBC and TV Ontario – no American channels and none of the really addictive children’s channels. Whenever I’m travelling and stay in a hotel with hundreds of channels I watch them for a while, but the novelty soon wears off when I find myself up late watching something silly like Storage wars when I should be sleeping off my jetlag instead! My (8 yr old) son never really got interested in watching TV because he didn’t/doesn’t know any better. The only TV we’ve watched in the past few months was the Olympics – which was quite addictive for me; once I turned on the TV to start watching on a weekend morning I found myself watching all day, unable to tear myself away even from sports that I don’t normally follow! My (8 yr old) son wasn’t that interested but mainly enjoyed watching the sports that involved people somersaulting and spinning in the air (diving, trampoline etc). Once the Olympics was over that was it with our TV watching – I don’t think I’ve turned the TV on again since then. Maybe we’ll watch again when the Winter Olympics start! – or maybe the World cup of soccer, in 2014.

    My son’s screen time is spent watching DVDs on the TV (he has about 10 or so favourites that he watches over and over again), doing “starfall” and some other educational programs on my computer, or watching music videos on youtube with me. He can do starfall on his own any time he wants to, he always turns on my computer first thing in the morning to check out the starfall calendar, but he is only allowed to turn on the TV to watch DVDs in the evenings, before supper, and he has to turn it off to come to eat supper. He has always had this rule and just accepts it as the law. When I was watching the Olympics in the mornings, he was asking me why the TV was on in the morning when we’re only supposed to watch in the evenings. And we only do youtube in the evenings after his shower before going to bed, if it’s early enough after he has finished all his other more important stuff. That’s his incentive to get his evening stuff done quickly, but he only manages to get it about once a week or less.

    I suppose, like you, if we got cable with all the fun kids channels and if I allowed him to watch TV at any time of day, he might get used to it and want to watch more. If I were you I’d probably just do away with the cable, if none of you is watching it that much right now. When the baby comes along if you do need to allow him more screen time, you could just let him watch DVDs where you have easier control over what he watches and how much time he spends. Or you could keep him busy with starfall which at least is interactive and he can learn something from.

  8. Samantha September 9, 2012 at 10:44 pm #

    we cut the cable right before kid 2 showed up. my son was almost 3, and anything we were going to let him watch was on dvd. three years later and there’s still no cable or desire to get it back. we do have cable internet and netflix, and we have to put the remotes away at night or the kids will start it up before 7am.

    i love netflix shows because you can set the time limit as “one episode.” we’ve also got a pretty decent kids’ dvd collection and we check out one every couple of weeks from the local library.

    during the week we’ve got it very well established there’s no tv on school nights. i might let them watch a movie one weekend day, and they usually watch an episode of blue’s clues or something similar weekend mornings.

    when the boy was little he loved my friends tigger and pooh. they were about 20 minutes. i felt like that was a fair amount and didn’t get him riled up.

    i’ve also made a playlist on youtube of the girls favorite things — nursery rhymes and old bits of sesame street from my era. it’s probably about the same time length.

  9. Kate September 10, 2012 at 8:42 am #

    Hey, Storage Wars isn’t so bad! Granted, it’s not Masterpiece Theatre, but I do usually learn something when I watch it. It can actually be an interesting look at material culture. You just have to get past the part where they try to one-up each other for the lockers, and see what stuff comes out of the storage units.

  10. jums September 10, 2012 at 2:42 pm #

    We ward off TV addiction by having only the most basic, basic, basic cable. Seriously, it’s only about $13 a month and it has CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, PBS, and C-SPAN, plus MeTV, a retro-tv channel that fascinates my kids. MeTV airs old shows like M*A*S*H, The Partridge Family, The Monkees, Mary Tyler Moore, but it also airs a lot of depressing commercials aimed at old folks (reverse mortgages, insurance plans for the elderly, buttons to push if you’ve fallen and can’t get up). In a way, watching TV at our house is like watching TV during the 70’s. You enjoy the little you watch, and then you turn it off and do something else with the rest of your day. No 24-hour hyperactivity sold as “kids-tainment”.

    A good food show I stumbled upon on PBS is Kimchi Chronicles. My ten year old son and I will often watch it together, drooling over the food.

  11. Kristi September 10, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

    I have two kids, 13 and 11 and we haven’t had cable for several years. My daughter can be a t.v. junkie and my son loves to be on the computer. I got tired of trying to figure out how much time they had on each so I have enlisted a credit system. Each week they receive 7 hrs worth of paper credits to utilize throughout the week. They are free to get on line or watch t.v. as long as they have all of their chores and homework done. Each credit is in 20min increments so that’s enough time for 1 t.v. show (we use netflix streaming on our wii) or a game on the computer. They have learned to ration and use their time wisely. If they are out of credits before the end of the week then they are cut off (although that doesn’t usually happen as they have so much homework each night that it really limits them). If they happen to have extra credits at the end of the week, they do not roll over. I’m sure this system works best for older kids but you could modify for the younger ones.

  12. Jennie September 10, 2012 at 8:31 pm #

    I must admit that Netflix has been surprising to me, they offer so many educational videos like Leapfrog and many more like it that it does not make me feel bad that my son watches. We watch a lot of movies, together, and I find nothing wrong with it. He will just as easily and excitedly pick a Discovery type movie as he will a classic Disney.
    There are many things in hislife that are structured but when it comes to recreation, there is no system, if it makes acceptable sense at thetime then we go for it.
    I think as long as I am constantly involved in his world, being a single mom, we both need the breaks. He will sit very happily watching his shows or visiting his “learning” sites while I study or get housework done.

  13. Aleria September 10, 2012 at 9:41 pm #

    I used to watch some tv as a kid, but back then we had stuff that was actually educational. I have as fond of memories for Kratt’s Creature’s, Art Attack, Bill Nye, Magical Schoolbus and the like as I do of reading books fictional and educational. But that was more than likely my own personality rather than my parents, since I don’t recall them limiting me necessarily. Later on I did watch other, non educational shows (I mostly remember Digimon and Cardcaptors, which stimulated a love of animation I still have)

    However, there were also large periods of time where due to poverty we had no TV, and I don’t recall it bothering me unduly. We lived in the middle of nowhere so I just went and explored the woods. I currently don’t have TV and although I do watch stuff on the computer at times, TV has always been a “Nice when I have it, don’t care if I don’t” sort of thing, though increasingly when going home to visit my parents (I’m 20) I find I’m not that interested in anything on anymore – used to be that the Food Network, Discovery Channel, etc, would have good stuff, but that sadly has fallen by the wayside. Internet content is far more interesting and has the benefit of only being a distraction when I have the time for it, rather than being scheduled.

  14. Mead September 16, 2012 at 8:32 pm #

    I was home schooled (non-schooled) until high school, and my younger sister and I had very strict TV rules, no TV if it was light outside, and 1-2 hours at night 3 nights a week, the time went up as we got older and started having vastly different tasts in shows. My Dad is a TV addict so he had it on a lot but mostly things we were not interested in watching, and we had a fairly well established policy of Dad likes things that are bad for him so just because he does something doesn’t mean you can, such as soda which we could only have once a month and Dad had everyday. Until we were teenagers we could only watch things on tape, which helped my parents to control the content without us having to check with them every single time if something was okay.

    There were a few exceptions to the rules, my mother thought star trek TNG was a great program which taught values and reasoning so we both used to watch it with her every week day in the late afternoon. And the olympics was a family event every 4 years (when they both used to be in the same year), in fact we only had cable in olympic years.

    The rules were consistant and hard to argue with, if it was light out you couldn’t turn the set on, and once you did you had to set a timer for the amount of time you were going to watch. There were no restrictions on computer time, and we had a PC from the time I was about 7, my father is a programer and he considered ALL computer use to be educational/skill building, we just didn’t own any games with guns (unless you count the oregon trail).

    To this day (I’m almost 30) I don’t have cable, just netflix, and I use my parents account to watch HBO online, my mother decided 10 years ago that the only reason to own a TV was HBO and masterpiece theater.

  15. Jen September 17, 2012 at 8:14 pm #

    We have been giving my daughter “TV Tokens” since she was 3, she is now 5. We wanted to give her control over her screen time, instead of it continuing to be a semi-random parent-controlled thing that frustrated everyone. We started with 90 minutes a week and have not seen any need to increase that, although we do occasionally make parental exceptions (e.g. we’re both sick and don’t even have the energy to read, or the Olympics are on, or I want to watch something special with her).

    It started very simply with 3 poker chips to represent 30 minutes each. Then she got to watching half of a show (Dinosaur Train and Word World both have two mini-shows in their 30 minutes), so we added a second color token to represent 15 minutes. Then she got to wanting to watch some YouTube videos, so we replaced one of the 15-minute tokens into three 5-minute tokens. It’s more complicated, but she’s also practicing math and using more complex symbolic representations, so it’s educational too.

    We do have some other TV rules:
    – Mom or Dad need to preview and approve a show before she can watch (we don’t have cable but we do have a TiVo and Netflix, so that makes this rule easier)
    – Her morning chores (toilet, teeth, hair, dress, make bed) need to be done and her room, work-desk, and toys need to be cleaned up before turning the TV on.
    – No TV after dinner because it’s too close to bedtime and too many studies have linked late screen time with difficulty sleeping or poor-quality sleep.
    – TV cannot interfere with other activities e.g. a family walk or even running errands with Mom while Dad’s at work.
    – Movies count as 90 minutes even if they’re longer.

    We give her TV tokens on Mondays and she can use them whenever and however she chooses during the week, as long as the above requirements are met. If she uses them all on Monday, that’s it for the week. Now that school’s started, if she wants to watch a movie, she’s saving her TV tokens all week until there’s time on Saturday. I like that she’s choosing (sometimes 5 days a week) to delay gratification. Unused tokens do not roll-over to the following week, and there are many weeks when the tokens do not all get used (although not nearly as many as there used to be).

    Boy, that was a much longer post than I expected to write. We like our system. Hope you find something that works well for your family!

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