The Great Fear: Television

Whoah, how is it mid-May already? Well, back to that post series I am writing based on questions from a reader. Next, Zoemaster asks:

5) What if your child just wants to watch tv?

This is not a new concern, nor is it one that has been unanswered. Almost every unschooling blog has addressed the concern of television or video games. I hope to be able to add a little to the conversation, but I’m not sure how new my comments will be.

So, the reader’s question is, “What if they watch TV?”  And my question in response is, yes, what if they did?

What is your concern about television? When adults watch TV to unwind, it’s completely normal, but when kids do it, it’s a tragedy.  I acknowledge, as would most unschoolers, that watching television isn’t preferable to getting outside and playing. But, everyone’s days ebb and flow. They may be ready to play and explore in the morning and more interested in a good movie that evening.  Not only that, television watching, as with many activities, is often seasonal. A child may be really interested in TV for a few weeks, and then not really want to watch it much after that. When they are allowed to choose, they will actually choose something else many times.  But, when it’s a forbidden fruit, they will jump at the chance to watch it any time they can.

Of course, every family has it’s own distinct culture. Let’s say that you have a child who constantly watches television ALL DAY LONG. I have not actually known of a child like this, but let’s take a worst-case scenario, and what every parent fears. If this situation is not working for your family, I would recommend having a family meeting to problem solve. The child gets a say in the solution, as does the rest of the family. Perhaps it’s a problem because others want to watch their own show, or maybe it’s because it is loud and interrupts a peaceful atmosphere desired by other members of the family. Or, perhaps television watching seems to negatively affect your child’s mood and therefore the general happiness of the family.  Living in a family means being respectful of the needs of others, so a child is not allowed to do whatever he or she wants if it infringes on others.

I have to be honest, this is an area that I do struggle with.  But, our house has become one in which the television just isn’t on very often. My husband and I don’t watch much, and my son rarely asks to turn it on. If he does ask, and I really don’t want him to watch, I will often suggest another activity we can do together. He usually just turns to TV when he is bored, so giving him an alternate idea often satisfies that need. But, if he needs a little chill time, I happily flip on the screen, and often plop right down next to him.

Trackback URL

6 Comments on "The Great Fear: Television"

  1. Elizabeth
    20/05/2012 at 9:11 pm Permalink

    Glad to have found this blog. I haven’t gotten far in reading it, but this is an issue we do struggle with some with our three year old. As children get older, I think it makes more sense to be very flexible about TV. But for our little one, he gets drawn in in an almost obsessive way and it is very hard to discuss or have a family meeting. We want to honor him and his interests, but we also want to do our job to protect a little guy who can’t reason well about consequences. I know it changes as they get older, but it has been a very hard balance for us. Ditto on the vegetables/sweet ratios in diet!

  2. Cassi
    21/05/2012 at 9:41 pm Permalink

    Elizabeth– It is a tough one. I also struggle with the food issue, but with my 3 year old, we are starting to really give him a lot more freedom. First, I just don’t buy stuff that I don’t want him to eat (well, there are a few things hidden on top of the fridge that are just for mom and dad). Second, we talk a LOT about nutrition. He knows that meat and vegetables make him grow strong and that too much juice gives him a tummy ache. Of course, there are times he says, “I want a tummy ache.” I usually tell him I love him so much and I don’t want to see him in pain, but that the choice is his. We’ve set up a snack tub filled with lots of options, set on a low shelf on the pantry, so he can help himself. I’ve also stopped telling him to take bites of his food. If he’s hungry, but doesn’t want what I serve, I tell him we can get something else for him after everyone else eats and after he at least tries it to make sure he likes it. I can’t tell you the number of times he has decided that he actually does like the food. (If we do get something else, it’s something simple like a chicken sausage or a quesadilla). So far, he hasn’t really binged on anything to badly. And, when he does, and he feels yucky, he has the wherewithal to trace it back to what he ate. I don’t think he had this ability 6 months ago, though.

    I know some radical unschoolers don’t have limits on food or TV regardless of age, but I do believe that kids grow into the ability to connect nutrition with the way they feel. The same goes for TV and other screen time. My son doesn’t have the ability right now to notice that he’s cranky because he watched TV in the morning and that it shut his brain down. We do talk about it a lot, though, and we talk about the affect screens have on our brains and how they make us tired. And, I usually talk with him before a show about how much he will watch. We agree on an amount and I stick to it. We both have input (usually, he just wants to watch the whole DVD, and I negotiate with him based on what our day is looking like). I also make it a point to sit with him and watch the last 5-10 minutes or so, so I’m not just the adult coming in and flipping off the TV, but I’m an audience member with him saying, “What a great show. So glad we could watch it together. Time to get ready for the park!”

  3. Cassi
    23/05/2012 at 12:14 am Permalink

    I want to add one more thing to this discussion. Kids usually turn to TV for the same reasons adults do: either they are bored and need to be entertained, or they are tired and need a break. In the first case, they are usually easily convinced to not watch TV, especially if you join in with playing with them. It’s not fair of you to expect them to not watch TV if you are not engaging them with something else (particularly at a young age). I often say something like, “Oh, I was hoping you’d play trains with me,” or “Well, I was just going to pull the blanket out and drag you around the house on it.” One of those is usually much more enjoyable to my son than television. (There is also an argument to be made here for allowing kids to be bored and to figure something out on their own. But, you have to be okay with them watching TV for a while to deal with their boredom.)

    If your child is tired and needs a break, you may decide that TV is a fine option. If not, you can try suggesting something else like reading together on the couch or lying outside on a blanket and looking at the clouds. But, don’t be surprised if they are a little less excited about those options.


  4. Andreia
    05/06/2012 at 2:45 pm Permalink

    I have found that by getting rid of cable, it seriously reduces the unthoughtful tv watching. . My kids (16, 11,10 and 8) often seek out television that serves their interests. So the other day, when my eldest picked Ghandi in the middle of the day, and my youngest picked The Colony, I was pretty happy. The Colony is a reality show on netflix that is full of engineering and makes for ample discussion about group behavior, aggression and survival; all the things a 10 yr old boy loves, right?

    Now video games, I will never understand. 🙂

  5. Andreia
    05/06/2012 at 2:46 pm Permalink

    why is it making my 8 into a smiley face?

  6. Cassi
    05/06/2012 at 11:17 pm Permalink

    Andreia, we don’t have cable either. It’s just as great for adults as it is for kids. We only watch television when we have something specific we want to watch. We can’t just channel surf.

    As far as your smiley face, it’s that combination of the 8 and the ) that is doing it. To clarify, everyone, Andreia’s kids are 16, 11, 10, and 8. Not, 16, 11, 10 and 8)


Hi Stranger, leave a comment:


<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Subscribe to Comments
Unschooling Blogs
Powered By Ringsurf