Just Say No! {Why I Do Not Allow My Toddler to Watch TV}

Ah. The TV. The Acropolis of the modern American family. A source of knowledge, entertainment, way out of boredom, even maybe shopping. A baby-sitter? Well … Not in mine, and certainly not in my kid’s. I am totally against watching TV, and I make sure that it’s not a part of my toddler’s life at all. If you are a parent using the TV to entertain your children, don’t get me wrong; I would still let my daughter come to your house. I actually do my very best to put myself in your shoes, but somewhere, somehow, there is a part of me which just does not get it. Until age 2, the TV should not even be on your kid’s menu of activities. After that, it should be heavily monitored.

NO TV IN MY HOUSE (COVER)

The explanations excuses I hear from parents who let their kids watch (usually too much!) TV are:

“I don’t get anything done otherwise!”

Define “get something done.” Unless your child does not have arms or legs, they can help. They can fold clothes, dust furniture, clean up, pick up things, stir a vinaigrette … And I think that most children crave that parent attention which says: “I trust you enough to let you do the things that I do myself.” Things may get messy, but they’ll get done.

“My children have learned so much from that show.”

One of my favorites. There is nothing you cannot teach your children. Even a foreign language. You can learn it together, practice together, and create memories. Children learn through observation and repetition. Read: if you do it and do it over and over again, they’ll learn how to do it. Bonus: being a role model for your child, and learning something too.

“This is a moment we share as a family.”

When the TV is on, you watch it. There is no exchange happening between members of the family. It’s like a parallel conversation. Everybody is there, but no words cross each other. Plus, eyes are attracted to bright lights, so the TV wins over grandma.

“I grew up watching TV all the time, and I am still smart and educated.”

I believe you, but does it mean that your kids will be? What did you watch? How much time was spent on commercials at the time?

“That’s the only way they don’t fight with each other.”

Ah, siblings fights. Wait until they fight over the remote.

“The TV is a cheap form of entertainment. It’s just too expensive to all go out.”

The average monthly TV subscription is $123. That’s $1,476 a year. For that price, you can be a member of the Audubon Foundation, NOMA, and probably pretty much every children’s activity center in the city. Or you can go to Florida over a weekend. Or buy bikes and ride at City Park.

Don’t get me wrong. I am no parenting goddess. I do not pull glitter out of my ears to entertain my daughter. Instead, I work on two things: simple life skills and play time. Both of which teach patience, neatness, self-esteem, camaraderie, and dedication. As I wrote earlier, I believe that you can teach anything. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it takes errors. But the upfront work is worth the gain. My 19-month-old peanut can help me around the house for instance. Things get done, slowly, but they do, and she is so proud to help.

Later on, I will teach her and her sister board games. Word games, strategy games, memory games … all of which are fun to play together as a family or with friends. They create memories and foster authenticity. Spending time in a sand box, by a water table with seashells, or having an impromptu drawing contest on the sidewalk are all ways to have fun outside. Making puppets out of rolls of toilet paper with yarn and goggly eyes and setting them in a theater made of card box develops imagination. Playing sports together can mean to just grab a ball and play in the yard. I don’t think that children need complicated and extravagant activities in order to be entertained … and sometimes, they’re better off playing on their own. I’m fine with that, too.

Activities create memories and foster-2

Do I feel like I am robbing my kids of precious enlightenment? Certainly not. It’s not like they will never ever watch a movie! This is all about balancing screen time with other activities, and I think that the ratio should be closer to 1 to 10. One hour of TV for 10 hours of other non-screen activities. Of course, I watch movies, and documentaries! Of course, I have watched a TV show before! But do I make it habit? Nope. I will not be that person whose TV is reigning on a stand in the family/dining/living room. I want to have genuine conversations with my children and my husband, not scream over a screen. I do not want my children to feel like they “have to” hurry up in order to catch the last episode of such and such show. Later on, I will not encourage them to watch TV, but I will not deny them access to age-appropriate shows if they ask.

Do I sometimes feel out of place because I don’t know the latest TV drama? Oh yes, absolutely. I get the weird looks (“You haven’t seen – fill in the blank with the latest show – ?”) I can’t relate to some friends or even members of my family. To anyone asking why I am not up-to-date with the latest shows or movies, here is my response:

We just don’t have time for this stuff! Life is about making priorities. The TV will never be one of ours.

15 Responses to Just Say No! {Why I Do Not Allow My Toddler to Watch TV}

  1. Victoria July 22, 2015 at 2:25 pm #

    Marie-

    I love this!! I grew up and we never had TV in the living room- we played board games and played outside and did arts and crafts. My husband was raised in front of the TV and he always wants it to be on! I feel like this will be a huge struggle in our house as my son gets older…

    Thanks for the lovely article!

    • Marie H. July 22, 2015 at 3:18 pm #

      Victoria,

      Thanks for the lovely comment. My husband also grew up watching a lot of TV and we have found that it is not a struggle because he likes to play games with us a bit. I mean – hey! if he wants to watch a game or show or whatever, he can, but high chance is, the rest of us will be outside, so he usually joins the fun. Good luck with your son! Any suggestions for arts and crafts with young children you would like to share with our readers?

      • Victoria July 22, 2015 at 8:57 pm #

        Marie-

        That’s great, I hope it is the same as my son gets older! As far as arts and crafts for younger children, painting is always really fun! (as long as you can get them to not eat it) My mom would take me outside and get me a big piece of butcher paper to paint, then when we were through she’d get out the hose and we would play in the water!

        As I got older I loved to build “houses” (more like shacks hehe) for my dolls and different things with popsicle sticks and glue 🙂

        Thanks for the comment back!

        Victoria

  2. Erica July 26, 2015 at 4:12 pm #

    I wish you lived in Baton Rouge so our families could get together! I am the same way about tv & the mothering that you described. I think we’d get along great. Thank you for offering this option to new moms who may not have considered a tv-free home before. It is so peaceful & fun to interact with my family instead of us all zoning each other out in front of a tv everyday.

  3. Kay July 27, 2015 at 3:10 pm #

    This is probably the most snobby anti tv post I’ve ever read.

    • Kendra July 27, 2015 at 6:53 pm #

      Agreed! If you don’t want to watch TV or want your kids to watch that’s great. But maybe you could try to express it in a less snobby fashion.

      • Melissa July 28, 2015 at 12:31 pm #

        I agree. Everyone makes choices that fit their own family. If you don’t want tv, that’s fine. But the author makes so many assumptions about tv watchers, that it is clear she feels she is a better parent. We are all doing the best we can, tv or not, and I feel we could use more support and less of this judging.

        By the way, we don’t watch commercials (hello Netflix and DVDs) and we watch movies and shows as a family and actively discuss what is happening. We also play games and do activities indoor and out and cook together and learn together, so it’s possible to do all the things you mentioned and still watch some
        TV.

  4. Marie H. July 29, 2015 at 3:32 pm #

    Melissa,

    I am sorry that you felt like my post dictated to mothers what they should be doing. It was not my intention! The “excuses” I brought up are actual reasons I have heard and I wanted to address them in my own way, with my own beliefs. I do not pretend to be a better person than anyone else, and as I said, I allow myself some “screen time”, on Netflix for instance. For now, I just chose not to make it an integrated part of my parenting, for personal reasons, and because of the research I quoted. I certainly believe that there is time for activities AND TV, but I don’t make time for TV in my toddler’s life. Of course, I only have one child for now (and lots of energy!), and I am certain that things may change in the future (with more children of older age). You mention that you discuss shows/movies with your children. Can you give me some titles of age-appropriate movies you would recommend? Thanks for the comment, and for reading me! Any feedback is appreciated. 🙂

    Marie H.

    • Melissa July 30, 2015 at 9:49 pm #

      We definitely watch more TV now than we used to, partially because my daughter is 2 so we are more comfortable with screen time, and partially because we have a second child now and need some extra breaks. Sesame Street was initially all we watched (Elmo in particular), but I like Curious George and Daniel Tiger because they also teach lessons. Winnie the Pooh, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Strawberry Shortcake occasionally get watched, and we also watch lots of animated movies. The movies we like usually involve animals. If there isn’t an obvious lesson in the show being watched, we talk about what is happening and try to expand vocabulary (pointing out new objects, animals, etc), count or find colors. We recently started to talk about feelings being portrayed throughout the movie, but it’s always based on the current development of our daughter as well as her interest. We recently liked watching Frozen as we got ready for baby 2 as it portrays sisters, and my daughter loved it. She still generally prefers animal shows, but that was an exception. Also, if she stops paying attention, we turn it off. Most movies get watched in 2-3 parts, depending on length and subject.

      • Marie H. August 1, 2015 at 9:03 am #

        Hi Melissa,

        Thanks for the response with all these suggestions. My understanding is also that Sesame Street and Curious George are more educational than some other “kid shows”. I think that it’s great how you use the TV experiences you share with your children, at least with your toddler daughter, to start conversations about vocabulary. That’s exactly what schools do with the “use of technology” in the classroom. The media can be a wonderful educational tool!

        Again, thanks for reading and taking the time to write back!

        Marie

  5. Amanda July 30, 2015 at 8:21 am #

    I feel like your post is way to aggressive and judgmental of parents who allow their kids to watch TV. There is not right answer to how much TV kids should watch.
    Should a 2 year old play Halo, NO, shoudl a 32 year old watch Game of Thrones, UM NO. But
    every Sunday in the fall we cook and have family/ friends over to watch Football games. It is so fun, so your saying we should not participate in an American past time? Or in your opinion is football bad to watch bc it condones violence?
    Your post is way to judgy for a mom blog, you really do not see both sides of the table on the TV issue and I would welcome a chance to debate this.

    • Amanda July 30, 2015 at 8:23 am #

      Excuse my typos!

    • Marie H. August 1, 2015 at 9:07 am #

      Hi Amanda,

      I never intended for my post to judge the way people spend time with their children. If watching games and TV works for you and your family, then go for it! My article was more about parents who let children watch TV on their own for longer periods of time as a substitute for engaging parenting. I am sorry if you felt that I was trying to dictate that all parents should remove all screens from their children’s lives. As I stated, I am not against some TV in the future, but it will never be an important part of my parenting methods, mostly because I don’t watch much TV myself!

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!

      Marie H.

  6. Solène July 30, 2015 at 5:01 pm #

    Bonjour, superbe article !
    J’ai 18 ans, je suis française et j’ai grandi sans la télé omniprésente, et je ne suis pas différente de ceux qui ont grandi avec. Petite, je ne regardais que des dessins animés, et seulement le dimanche soir, avec mon papa, c’était un moment de détente et de câlin père-fille. Mes parents travaillaient tous les deux, mais j’avais une vraie baby-sitter, avec laquelle je faisais des activités comme des dessins, de la lecture, des jeux de constructions… elle avait la télé, mais elle était toujours éteinte quand j’étais là.
    Je pense moi aussi que la télé ne devrait pas servir de baby-sitter.
    Maintenant que je suis plus âgée, je la regarde un peu plus souvent, mais je préfère lire un livre que regarder un “talk show”.
    Merci pour cet article très interessant ! (En plus, il est compréhensible, même pour une non bilingue 🙂 )

    Hello, great article !
    I’m 18 years old, i’m french and i grew up without “omnipresent TV” and i’m not different than those who grow up with. Kid, i watched only cartoons and only on sunday evenings, with my dad, this was a moment of detente and daughter-father hugs. My parents had a job both, but i had a real baby-sitter, with which i made activities like drawing, reading, building games, memory games… she had TV but it was always off when i was here. I think too that TV does not be used as a baby-sitter. Now that i’m older, i watch it more offten, but i prefer read a book than watch a talk-show.
    Thanks for this interesting article ! (plus, it’s understandable, even for a not bilingue 🙂 )

    • Marie H. August 1, 2015 at 9:11 am #

      Solene,

      Merci pour ta gentille réponse! Ca m’a fait très plaisir! Je suis d’accord avec toi: être exposée à la télé ne fait rien de mal, tant que d’autres activités, ludiques ou sportives, sont proposées a l’enfant. De cette façon, en grandissant, la personne a des centres d’intérêts varies. Merci encore de m’avoir lue!

      A bientôt j’espère!

      Marie H.

      [ Thanks for your kind response! It was very touching! I agree with you: being exposed to the TV does not hurt, as long as other activities, whether they are games or sports, are offered to children. By this way, when they grow up, people have various interests. Thanks again for reading me!]

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