How to deal with the no-TV versus TV parents?

One of the more common topics of discussion here on the Attachment Parenting Blog is the issue of media. Should kids watch TV? Should they use computers or play video games? We have pretty strong feelings about the topic and even our ten year old only watches about one movie a month, if that.
That’s why when the following comment from a reader who has a rather unique situation of her own appeared on our blog, we were so interested…

Her comment:
“We did not have TV growing up. I watched occasionally at a friend’s house but never more than one one hour program. Her parents and mine had similar philosophies on parenting with the result that we were more likely to be playing around in her dress up box than watching TV.
“I am in agony about how to deal with TV now. My husband and I are expecting our first child later this year. I would love to raise this baby similar to the way I was raised, with tons of books and music, including radio, but not much TV. Problem is, my husband is a movie addict and one of the many combat vets who needs to have some sort of background noise playing at all time. I understand his need, to him the TV running represents safety and civilization, but haven’t figured out how to balance his legitimate need with my equally legitimate desire to raise children with a love of learning that doesn’t come in five minute bits.”
First off, my hat’s off to her husband for serving in the war. While my Dad and Sister have both served in the armed forces, I haven’t myself, so I am only aware of the costs of doing so second-hand.
Nonetheless, parenting is parenting, and it seems to me that there should be some middle ground you can reach, some compromise. Before you do, though, I would encourage you to have a candid discussion with him and talk about your own experiences and your desires for creating a nurturing environment for your child.
That’s tough, though. I am a huge film aficionado — I’m watching House of Flying Daggers as I type this — and am dying to share all the great movies with my kids. But Linda and I have agreed that we minimize media exposure to our children while they’re this young, and I know that when they’re in their teens, watching a great film like Citizen Kane and then talking about it will be a formative experience for them and a deep experience for me.
The way I address the issue is that I sometimes watch movies during work hours, or I stay up late and watch them after the little ones have gone to sleep. And sometimes I just sneak away and take an evening to myself (or with my friends) to catch up on some comedies, sci-fi or foreign films.
I wonder if your husband couldn’t do the same, where you set up a “TV room” where he can wander in and read, talk on the phone or actually put 100% attention on the TV itself, but where it was a no-kid zone. Most of the time he’d know it was there but you’d leave the TV off, and if he felt like he needed “a fix”, he could get it easily and with minimal disruptions.
You might also consider what you have on too: For example, there are meditative DVDs you can buy and play in a loop. Even that, though, like some sort of Baby Einstein DVD, will suck the baby’s attention and get in the way of what you seek. Could radio serve the same purpose? A CD changer or iPod dock with a few dozen of his favorite albums?
The key, though, is to candidly discuss both of your visions of a positive, nurturing environment for the baby and see what kind of compromise you can attain.
We wish you the best of luck with this challenge and hope that other readers will pipe in with their own suggestions and ideas about how to find a compromise!

12 comments on “How to deal with the no-TV versus TV parents?

  1. We use a Tivo. It DVR (digital video recording) It pre records whatever possible program we want to watch.. My hubby likes fishing and soccer so he prerecord that.. me I like craft stuff.. and for my kids I picked one program and I picked one day a week they can watch tv..(they have tv day on saturdays) 30 minuted to and can fast forward through commercials . skip non essential stuff.. basically you can speed tv watch instead of 1 hr of wasted time you can sometimes shave off 15 minutes.
    also once the prerecorded program has played it stops .. asking to delete or save program.. what that does it has you make a choice.. ours is.. It’s time to turn off the TV.
    Adults get tv when kids are asleep or not home.
    Your baby will sleep enough in the first couple of months that hubby should be able to program himself to watch less.. TV is an adicition and media as well..Just like new parents quit smoking they can also lessen their time with TV. That baby will make all kinds of noice .. Children are very very noisy… So perhaps it won’t be to difficult!
    headphones and dvd’s work on the computer.. if he needs some quiet movie time he can certainly use the computer…
    certainly find a couple of articles or books and place them next to the loo.. for some reason I found that the best place for things to be read..

  2. What a tough one, sounds exactly like what my parents had to go through. I think the suggestions posted here are a great way for the dad getting his needs met without negatively impacting the child.
    On a side note, this onion article
    about pre-natal TV is wildly funny–and scary prospect at the same time.

  3. I think the point that Dave made about using a radio is a great idea. My problem with TV is the total lack of thought required when “consuming.” At least with a radio it will provide the “background noise” that your husband requires but without the mindless consumption that a TV craves.

  4. Dave,
    Thanks 🙂 TV time is an on going issue that we’ve been discussing since before we knew this baby was on the way. Part of it is our differing family backgrounds and part of it is a typical guy fascination with technology. In this case Tom honestly thinks there’s nothing wrong with TV (or computers, or video games, or cell phones, etc). After all, he watched tons of TV growing up and turned out just fine. His dad is the same way. My dad, on the other hand, is a bit of a neo-ludite crossed with the tail end of the hippie movement. LOL
    When I’m the only one up, I play internet radio most of the time. Hopefully, that will become something he gets more and more used to. It’s one of those parenting . . . . challenges, I suppose that we’ll resolve over time, as this child grows into awareness of his or her environment.

  5. As a vet of 5 combat actions, saying that parenting is parenting, I totally agree with. But being an individual in an infantry MOS, where we talked strictly in extremely low whispers nose to nose or in hand/arm signals, knowing that every noise is your enemy, just the TV noise is a godsend. I know I’m in civilization.
    I am a firm believer as a father that if my children want to watch TV or play video games, it is my responsibility to them to ensure they are watching suitable programing or playing appropriate games. At the same time, I believe that good music, good books, and getting outside in the fresh air to run those little legs off and playing with their friends are just as important. If I could have a whole room to create a shrine to my military service, as well as to have total unabashed home theater that I could keep my children and wife out of, I’d do it. It would be a nice little office in which to write my novel as well as to relax. But I don’t have that right now, as many parents probably don’t, so I have to be the barometer of what is good for my children and what is not and I pray that I make the right decisions.
    I watched a lot of TV when I was a kid. When my dad was in Vietnam there was nothing like eating dinner in front of the news every night. Dinner time is family time. A time to talk about what happened at school and during the day, things they like/don’t like; that’s what dinner is for, communication. I guess the last thing I should say is that the TV is not a babysitter, it’s entertainment and a parent has to know and has to make the decision what’s good and what is not for their child.

  6. Interesting topic. My husband grew up watching everything on TV, during the time when there were only three networks and before PBS discovered the child audience. His family ate in front of the TV, and TV time was family time. My family didn’t have a TV until I was a teenager and then we watched every moment we could.
    Now that I have children, I have learned that TV is the enemy. TV shows for children teach them that sassy children are very funny–the laugh track can’t be wrong, can it? TV also teaches kids about every new product out there, with commercials for every variation on sugary fruit snacks and for every toy on the market. TV has taught my kids to sass, to be disrespectful, to beg. On top of those problems, TV is a huge time waster for kids–there are a hundred other things I’d rather they were doing with their time. I hate TV for children.
    The irony is that I know there are wonderful TV shows out there–I used to watch quite a few myself. I even think that some shows for children are good but the disadvantages make it clear that doing without even the good TV shows is better for all of us. I would cut off the cable TV in an instant but my husband is reluctant to cut the cord. We went several weeks with the cable out of order and we both saw a good change in the kids. The sassiness diminished, we saw more creative activities and more outdoor play. Even with that, my husband doesn’t want to do without cable. That is frustrating for me.

  7. We decided before our baby was born no TV on around her in our house (we can’t control what people do in their houses when we visit). When we first brought Nora home from the hospital it was hard but our TV is in a closed cabinet so temptation was limited. Now that she goes to bed around 7 most nights we occassionally watch taped shows or movies – usually on Friday and Saturday nights. The only TV Nora has seen is the occassional workout video – when she wakes up before I am done – I don’t think that is too harmful.
    People that claim they need TV as a break from their children, I believe aren’t presenting things like books, blocks, dolls, etc to their children so they can play independently. My daughter is never bored and does not need me to entertain her – it fact she entertains me and she is only 13 months!
    I think what angers me the most about TV is excessive over commercialization of shows – it was never like this growing up in the 70s and 80s. Commercialization came out of the development of Cable TV and mass marketing of everything related to children’s programs (and movies).
    I plan on keeping my daughter away from TV as long as possible.

  8. THANK YOU Katherine from November 4, 2007!!! I have 5 and 4 year-old girls and we have a no tv rule in our house. (Except sports for my husband) They are really good kids, eager to learn and good students–Real sweethearts.
    The no TV rule is getting to be the hardest thing in the world to enforce now that they’re in Kindergarten and pre-school, because every toy their peers have is Disney-princess or Bratz related, both which I despise (and are poorly made) because of their stereotypical, shallow, sexualized identities for girls.
    My daughter told everyone at school we don’t watch tv or eat at McDonald’s so we are now outcasts in her school. The whole class, but my daughter and one other girl were dressed as Disney Princesses for Halloween. The girls have isolated her saying she can’t be part of the group because she doesn’t like Disney princesses or McDonalds. The teacher really can’t do much.
    The moms are extremely judgmental and refuse to talk to me, because I don’t want to follow the crowd. I have to do what’s right for my kids, not what’s easiest. I don’t care if they let their kids watch tv and can’t control what they watch if my kids visit, but we don’t watch it at my house. I’m proud of my daughter and myself for standing up for what’s right, but at the same time, I have mommy-guilt for being the reason for her not being accepted in school because of ignorant parents who have also been brain-washed by the media telling them what they should and shouldn’t be.
    TV and marketing has come a long way since the 70’s and 80’s. It’s so sophisticated and invades every second of our life. I’m sure Disney is proud of their extremely successful marketing campaign telling girls they’re only important if they’re pretty. If only those big corporations could promote positive values in our kids with such pervasiveness!
    Kudos to you for keeping your daughter away from TV for as long as you can! It’s an emotional struggle for this mommy, but I know when she grows up, she’ll thank me and have a stronger identifty and stronger, real values as a result.
    Be ready for a rough, lonely road. I’d love there to be a discussion board for other parents like us! I was proud when the teacher said at conferences that I had a very independent-thinking, opinionated daughter! I never felt like I missed out on anything when I was a kid, with no tv all summer during the 70’s or 80’s. We never went to the movies In fact, I have still never seen Star Wars! My husband says it’s a little late. haha

  9. Never Saw Star Wars:
    Wow. You sound really angry with the other parents. Kindergarten friendships are truly not the end of the world–in fact, I’d be surprised if any of the kids remember any of this in two years. Your daughter will remember if you remind her. My daughter didn’t encounter any little-girl-nastiness from her friends until she was in third or fourth grade. Until then, all the kids in her classroom were her friends, and she made her choices about whom to play with based on whether they were well behaved or not–not on whether they ate at McDonalds or liked princesses. Don’t put too much weight on what the other little girls say; give your daughter a chance to look past it. Kindergarten is pretty young for her to think it’s “me against the world.” And don’t fall apart if she decides to play Sleeping Beauty just to take part in something on the playground. Goodness sakes–you’d think princesses had horns. Congrats on the TV-free home, by the way. If your daughters are strong, maybe they can direct the playground games to something of their own liking.

  10. There’s a great book out recently about this called “The big turnoff; confessions of a TV-addicted mom trying to raise a TV-free kid” by Ellen Currey-Wilson. It’s not only funny but also educational, and it’s fun to compare experiences with this mom’s struggle against a TV-saturated world and her own neuroses about being different.

  11. Greetings – Great discussion. Good points, but one idea has not been mentioned (unless I missed it 🙂 and that is the notion of language.
    When we decided that our son would not have any TV for the first years of his life, it was primarily based on research that we conducted about early language development. We really were just trying to make our way through the same issues that everyone above is, and then we came across articles detailing the adverse affects of TV on language comprehension and development in children at the advent of their learning to communicate with language.
    Many of our friends had extolled the virtues of TV and how it “taught” their children many words. We listened politely…but that was not what the experts communicated, so in the end we turned off the tube if our son was around. Every time. All the time.
    It is hard to say what makes a child who he or she is. A combination of a lot of choices I guess, however at 17 months our son is speaking at about the level of a two and a half year old or more. We credit this in part to no TV. It was what the articles claimed would happen, and it did. Our son rejoices in words and he is able to communicate with us on a level that allows him to get what he wants and needs much of the time. Is this because we turned off the TV? Who knows? But we like to think that it is. Our friends extolled the virtues of TV as an educator, now sit amazed as our son speaks to them at a level way beyond their own older child.
    I love TV. I am a filmmaker and a media junkie. In the end it has been good for me to give up some of the TV time as well. I think 🙂 Instead of sitting blankly staring at a screen with my son, we find other ways to spend the early mornings and lulls in and about rainy days. No TV has been a gift for me as well, but it has taken a kind of discipline to be sure.
    Our son doesn’t even know what the big black box is. He has never even asked.
    As an aside check out the following website. It kind of says it all. Photos of children watching TV.

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