The Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents

TV or Not TV? That Is the Question

Recently there was a discussion regarding TV on the homeschool-ca list [Web Editor’s Note: probably actually the hs-ca list — the homeschool-ca list is now used for administration of the website]. The question of whether children should watch TV or not was posted to the OFTP email list as well. Here are some responses:

We’ve never had a TV. I have only one child (now an older teenager), but I “do” remember times when it would have seemed like heaven to be able to engage her with something that would keep her out of my hair. However, over the years, we worked out ways to negotiate time apart and time together. She got very good at finding ways to amuse herself, and the ways she found tended to particularly reveal who she was and what she was most interested in.

I think we probably spent lots more time together than we would have if we’d had a TV around. I found lots of ways to include her in things that would have been easier to do by myself—but she’s turned out to be a most capable young woman, and a wonderful companion. If you have the option to be TV-less, I say go for it! (P.S. My 18-year-old daughter, who grew up without TV, is going off to study documentary film making next year!).

Stephanie Judy

We DO have a TV. We get a million channels. It’s a small-dish system that we got about a year and a half ago (we get no local reception to speak of, have no cable option). My husband wanted it. He likes his TV. But I thought about the temptingly easy child-control that Margaret was speaking about needing. I think I used this a little when we first got our satellite dish, but I haven’t turned the TV on for the kids more than three or four times in the past year. My kids are 5, almost three and a baby.

I spend a heck of a lot of time at home alone with them, but I don’t use the TV. My husband wonders how I do it. Whenever he’s here as primary parent they ask and ask and ask and they get obnoxious with each other and they complain about being bored and they ask again if they can watch a little TV. And when he turns it on they turn into docile manageable little things, sitting on the couch like bumps on a log.

When I come home, they say “oh oh, here’s mom!” and they watch as I turn the thing off and they run off and find something to do together with markers or books or matchbox cars or bikes and sticks. If they get obnoxious with each other, I might suggest a new activity, or try to engage one of the perpetrators in helping me in some small way with a task. But I have got out of the habit of thinking, “oh, it would be so nice to turn on the TV and have them sit quietly,” and they know there is no point in asking me. Anyway, because I’m out of the habit of thinking of TV as a tempting option, it is no hardship for me to be a parent without TV.

We have two approaches to TV represented here in our house, and the kids are very adept at knowing which regime they exist under at any given moment. I think mine is easier in the long run, and certainly better for the kids. My husband is home alone with them so rarely that I’m happy to let him play the game his way when he’s in charge: they watch educational stuff, so I’m not too concerned about content. But they know he’s a pushover, and so they tend to ask and whine and mis-behave in order to get their TV time. With me they don’t even think about bothering.

It gets really easy to do without the TV after a while. I think it maybe takes a month or so to get used to it.

Miranda Hughes (mini-dished in New Denver, BC)

I let my kids watch whatever kid-safe TV they want. I let them watch as often and as long as they want, and I even suggest programs and arrange dinner around certain TV shows. I never monitor them; kid TV is too boring for me to tolerate. Guess what? They rarely watch TV. They’re too darned busy and unless I pipe up with “Guess what kids? There’s a Big Cats documentary on tonight” they’d miss it.

In the winter they watch more TV than in the summer, when it’s practically non-existent unless friends are over. I am fortunate, I suppose, that TV viewing has never been an issue in my house. As they get older I am curious about whether my extremely slack ‘unschooling’ approach to TV-monitoring stands the test of time. I certainly hope so, because the benefits they can receive from the absolutely phenomenal programming on TV today are not something that I’d want to limit.

When my 5-year-old daughter mentioned to my Dad in casual conversation the name of a female astronaut that was currently in space I feel that we’re doing okay, and I can’t wait until their interests expand even more and they can take a more active role in their own TV show choices.

Mary Pearson Burke

We own a TV but we limit watching it to about an hour a day (some days we don’t watch any, some days we watch more especially if the weather is lousy or we aren’t well!!) When I speak about “we” it really doesn’t include me – I rarely watch TV, normally only if we rent a movie but when the kids want to watch something I like to make it a time to learn and it is always an opportunity for cuddle time or family time!

We do watch some of the nature shows like weather and animals on channels like TLC, etc. and we’ve watched shows about babies being born — these all seem to interest the kids and it can lead to questions that provide the chance for more learning in that area. I think TV can be used as a learning tool but I don’t agree with it being used as a babysitter which we see a lot of in our complex! I think its like a lot of electronic equipment — its all in how and what you use it for.

Pamela Christie

We have a TV but no antenna, no cable, not even bunny ears. That means no outside reception. The only TV the kids watch is on videos. This may be movies or things people occasionally tape for us from TV. We borrow educational videos from the library as well. It does mean that we miss some things we’d enjoy, and I haven’t seen any of the popular programming for over 14 years. I have no idea what people are talking about when they discuss programmes or commercials, and I feel somewhat foreign to the culture in that regard. I noticed, too, that’s it has been well over a month since we’ve turned it on, maybe a couple of months. We’ve been too busy to think about it, and no one has even asked to watch during that time.

When the kids were younger, we had a ½ hour time limit on TV in a day. If they wanted a longer programme, they had to save up for it. And we all took turns choosing what to watch. Those who weren’t interested did something else. Now we don’t specifically have the ½ hour rule. We often don’t watch TV at all in a given week, or we might watch 2 or 3 movies, depending on weather, what else we’re doing, etc. We have a ½ hour rule for computer games, too. Again, the kids can save up if they’d rather have a marathon session. I’m not big on computers as I think they are as addictive as TV can be.

When children come over to play, I rarely give permission for the computer to be on at those times. I think the kids get a lot more out of interacting with each other. My nephew was over for the weekend, and he kept asking to use the computer. I just told him that we were having a computer-free weekend (when even my husband keeps his machines turned off) so we could do other things. My kids spend time looking after their animals (having them build coops and pens for the animals), playing music, inventing games. Since they have never had much TV, they don’t miss it, and they are very irritated by commercials the odd time we get something taped off TV.

I’m pleased with the compromise we’ve made, and my kids have never had a problem with it either, although the timer mysteriously doesn’t seem to sound at the half hour point some days.

Betty Cerar