What happens if you don’t let kids watch TV?
I find the issue of whether young kids should watch TV a fascinating one because most people fall into one of two camps. So they either believe TV is evil and corrupts children, OR they think kids who don’t watch TV might get left out of playground games, or miss out on popular culture.
Me? I’m somewhere in the middle. My child didn’t watch television until a little after her fifth birthday.
Our child didn’t watch TV until she was 5
But here’s the thing: I never set out for Flea not to watch television. I’m not one of those parents who will only feed their child organic Quinoa and ethically-sourced dried fruits. Honestly, I’ve nothing against the odd packet of chocolate buttons. I’m normal (relatively speaking).
It just happened.
When Flea was born, I had to go back to work very quickly, because my (then) husband and I were both self-employed. Rather than put a 9-week-old baby into childcare, we hired a part-time nanny who looked after Flea for three days a week.
Of course, the nanny NEVER watched television because she was being paid to entertain my child and divert her with enriching activities and educational trips out.
I had two days off each week to spend with Flea and I wanted to make the most of that time with my baby. So on Thursdays we went to a baby swimming class, and afterwards we’d head to the park with the other parents for lunch, then an afternoon play. On a Friday we tended to meet up with NCT friends for lunch and playdates. We spent the weekends as a family, doing the usual grocery shopping and dog walks. Oh, and exploring many of the Sussex pub gardens, as I recall.
It just so happened that we got to Flea’s first birthday and she’d never watched television. And it didn’t seem like it was particularly worth my while introducing it at that point.
People find this strange
But it’s interesting how often people like me are asked to justify or explain why we don’t let kids watch TV. It wouldn’t occur to me to say to someone, “So, Samuel watches In the Night Garden every day. Do you think that’s wise?”
But people think not letting kids watch TV is somehow overly strict, or based on some judgemental idea of other people’s parenting. Let me be clear – we didn’t let our child watch TV in our house, but our position on other people’s houses was simple. I would simply say: “All families are different, and Joe’s parents watch TV but we don’t.”
If the television was on when we visited a friend’s house, then that was fine. If my elderly parents were looking after Flea and wanted to let her watch In the Night Garden while they took a break, that was fine too. I didn’t want TV to be this terrible, forbidden thing. It was just something that wasn’t really part of our everyday family life.
Pros of not letting kids watch TV
For me, the fact that Flea didn’t watch TV had a lot of benefits.
When we were out shopping, Flea didn’t nag for branded clothes/food/comics in the supermarket. She developed the ability to make a game out of almost anything, and entertain herself for several hours at a time, without me needing to be too involved. She was much more likely to chatter to me while she was playing – she didn’t slip into the ‘telly trance’ that so many of us do when we’re watching something.
I didn’t have to drag Flea away from TV shows to have dinner or tidy something away. It wasn’t a case of waiting for a show to be over before I can organise bedtime or get us ready to go out.
But most importantly of all – our policy meant I didn’t have to watch kids TV. I really, really hate kids TV. Not proper kids telly like Stig of the Dump and Press Gang, of course. But that sort of TV that someone somewhere once thought was a good idea to invent for under 5s. You know, things like Teletubbies and Tweenies and Waybuloo, which Papa et Piaf brilliantly described as “computer-generated cuddly toys doing yoga and speaking
about feelings in what some coke-addled media graduate imagines to be baby talk“.
Watching that stuff is like Chinese water torture for me. If we visit friends, and the TV is on, I have to stop myself from gnawing the sofa in frustration. Let me tell you: Justin from Mister Tumble is NOT “weirdly attractive”. He just looks attractive in comparison to those two weirdos from Big Cook, Little Cook. And the day you find yourself eyeing up Mister Maker is when you, too, should turn off the television. For your own good.
Cons of not letting kids watch TV
Honestly, I can’t there were any real downsides to Flea not watching television as a toddler.
The only criticism we got was when Flea started school and the teacher told me that Flea was the only child in the class who couldn’t use a remote control or a computer mouse. As though we had somehow failed our child in her development.
But kids catch up. Flea started watching movies on DVDs when she was almost five, and after she started school, sometimes she would watch TV for an hour after school. I figured after a long day of learning new things, a little time to chill out and be entertained passively was no bad thing.
Ultimately, Flea suffered no ill-effects from not watching TV. I believe she developed her reading and imagination more quickly without television, and it definitely helped with her focus and concentration. And as a now parent to a teenager, let me assure you she is more than adept at using a remote control.
What do you think? Do you think we should let kids watch TV? Or do you think it’s better for them (and you) to keep it off the menu?