There are much better things they could do than watch TV

My goals are for him to play more, do more creative things, help me bake, etc.

How could your husband get you to stop reading so much and do other things with him? Think of it that way. The more he focused on getting you to not read, the more you'd want to hold onto something that felt like it was being ripped away from you. But the more he focused on doing fun things that were better than books, so that you still had the choice, the more likely you'd be drawn to other things.

I get scared when I see him with that glazed over look in his eyes.

Have you ever tried to get the attention of someone deeply engrossed in a book? It's really the same. It's so fascinating that your full attention is grabbed by it. But books we've had around for 100s of years and we know they're okay. TV is brand new, comparatively, and we hear scary stuff.

As a matter of fact it's said that one of the great philosophers decried the use of books because his students wouldn't memorize things any more. At one time people had all sorts of horror stories about cheap paper backs and comic books. Anything that's new and creates different behavior sounds scary. But it's really worth examining whether any of the fearful things people say are true.

It also frightens me when he starts seeing the commercials and announcing "I want that, I need that!"

I admit that bothers me too. But what I've found helps is asking what sounds so great about it.

If he were a child you were babysitting, you probably wouldn't feel that panic of "Oh my gosh, I've got to nip this in the bud right now!" Wouldn't you be more likely to react with curiosity, like "What is it that looks good about it to you? Do you have some other toys like that? How do you think you'd play with that?"

It also helps to talk about how they're making the product look so wonderful and the tricks they're using to convince me to buy it. I talk about commercials for things aimed at adults or for products she isn't interested in. That way there isn't the implied subtext that I'm trying to convince her that she doesn't really want that item. The only goal is to help her be more aware of the tactics of advertising.

Did anyone read the article in Mothering about commercials and most advertising being directed at children??

No. But information is the best defense :-) Helping them understand what advertising is all about will help them deal with it better than shielding them from it.

If you aren't more interesting than TV, then perhaps they should watch TV.

That was mean ...

It's meant to make you think. If your husband mysteriously started spending long hours at work, then there's probably something that he needs that he's finding at work and not at home.

If your children are watching TV (reading books, riding skateboards) rather than doing other things, then it means they're getting something from TV (reading books, riding skateboards) that they aren't getting elsewhere. It's our job to make sure their lives are rich enough that they do have other options so they aren't watching TV because there isn't anything better.

Kids will play with rocks and dirt if they don't have anything else to play with. And adults will think this is a sign that their imaginations are being stretched. So should we deprive children of toys so parents can see them using their imaginations? Or should we as parents find out what it is that kids see and need and want in the things they are drawn to and help them find more of that.

We can't see what children are getting from TV. It often looks like nothing is going on. But their brains are working. They're absorbing the stories and the character interactions. It's even more powerful when they have someone to share it with.

I'm talking about some of the seemingly mindless cartoon dribble that has no obvious value.

What if your husband looked at something you found value in and judged it that way?

If we don't see value in what a spouse loves doing, we trust that they do find value in it. And if we want to be closer to them, we spend time with them, ask questions and try to see what it is that they see. Not necessarily so we will like it too, but so we can understand why they like it and find out more about them.

Why should we treat our children in ways that we would feel is disrespectful and hurtful coming from our spouse?

There are huge numbers of things that children do that seem in adult eyes to be mindless drivel or to at least have no "educational" value. Swinging on swings, playing in the dirt, banging on pots, pretending to fly. And, in fact, when you think about it, much of even good children's literature doesn't seem educational. What do children learn from Winnie-the-Pooh, Peter Pan, Wizard of Oz?

My daughter has been drawing since she could pick up a marker. At about age 7 she seemed to regress. She spent a whole year doing books of "snowflakes" and scribbles. Really crude snowflakes, like big full page asterisks in various colors. Books 5 to 10 pages long of stuff 2 yos could do. Why? I have no clue. She did very little other drawing. Then one day she saw a stapler on the floor and drew this really amazing rendering of it. Far better than anything she had done before her snowflake period. I have no idea what was going on with the snowflakes but it was something she needed and it was powerful.

Children are designed to learn. They are drawn to what helps them understand and explore the world. We need to trust that they know what they need.

It's not up to us to decide what is best for them, or what is more learningful. If that approach worked, then schools would work like a charm. It is up to us to bring the world to them so they can choose what they need from a variety of things that appeal to them. If what they choose is TV then that's what they need.

When I said I can't get their attention, I meant even to ask them where something is or if they wanted breakfast, etc.

If I'm reading or writing there have been many times that my family has had to ask me something a few times before I actually hear them. In fact I've been known to respond and then return to what I was doing to finish up and then get engrossed again.

I do think television is addictive -- our physiology has no way of dealing with it, because it is so different.

For a theory to hold water it has to explain all the data, not just the data that support it. The unschooled children's behavior around TV indicates your theory has holes in it. Our children can watch as much as they want and they pick and choose and turn it off when they're done. Sometimes they'll watch for days. Sometimes they won't even turn it on. They treat it as they do any other resource like books and toys and outside activities.

They aren't allowed freedom because they turn it off. They turn it off because they have freedom. The children who do use tv as a resource who were previously restricted often spent a lot of time engrossed in the TV when the restrictions were lifted. Eventually, when they realized that it wouldn't be restricted again and they'd had their fill, they felt confident that they could turn it off and they could turn it back on anytime they needed to.

I think TV does work for many families, but for my own reasons I decided to get rid of it ...

What about your children's reasons? What if you found value in something, like a sewing machine or microwave, and your husband decided to get rid of it for his own reasons? What if those reasons were perfectly reasonable to him, but made no sense to you?

having it completely gone was a lot easier for me than trying to sift through the programming in order to find shows that were worth watching. There weren't very many. I am also highly selective with books I pick out to read ...

The library is full of books I have no interest in reading. It may take more time finding good picture books than reading them. It would have made my life a lot easier if I just didn't go to the library. I wouldn't have had to spend time looking or reading.

I just find that there is so much over-stimulation these days that I want my home to be a refuge from the media.

And what do your children want? If Steven Spielberg's mom had felt that way, we wouldn't have Star Wars. That doesn't mean that every child who watches TV will be the next Steven Spielberg but it means we can't know where our children's interests will take them. TV is a powerful story telling medium. It does what all literature has done from the beginning of story telling.

I am not sure why people say that they can have unrestricted TV in their house and also find the time to do all the other things they want to do with their kids.

I say it because it's true. And I'm not judging how our time is spent based on what I want to do with my daughter, but on what my daughter wants to do (with or without me). If she has a huge number of options and chooses a program on TV, then that program is what she needs.

It directly interfered with or replaced story-telling, music, walks outdoors, and the like in our family, all things that I love and my daughter loves.

Everything will replace something else. We're always choosing.

My daughter and I read in bed every morning. She could go down and turn on the TV when she wakes up but she prefers to read with me. Is our book reading interfering with her TV watching? Or is she choosing the one she prefers at the time?

Was your daughter complaining that she didn't have time for walks? Getting rid of the TV didn't help her figure out how to solve that problem. It just eliminated the problem. She could have recorded programs to watch when she came back or when it was rainy or dark. You could have helped her get a sense of time management by talking about how long things take and how many hours there were to do them in. There are plenty of solutions if we start thinking outside of the box.

The other thing I hated about television was that when we did have it, it was too easy for me to use it as a babysitter.

So what you're saying is that it's okay to take something away from someone else because you misuse it?

And if your husband had a problem telling the kids to go read a book instead of being with them, is the problem the books or your husband's attitude and relationship with the kids? What is it that needs fixed?

The only time he moves away from the tv is when I ask him to turn it off and find something else to do. Then he will draw or play with his legos.

What if he played legos or read books all day unless you told him to go find something else to do?

Two things to consider: One, he's more visually oriented than verbally oriented. That means he will learn more by seeing than by reading. Visual intelligence is what makes an artist an artist rather than a writer!

Learning by seeing is every bit as legitimate and valuable as learning by reading. And learning by seeing is more valuable for those who are oriented that way. Denying a child who learns by seeing things that are visual is like denying a child who learns by reading things that are printed.

Learning by seeing gets devalued because schools place so much importance on reading. But schools place emphasis on reading not because it's the best way to learn but because it's the most efficient way to run assembly line learning.

The second thing to consider is that you seem to be expecting to leave them alone and have them naturally gravitate towards activities that you see as worthwhile (e.g., educational or creative). Part of unschooling is exploring the world ourselves and inviting them along. If someone is choosing TV because that's the most interesting to them thing available, then the answer isn't to limit the most interesting thing but to find things that are even more interesting. Go out and do things! Or bring things in that they'd enjoy.

(If he's visually oriented, though, he will learn best by watching TV and seeing things so the goal isn't to eliminate TV watching but to make sure he's watching because he wants to, not because it's the least boring (to him) of the options available.)

Don't think in terms of things you want them to like. Think in terms of things they do like. $35 spent on a chemistry set that sits on the shelf is a $35 dust collector. $35 spent on an ice cream maker and a book of recipes is going to get used for more than making ice cream. There will be sharing time together, bonding, pleasant memories and conversations about what and why and how that will touch on far more than chemistry.

(BTW, if there are chemistry sets sitting on shelves, think about getting them out and do them yourself! It isn't fair to expect kids to do things we wouldn't ourselves. But don't do it to shame them into doing. Do it because it might be interesting.)

You need to be doing things with them. Join them in their activities. Watch TV with them, play video games, join in with Legos. Not all the time, of course, but enough that you're familiar with what they enjoy and try to figure out why they enjoy it.

(Some of it you'll just have to accept though. -- The appeal of Ed, Edd and Eddie is still a mystery to me! ;-) -- And that's important too: learning to trust that they know what they enjoy even if we can't understand it.)

 
 
 
Last updated: April 2009