Monday, October 22, 2012

What's Really Wrong with Watching TV?

In part 2 of "What's Wrong with Plastic Toys?", which you can read here, I talked a lot about how turning off the tv (and avoiding advertisements or movies that have loads of merchandising) would help your children more easily do without all those plastic action figures and dolls.  If they don't ever watch Dora the Explorer, then they have no attachment to the character and can walk past her in a store without ever noticing the hundreds of products that are strategically placed for visibility.

This is intensely valuable for you as a parent because it means you can give them toys that have no connection to any video game, television series, movie made by Disney, and they might actually like it.  Even better, they might just play with it!  But going without tv is valuable for your child for a number of reasons.  Those reasons all fall under three categories:  time, your child's brain (or yours), creativity.  But I'll add a fourth:  intuition.  Read on for details.

1)  Time

Over at the Huffington Post, David Perlmutter wrote an article that talks about some of these issues, addressing time and what your child isn't doing while spending that time in front of the television.  The issue here is that there are only so many waking hours in the day and if they are all spent watching tv then they won't be spending that time doing more important things, like learning, moving, reading, or spending time with you.  That time is lost and wasted because much as we like to ignore the fact, we are here for a short number years, with our childhoods being a small portion of that, and that time ain't comin' back.

2)  Your Child's Brain

Seattle Children's Hospital shares a TEDx video by Dr. Dimitri Christakis, which I urge you to view, that addresses what tv is doing to kids' brains.  It's troublesome and disturbing, but the main points are,

-  for each hour of tv per day, chances of attention issues increase by 10%
-  for each hour of cognitive stimulation (such as reading or going to a museum) chances of attention issues are reduced by 10%
-  violent or entertainment purposed tv with rapid scene change and pace pose extreme risk for attention issues as well as an increase in a child's willingness to take risks!
-  slow paced educational programs like Mr. Rogers pose no attention risk

The faster the pace, the worse it is.  You child's brain will become adjusted to needing that much stimulation in order to feel normal and will not be able to process real life normally. 

3)  Creativity

Both the video and the article address the need for children to have real time play, less fast paced media, and engage in other activities that are creative.  Pushing your child's brain to explore and push past the boundaries of what is "known" is what makes them smarter.  Working with non-linear, non-predictable, imagination based play will not only make them smarter, but make them happier and better prepared for life.

There is another factor that is important to me for my children and if you've read anything else here, you won't be surprised by this. 

4)  Intuition and their Wild Spirit. 

If my children are in front of the tv or any electronic media, it moves the focus to something outside of them instead of to what they are experiencing for themselves.  They then seek to re-enact whatever they have seen in order to feel valid instead of having had an original experience that validates their own worth. 

If their attention is on what is bombarding them from outside, they will never turn inward and listen to the quiet voice of intuition that tells them to run when they need to run, to walk away when they need to walk away, to tell me something important when they need to tell me something, to warn a friend about another adult, to not step near that hole because there just might be a snake there, etc.  Their inner voice will be drowned out by the constant barrage of outer stimulation. 

They will be more vulnerable to victimization, less confident in their own life experiences, less capable of being responsible in important situations, and a whole lot less magical.  There will be no magic, in fact, because they will have sacrificed it when it got sucked up into the tv, into the electrical currents of the box at which they stare so intently.  And they won't ever know why they are so uncomfortable with themselves.  They won't realize just what they have given up.  They won't have rooted into their own existence and identity so they will not realize when they are working so hard at emulating everyone else. 

And the only person they'll know how to be is whatever character is in front of them, which is dictated by a group of writers sitting in a room, brainstorming about how to make a persona that is most marketable to a specific age group.  They will be drones with not a branch a wildness in them.  When they hear the music of the spirit, it won't be the beat they can dance to.

While I completely subscribe to the notion that a tv-free home is what is best, I am guilty of relying heavily on it.  We have no grandparents on either side, and have lived away from family for a few years.  It's been challenging to ever have a break, and tv has been the one thing that we can rely on to give us a breather.  But at what sacrifice? 

For the most part, our girls are well-adjusted, smart kids, and we do all the things we should be doing with them at this age.  But I want to know who they'll be without tv.  I want to know what comes out of their imagination without some other story in their heads.  I want to see what emerges from their souls when they are free from this hypnotic tool that has been over-indulged for a while now.

So we're going on a tv diet.  No tv Sunday through Thursday, and only two hours worth on Friday and Saturday.  I have no idea how I will survive as a parent, but I know it will mean putting work last and them first.  Time outside will likely double at least.  And we'll probably get out of the house to do more:  walk more, hike more, go to more playgroups. 

We're doing it from now until Thanksgiving, and I'll be giving you updates on how it goes.  So I ask, do you want to join us on a TV DIET?  Just post how you plan to reduce your and your children's tv watching, and what you think that will most affect in your day to day life.  Check back with me when you can and let me know how your family is doing.

Have a happy TV FREE day!


  1. I need to do this...not sure I maybe I will start with a reduction in how much TV I watch. Work days are not is my off days that can be consumed by marathons of my favorite shows....and then poof! my day off is gone. That is what I will focus on first is reducing TV on my days off.

    1. It's hard to do, but once we got past the first couple of days, which was actually last week, it felt so much more real and we all got so much more done, so much more quality time together. It was more of an adjustment for me than for the girls though!