MetaParenting: Help Me Set TV Limits
December 9, 2010 5:10 PM   Subscribe

Moving from TV-free to TV-having, please help me with the transition. Special snowflake details, of course.

I have not had a TV in ages. We watched a few shows online, and used Netflix streaming. When we ditched our desktop for a laptop (to save energy and space), it became very apparent that we "needed" a TV- well, as much as anyone needs one.

You see, we have a four year old daughter and a one year old son. Our daughter could use the mouse and run Netflix with little parental interference, and we could move the keyboard into the cupboard with the CPU, so the kids could watch cartoons without direct, constant supervision. Obviously, this is not the case with a laptop.

So we bought a TV, a DVD player, and a Roku. No cable, and no OTA antenna as yet. I admit, I enjoy the bigger screen, and it's nice to be able to cuddle on the couch and watch movies. The reason we got the Roku was because of the simplicity of the interface- our daughter can use the remote and navigate very easily, no ads, and there are parental controls. So, yay.

The Roku interface is SO easy that our daughter needs no parental input to find what she wants, and Roku also came with Kidlet, full of kids shows, and Classic Cartoons, full of Betty Boop and company. Our daughter is in heaven. The problem is that she (and, as a consequence, our son as well) just wants to watch TV all freaking day now. This new equipment was just delivered on Monday, so I'm trying to patient and let the novelty wear off. It's not like it's nice outside right now, she wouldn't be outside much in this blizzard anyway.

I lived TV free for 10 years, I don't really know what is reasonable to expect here. I don't want to be draconian. One show is 22 minutes long- should I set a daily limit of 1-2 shows? Should it be variable based on daily weather/activities? I really am hesitant to take the remotes away- she feels like a such a big girl being able to do it all herself, and I want to encourage her to have internal limit setting, or to at least respect the limits that we dictate.

What I'm really asking here is what works for your family? Do you have to be the enforcer and rule the TV with an iron fist? Do you set limits at all?

posted by Leta to Human Relations (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Disclaimer: I do not have kids! With that out of the way, I do have two nieces around that age. My sister is pretty strict about the TV watching. She stays at home with them and has a elementary education degree, so she is big on doing activities with them during the day. From what I can tell they get one or two 30 minute cartoons in the morning while they eat breakfast and a movie at bedtime.

Special occasions are any sort of traveling; they can watch what they want in the van. Also I have seen her let them watch a short 20-minute show in the afternoon when she is tired and wants to crash out on the couch for a bit. She used to be much more strict but the more kids she has (she has a 6-mo. old along with the other two), the more lenient she is with the TV.

They don't have a Roku, but she does let them pick shows out of their DVD collection. She controls the remote and she will often fast forward parts of shows she doesn't want them to see (stuff she deems to scary) or to shorten their TV time.
posted by ephemerista at 5:49 PM on December 9, 2010

I think that varying it is entirely reasonable. You may want to allow extra TV time when the weather is nasty or your child is sick. You probably don't give your child unlimited access to candy. At some point, she'll have the maturity to control her candy consumption. It's just not reasonable to expect a 4 year old to moderate something they truly enjoy.

She'll still be a big girl who controls the remote. You're just setting the limits on how often she gets to exercise that skill.
posted by 26.2 at 6:31 PM on December 9, 2010

My nephew watches a few hours of television a day when my sister is doing homework.
He watches kids shows and has picked up a lot of vocabulary, dance moves, songs and other things. I have never seen her set a limit.

I think the problem is when kids watch violent/adult content. Or when a parent just leaves a kid in front of the television for 5-6 hours a day instead of having one-on-one time.

I guess. I don't know. I grew up watching a lot of television. I'm not a serial killer, distant from my parents, obese or brain damaged.
I'm not exactly sure why some people think it's bad for a young child to watch television except for special occasions.
posted by KogeLiz at 6:33 PM on December 9, 2010

Response by poster: Oh, yeah, just to add, when we take road trips (anything over an hour or so) I let the kids watch DVDs nonstop. I usually buy them some new ones if I know in advance that we're taking a long trip. I figure if they're going to watch, the car is the best place for it, it's not like they are old enough to read yet, so they aren't missing some other enriching activity.

Thanks for the responses, keep 'em coming.
posted by Leta at 7:06 PM on December 9, 2010

Based on your post, I would say that she can watch one to three shows a day and some days not any television at all. The AAP says that one to two hours should be the maximum. If I had a child, I would let them watch one to three shows per week. I would also not let my child watch television in the car very often; that is time that they should be using to daydream and build those little neural networks! I don't have a kid though, so everything I'm saying is total garbage and should be taken with a grain of salt.
posted by 200burritos at 7:16 PM on December 9, 2010

Agree that it should be limited, even on roadtrips, for the "neural networks' reasons mentioned by 200burritos. Make sure your kids have alternative strategies for filling downtime and that passive entertainment comes in finite doses. They will start in early to use "more TV" as a bargaining chip, so be sure you have alternatives as well, and are comfortable being firm when time is up.
posted by Miko at 8:16 PM on December 9, 2010

Response by poster: Oh, I am more than comfortable being firm. I have tyrannical tendencies, which is why I have been doing deep breathing exercises to stay patient through this "new TV! novelty!" phase.

I misspoke when I said I let them watch DVDs "nonstop" in the car. More accurately, it's "at will". Eventually, after about three hours/two movies, my daughter gets sick of the DVD player and requests time to "slow down" (her words). They also have little lapdesks with art stuff, small toys, and books. And they sleep, and demand leg stretching breaks. Having said all this, you'll pry that in car DVD player from my cold, dead hands. It turns scream fests into pleasant family travel.

So, a two show/one movie maximum per day seems fair to me. Exceptions include travel (more) and holidays/visitors/outdoor activity days (less or none). I think I'm also going to pick one day a week when we are all screen free. Well, except for using the iPods as alarms and to stream music.

Thanks, everyone. I am more comfortable with these limits now that I've had some feedback, and reassured that this week of excessive TV viewing is not scarring them for life.
posted by Leta at 9:36 PM on December 9, 2010

heh. Your question strikes close to home. The introduction of Roku to our home (we also have cable TV and a Tivo) ramped my son's desire for TV up to amazing levels (he's four). Endless Blue's Clues! Every Thomas movie in the world!!

My solution (for now) is this: I hand crafted four "movie tickets" (they say Movie Ticket 1, Movie Ticket 2, etc. on them.) If he wants to watch a movie, he has to turn in a ticket. Right now, a 22 minute Blue's Clues and a 2 hour Thomas movie each cost one ticket, although he hasn't figured that out yet. If he does start to "game the system" I may have to readjust, but for now its not a big deal. When he's out of tickets, no more movies.

For the first few days (over Thanksgiving weekend, actually) he used up all his tickets first thing in the morning and then got upset that there weren't any more. He even tried making his own tickets and bringing them to me, which almost -- but not quite -- won him an extra movie just for creativity. Now, however, he's figured out how to ration his viewing and he'll watch a couple of episodes of Blue, then wander off to do something else. On Sunday, his father and I wanted to watch Muppet Family Christmas while we trimmed the tree, but my son was very firm that we couldn't watch that because he was saving his last ticket especially to watch Rudolph. Later. Now, he was busy.

So, for the Four Year Old, I'd give her a daily show limit, and stick to it. Don't worry so much about how much time ... given attention spans at that age I find this to be a self-correcting problem, at least for my child he prefers the shorter shows so four movies a day doesn't actually turn into 8 hours of TV (but it could, I suppose).

For the one year old, I'd be a little firmer. Maybe even explain to your daughter that watching a lot of TV isn't great for her brother, and can she help take care of him by turning off the TV when he's around, just like mom and dad do?
posted by anastasiav at 9:43 PM on December 9, 2010 [6 favorites]

For what it's worth, I never had control of the remote as a child.

It's cute that they make tech nowadays that little kids can manipulate easily, but that doesn't mean she has a right to watch what she wants, when she wants. I agree with others about a couple shows a day.

With the one year old this should be a no-brainer. He's one. He can barely talk, let alone exert control over his media consumption. You are totally in charge there.

Agree also that the TV should not be on as general background noise.
posted by Sara C. at 9:54 PM on December 9, 2010

I have a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old who both like TV a little too much. We just do Netflix streaming, and the TV setup is just complicated enough that the 4-year-old can't manage it (sometimes *I* have trouble with the receiver settings and whatnot), but it's only a matter of time before she gets it.

Anyway, the thing I would caution against is making TV into too much of a ritual, every-night-after-dinner thing. We know we're vegging out too much when we start getting whiny entreaties for TV after going out to dinner and arriving home at bedtime. (We never give in to these, yet they persist... sigh.) It's not too early to have a regular game night, or craft night, or even videogame night. Just mix it up so there's more fun stuff than just TV to look forward to.

Also, you seem to be on the case, but whatever you do, avoid TV with commercials! We discovered they were watching it at the babysitter's when the wish list for Santa filled up with a bunch of junky plastic "as seen on TV" toys. And demands for sugary breakfast cereal too! The ad-makers know what they're doing and kids have no filter for that kind of stuff, so best to avoid the issue all-together for as long as you can.
posted by libraryhead at 10:15 AM on December 10, 2010

My kids are a bit older than yours. They're allowed one hour of screen time a day but the playroom needs to be cleaned first and they're a) not that into TV and b) not that into cleaning, so it happens only a few times a week.

We have a Roku with a large number of kids shows all clumped together in the Netflix on demand list. I sit and scroll through the shows with them to find what they're going to watch; they don't get to wander through Netflix unsupervised.

They don't watch live TV, because of the commercials.

They need to agree on what they're going to watch. Sometimes my four-year-old is happy to watch her big brother play Lego Star Wars on the Wii (this counts as screen time). Sometimes one of them goes to another room to play on the computer while one of them watches a show the other doesn't like on the TV. Sometimes they both want to play on the Wii, and they each get 30 minutes on it.

Exceptions: on plane rides or very long car trips they're allowed to use whatever electronic devices we can find to keep them entertained. Sometimes I let my daughter do her screen time when my son is at school, when I need a break and I know they're not going to want to do it in the evening. Once in a while we do "family screen time" (a movie or Mythbusters, usually) that lasts more than an hour.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:15 PM on December 10, 2010

I find it easiest to let my daughter watch a movie in entirety, but not everyday. So maybe 2 or 3 days a week, she requests one of her DVDs, and I sit nearby (generally reading) while she watches it. She's 4, so she has a lot of questions about things that are happening, and new questions each time she watches something (as she gains more understanding), so I like to be somewhere she can easily ask questions while she watches.

And I totally agree, as much as they want on car trips. My daughter usually only wants one movie on 3 hour drive, so we also have art supplies, books, CDs we can sing along with, etc., but really, if movies are making her happy to sit in a car seat, then awesome.
posted by Margalo Epps at 4:41 PM on December 10, 2010

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