Toddlers and TV

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I’ve started this post about 25 times and I just can’t get it right.

Toddlers and TV. Let's be honest. Some of us let our toddlers have TV access, but we feel so guilty about it! From

When you get right down to it, here’s my problem. I’m suffering Parental Guilt about the fact that I let my toddlers watch TV.

TV was one of those things that I was a little *ahem* high and mighty about when Maddie and Riley were born. Oh, no, my kids weren’t going to watch TV! Baby Einstein is for the weak! No licensed characters in my home! Blah blah blah. Well, yeah. From the age of a year or so on, they watched an occasional video, but without much interest. It would hold their attention for ten minutes or so, then they were on to other things. I was so proud. They didn’t even like TV! Then, around when Maddie and Riley turned two, I decided that we should try to have Family Movie Night on Fridays. We get pizza and make popcorn and I put in one of the many videos they have received as gifts from family and friends.

At first, it was as it had always been: ten minutes of interest, then off to other things. But then we found Dora, the Explorer. Maddie and Riley adore Dora. And Diego. And Boots. And Swiper (“No swiping!) Soon, Friday Movie Night had become Friday Plus Any Rainy Day, then Friday Plus Rainy Days Plus Days Any Household Member Shows Vague Signs of Crankiness. Lately, our house has been a Dora zone on any day that ends in “day.” I’m trying not to feel bad, but I’m obviously failing.

Frankly, it’s not so much the TV watching that bothers me. I’m worried about where the TV watching will lead. M&R are starting to recognize licensed characters on products in the store. Now they want the Elmo crackers and the Dora toothbrush. I still don’t let them watch commercial TV, so they begging for toys they see on ads has yet to commence. I know I can’t shield them from this stuff forever, but I’m not holding off as long as I could or as I had planned.

I also have some guilt around the fact that I really enjoy tucking in on the couch and watching a video with Maddie and Riley. I usually put the video on after the kids have their pajamas on, and we’ll all get under the blankie on the sofa and answer Dora and Diego’s questions, implore Swiper not to swipe, and reach out to catch the Three Kings Cake that Dora dropped. Sometimes we’ll share a snack (Ack! Eating in front of TV! Another can of worms!) It’s peaceful and cozy and fun for all of us. Why do I feel bad about that?

Do you let your kids watch TV? How much? What shows? Do you feel bad about it? I know there’s plenty of debate and writing on this already, but it’s on my mind a lot lately and I feel a need to beat the proverbial dead horse. Humor me.

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26 thoughts on “Toddlers and TV”

  1. Here is how I justify it (because we watch tv together as you’ve described above):

    It is a passive activity that all of us enjoy doing together that balances out all the active activities we enjoy doing together.

    We limit tv to maximum of one hour a day, and we only watch shows with no commercials. We only watch PBS and Noggin, and I let the kids tell me what they like. They love searching for clues on Blue’s Clues. They love the variety of music on Backyardigans. They love the retro feel of Yo Gabba Gabba.

    I also feel I have a responsibility to teach my kids to watch tv in moderation, just as I am trying to teach them to eat sweets in moderation. We turn the tv on to watch a show and turn it off when it is over. Then we go back to reading books or playing outside or playing play-doh.

  2. Despite my original, “no tv!” protestations before having kids, we’ve been letting our boys watch some tv since at one year we noticed them actually paying attention to it. I also enjoy snuggling up, after naps they tend to be a little fussy and out of it so that is a common time for the three of us to watch a Diego or Super Why episode together. I purged my guilt in a blog post this past summer:

    They also like particular characters although I find that they are fickle and switch allegiance quickly. I figure it’s probably a good idea to go ahead and just deal with teaching them about marketing at an early age since they are going to be bombarded by it their whole lives. They may get excited by the Mickey Mouse card in the card aisle but that doesn’t mean we are going to buy it. I let them look at it and enjoy the picture but it’s not what we came to the store for and we don’t need it so it’s staying there. They just turned 2 last week and so far we’ve been lucky enough not to have any tantrums over this. I’m sure the day is coming!

  3. Sitting and watching with them I personally think is WONDERFUL!! I’ve opined on my defense of TV (if you want it, I’ll send it your way!), and truly, I never harbored any illusions of NOT letting them watch. Of course with VERY strict guidelines on what we would and would not watch, and if it got to where it felt “excessive,” we’d stop.

    As our kids have gotten older, we are now using it as a currency — it’s taken away for poor behavior (as is access to the computer), and it needs to be earned in increments right now…as we have much more that needs to be going on.

    If you sat Maddie and Riley in front of it with NO regards to what was on, or if you allowed them in the room with you while you watched things “adult,” then we might have something to discuss…I think you are a fantastic Mama, Snick. (and thank you for your encouraging words on my other post as well. :) )

    So much of parenting (especially parenting two same age children) has required my evolution and flexibility of thought. At the risk of sounding inane, yes, we are raising our children, but they DO help us grow.

  4. oh. we watch TV at our house. Probably way too much, actually. I always know WHAT is on though…even though it may be on longer than planned when I get the “Pleeeeaaaaase!!” I’m also guilty of getting wrapped up in a blog post or blog reading and thinking “okay – if I let them see one more, I can finish this up…” (I sometimes have my laptop with me between them on the couch.)

    The other thing TV is “good” for is when I have to put the little guy down for a nap, or to bed if my husband isn’t around…I know if I put a half hour on-demand-previously-screened show on, the twins won’t KILL each other before I get back.

    Like you though, I really enjoy the snuggles when we all jump on the couch together :)

    Let’s see…favorites are Sesame Street, Backyardigans, Wonder Pets, Dragon Tales, and Pingu.

  5. I will let mine when the day comes. I was a single parent with my first one and he watched Dora, Elmo, Blue and many others frequently. I am not naive enough to think it was a great thing, but I swear Zachary learned his colors from watching Blue’s Clues. I mean, how many 2 year olds know what chartreuse is. I learned a few things myself! I would often join him on the couch, but I must confess I would go do other things just as frequently.

    Let the guilt go. Period.

  6. Oh, yes, TV is a part of our life too. We started the TV routine when I realized I was cooking instant junk for dinner because I didn’t have any time to cook well. So my twins get a 30-min show each day at 5:30 while I cook. It is great, helps them to calm down a bit before sitting down to dinner, and I am able to make a healthy and even sometimes yummy meal which is good for us all. I think it is a worthwhile trade-off. Oh, and it is such a luxury to cook without kids hanging off legs, it helps me relax too!

    Like others, we save stuff to Tivo, and stick to the commercial-free kids shows on PBS or Noggin. My 3.5 year olds love Dora, Diego, SuperWhy, Curious George, and WordWorld. Most of them are pretty educational and they learn interesting things, so I don’t think I am ruining the kids in any way!

  7. We do watch too much TV, but I find sometimes TV watching can be good when we choose good programs and watch with them.

    My 22 month old surprises people all the time because she knows her letters. She can’t really talk yet but she points out letters all the time. All this from watching Letter Factory.

  8. Yeah, we introduced Sesame Street in the past month or two (my guys are 20 months). I DCR it and, if napping is short, we watch 1/2 hour when they wake up, snuggled on the couch together. I feel pretty guilty about this, as I am not a fan of tv for little kids . However, as a SAHM, I also feel like I spend a lot of quality time with my kids, and hopefully it all evens out in the end. What I find so surprising is how addictive it is for ME—-it is so tempting to just turn it on to get a bit of peace and quiet. So we keep our tv watching time pretty structured—-less asking for it when it’s not “time” and less tempting for me because I know it’s not SS time.

  9. I think everyone has to figure out what works for them, and it sounds like you are doing all the right things (moderation, supervision, etc.). We haven’t done TV at all (2 1/4 years), though they watch about 1 1/2 hour movie a week at daycare and love watching 2 minute videos of themselves on the computer. Sometimes we actually feel guilty we’re not introducing them, in part for the reasons Laura said. We want to teach them moderation at sugar, at jumping around, and we haven’t been able to do that with full deprivation. This week my daughter asked “watch movies at home!” and we will probably figure out a way to introduce that soon.

  10. Oh yeah, my kids watch one or two shows most days. We snuggle on the couch together, and I have my laptop with me, too. In fact, we’re watching TV now! And when this show is over, we’re making some peppermint bark. Woof!

    Anyway, I find it a nice relaxing activity in the afternoon since my boys dropped their nap. Round about 3 or 4, the boys start to get tchh-y and need a break and a half hour of TV is perfect. It gives me a break, too, which I especially need too on long no-preschool days.

    Like others, I avoid the shows with commercials and love On Demand…they have a lot of kids books turned into brief shows. A lot are read by famous actors, so it’s kind of neat. And it’s fun for the kids to see their favorite books (and some new books) brought to life.

    We also watch The Backyardigans, and it’s so cute how my boys always play things from episodes of backyardigans, like when they pretend to be sneaking around to get a dinosaur bone back into a museum, or when they go Heh heh heh and act like the Master of Disguise (which always results in endless joke telling…today I told them “what’s black and white and read all over”. B-man immediately told me a follow up joke: “what’s red with black spots?” I said, “I don’t know,” and he replied, “a ladybug” and then laughed for about 10 minutes.)

    Anyway, let go of the guilt…I don’t think it’s all bad, and I actually thing there are some benefits. And that’s saying a lot coming from me as I was also pretty obnoxiously anti-TV pre-toddlers :)

  11. I’ve fairly recently “caved” on the TV issue, as well. Of course, I wasn’t ever super strict. Sometimes at the end of the day, I needed to flip on the tube for myself. But I do try to limit it, and am trying harder to make it an “interactive” experience when I sit and watch with them and point things out. (“ooh, a kitty!” “look, elmo’s brushing his teeth! where’s your teeth?”) But, honestly, sometimes mommy needs 20 minutes to herself. I think it’s alright.

  12. I feel very similar about TV and while I think it is great that you take the time watch with your children, you do not need to have Dora and Elmo on. You can introduce your children to old time classics and other family movies that do not have the licensed characters. My boys love an old-time movie over a character licensed movie any day.

  13. I wrote about this here a while back with the title “never say never.” I didn’t realize that so many people even considered going without TV and later “caved.” Our situation was the opposite – we don’t pay for cable and around here there is no reception without cable so that was that. It seemed silly to pay for it when neither parent had any interest.

    We do watch videos and I enjoy that snuggle time to this day. I think the thing that works the most is limiting time, and as they get older, we had to make clear that screen time always came *after.* After practicing an instrument, after homework, after chores, after reading. We have that habit and the kids (12 and 10) don’t even ask for it except on weekends.

    Works for us.

  14. First of all, get rid of the guilt. They are too many other things that will give them a reason for therapy when they are 30…let this one go.

    I use the tv time for several different ways… rewards and consequences, family time, ME time… my kids need to do a large muscle activity then can have tv time. That may mean going outside to play or simply walking on the treadmill/riding the bike for a while (when they are old enough). Also, I use their tv time to go on the treadmill myself. A half hour uninterrupted? Awesome! And guess what, sometimes it’s longer.

    If I’m happy then I am a better parent. Exercising makes me happy.

    no guilt. please, no guilt.

  15. This is a toughie and I certainly understand the guilt. My daughter didn’t watch any TV until she was well over 2 and then I caved when I got really sick and needed a break. Still, everything she does watch is on video with no commercial tie-ins and has been prescreened by me. It’s not the TV that I find worrisome so much as the marketing to kids. (A fascinating book on this topic is Buy, Buy, Baby by Susan Gregory Thomas.)

    I am sure when my twins arrive in a couple of months, the TV will be utilized much more!

  16. You need to do what feels OK for your family. Limiting or not having TV is a worthy goal if that’s what feels right and realistic, but maybe sitting snuggled up on the couch with them is what feels right to you even if you didn’t expect it too, and that’s OK too. I think it’s awesome that you sit with them. If you’re looking for some non-licensed-character DVD’s so you don’t have that issue to deal with, the Scholastic series is awesome – based on books, really gentle animation that’s fun for you to watch too. The Richard Scarry DVD’s are nice too, and also not found on toothbrushes and the like. We get them from the library when someone is sick, and curl up on the couch with some popcorn. We could do much worse, and so could you. (And maybe you’re a teensy bit surprised to hear that from me?) You rock, Snick.

  17. We watch TV here and there throughout the day. I held out just a month or so shy of the two years I was shooting for so I am happy. We also don’t let them watch commercial TV and a lot of the TV watching is with Ima or Aba tucked in with them and we talk about the show. Even when I’m not watching with them, they will run in and tell me what is happening. I figure it could be worse.


  19. I’m still holding out on this one–my kids, who just turned 2, have no interest in it right now and are starting to play on their own a bit without it, so I’m going with that. I’m most tempted to introduce TV when fixing them dinner, as someone else has–that’s the time when they are getting cranky and I’d really love some distraction so I can cook without holding someone. But so far it hasn’t been so bad that I’ve had to give in.

    That said, I ‘d definitely lose the guilt too! Someday my kids *will* ask to watch TV or a movie and then I’ll let them within limits a lot like the ones you’re describing to me. Family movie night (or day) sounds really fun!

  20. If you can buy products branded with the characters or logos from the show, it’s commercial TV. It may be better in some ways than the regular networks, but it’s still selling things to you, and it’s still supported by those sales…

  21. Relax.. Drop the guilt. It’ll be okay! IMO TV watching is one of those things that are a take it or leave it option for parents.

    Kids don’t watch a millisecond of TV and spend all their time participating in only enriching, educational experiences?
    Great… You’re a good mom and you love your kids!

    Kids memorize the words to this season’s Dora movie (Rescues the snow princess right)?
    Great… You’re a good mom and you love your kids!

    In our family we go from days where our oldest (3) will watch less than 30 min to other days where frankly Mommy is TIRED and letting her (our oldest) watch a couple hours worth throughout the day (gasp!!!!) makes ME a happier, less stressed Mom!

    The way I see it in a few years the fact that she can recognize Dora and Backyardigans on a toothbrush will seem like time wasted worrying.

  22. This is a tough one. I don’t think this issue makes or breaks kids. We don’t have TV, but we do have YouTube and Netflix. Sometimes my two-year-old watches snippets of things (like funny baby laughing videos) or videos of herself or, if I am being super lazy, something I want to watch (e.g. Samantha Who? online, which she finds surprisingly entertaining), but it’s not very much and we’re quick to say “no videos” if she’s doing something inappropriate, and it’s a great motivator for her. She doesn’t know characters. I 100% agree, btw, with anyone who thinks it’s crazy I’ll let my toddler watch a sitcom but not Sesame Street (though we’ve, always together, on my laptop, seen a few things like that on Netflix, like Caillou). I didn’t let her watch anything till she was almost two and I can tell her behavior when there’s more TV is worse than with none. And I hate the whining for “blideos.” But I have it easy with one easy-ish kid. I totally get more TV if you have to manage more kids.

  23. Love TV. Love it. Love hearing my kids sing the songs, act out the shows, and squeal in excitement when they spot one of their favorite characters on a shirt at the store. I’ve even been known to buy a shirt or two or three…

    Sometimes we go a whole day or two without any tv, and sometimes we might watch a couple of hours totally guilt free. I don’t get the guilt over letting your kids watch tv. As long as you love them and always let them know it, and you spend lots of great, happy quality time with them in addition to tv time, I just don’t see the problem.

  24. Hey there,

    Our daughter still doesn’t watch TV, and she’s the same age as M&R. I had always said we were holding off till she was 2, but then we were expecting another little one, and I knew that there was no way I could keep him off till HE was two if SHE was in the other room watching TV. So we’ve extended her no-TV-term till her brother is more than 2.

    It’s funny–I feel hypocritical, because I really love watching TV. But I know that for me, it’s an opportunity to zone out, and I don’t feel ready to watch my kid zone out.

    And I can GUARANTEE YOU that if I had to go more than 3 days (let alone 1.4 years, like you’ve done) with out my DH, I would have that TV on every day for my daughter, as a way to ensure my sanity–just those few minutes to sit & be still & not be ON.

  25. To be honest, it never really occurred to me that there were parents who went the no-TV route. I’m grateful for the fact that my brother and I went without a lot of TV when we were younger simply due to the fact that my dad slept during the day and the TV was in his room. It just wasn’t possible for us to watch it. (I do recall that my favorite shows were David the Gnome, Grimm’s Fairy Tales Classics, and Barney though for when I could watch it.) We were also a very TV-centric family. My dad would boast about how the first movie I sat through the entire way was Willow when I was two. My brother and I were never allowed to eat at the table with our parents at dinner. Instead we’d be sent with our meals to go eat in front of the TV.

    In the past few years, I’ve been somewhat unnerved by how my aunts and uncles are raising my cousins. I just don’t understand why Ryan needed a TV in his room back when he was four.. Or why Anderson, who is only three, needed to get his own portable DVD player this year for Christmas. Even how vehicles that have TVs in them worry me. I’d also use long drives as a chance to stare out of the window and think…mostly because I get carsick so I couldn’t read.

    …This is all to say that I’m really impressed with how you’ve decided to raise your twins (as well as with all of the commentors). A little TV that’s actually educational and fun with plenty of bonding is nothing to be guilty about.

  26. Hi there! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my previous room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this article to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

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