To TV Or Not To TV?

I can only imagine the number of puns that have come from this line in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet! But with the forecast for the weather to be over 40 degrees Celsius today, I started to do a bit of mental planning last night as to how our day would go. Some of the feedback I received on the “10 things to do with the kids when it is hot”post involved crafty things to do, role play ideas and some of them involved activities like going to the movies and watching DVDs/videos. It was great to get the feedback and I am going to work on improving the list from this.

I probably need to put it out there now that I am not a huge fan of TV in general and in particular of TV for children. As many of you have probably experienced, TV became a bit of an issue in our house some years ago. My eldest son was a preschooler and I originally tried tightly restricting his viewing to special occasions only. But as a consequence, I was finding that he would ask often if it was time to watch some TV, as he didn’t know when he would get to watch some. It also began to pose a problem when we would visit friend’s houses who had a more liberal policy on television. He would sit glued in front of it, getting his “fix”because he wasn’t sure when he would get it next.

So after some review with my dear husband, we decided to set a specific time and amount of TV for the day. This took the constant asking about “can I watch TV now?” out of the equation. He knew when he was going to watch TV and he knew how much he could watch. In our case we set the limit at 30 minutes. This was a time that I felt comfortable with and I still wonder if I have got the balance right. Kathy Walker is a Melbourne based education consultant whom I have an enormous level of respect for. On her websites FAQs she suggests “Children aged 3-6 years may watch about 1 hour per day maximum, and for primary aged children, not more than about 1.5 hours per day maximum.â”

This planned television time has served us very well, as we have had more children they have accepted that this is just the way it goes with TV. After the completion of their show, the children will get up and turn the television off. They never just come into the lounge room and turn the television on and they get very excited when we hire a new movie, as they get to watch a lot more TV than their standard allocation of 30 minutes.

But as we have varying ages and interests in the house, we have had to come up with a roster for whose turn it is to choose what the show is that they watch. At a family meeting some years ago, when we only had 3 children, we agreed that each child would have 2 choices per week (they have specific allocated days) and we would have one “TV free” day. I also set pretty firm guidelines on what it is that is available for choice. This plan is still in operation and we find it really helps to manage the issue of television in the house. Our youngest is 20 months and is still too young to come into the debate on this, so I am not sure how we will then divide this up by 4 yet!

The PC however is now more of a prominent “want”than TV in our house as our oldest is 9. Long ago we put playing games on the PC in the same category as the television. It is an either or choice for the children. We all agreed that who’s ever turn it is to choose the TV program, can then choose if they want to have their time on the TV or the PC. If they choose PC, then the other two children need to agree on a TV show to watch. As most mums do, I often worry about the decisions I am making and in this case as a consequence of them, if I am harming the children’s chances of being able to fit in on the playground at school. It comes mainly from our oldest, as he tells me how much TV his friends watch, what they watch and how much time they spend on PC games etc, and I worry that he might be left out of the these conversations. But as with most conversations with boys this age, the topics change at a hectic pace and there is always a decent chunk of exaggeration added into the mix, so I think he will be able to handle his own.

I know that by having a planned and limited TV regime, that my children will be in the minority, and I do also worry about this. However I was heartened recently when I went and heard a talk by Kathy Walker on child behaviour management. She talked about a phenomenon called “bunkering”. Many children now have their own TV and PC in their room, so if they don’t like what is being watched in the family or lounge room, they just go off to their room and watch or play what they want. Kathy commented that as a consequence children are not getting enough time to practice social skills like sharing, negotiation and concession. So as I hear two of my children negotiating (fighting) over what to watch, I now try to think of it as improving their social skills! Do you think in years to come that my children will be sitting in a psychiatrist’s office telling them how their life was ruined because their mum didn’t let them watch The Simpsons?

I hope this is not the case, I think that those moments where they disagree with my decisions, although incredibly strong and emotional at the time that the complaint is made, subside very quickly. I hope that they will later realise that by not being glued to the TV or computer that the actually spent more time socializing, playing outside, playing games and reading. Only time will tell.

So what are we doing today in the 40 degrees heat? We will head to the local pool early enjoy some time with friends in the water, have a picnic lunch, then come home and it will be an afternoon sleep for the little ones and quiet activities like reading and board games for the older two. Have fun whatever you do.