Children, Communication, and No TV

Big Brother's New HaircutBig Brother had his hair cut today. He chose the style he wanted, explained it to the hairdresser, and then proceeded to have a long conversation with her while she cut his hair. They talked about board games (his favourite is chess, hers is backgammon), what books they’re reading at the moment, the pros and cons of grocery shopping, and whether or not school holidays should go forever. Then he told her about his plan to grow up and invent Helper Robots, complete with what they will look like, how they will help people, and how that will change the world.

At the end of this half hour discussion, Big Brother went and sat down quietly on the seat to wait while Little Brother had his turn. And since Little Brother is a lot more shy than his brother, the hairdresser and I talked.

“It’s hard to believe he’s only six,” she said, gesturing to Big Brother. “I’m always happy when I see you come in here. He always has great manners, and I’ve never met another kid his age who talks so well, and who can actually have a conversation with me.”

I thanked her, chuffed by the compliment. Of course. And then she asked me what school he goes to, and what we’ve done to help him get to this point.

Normally I wouldn’t bring it up, but she was interested.

So I talked about being firm on the importance of manners from the time my children started talking. I talked about leading by example — talking to them the way I want them to talk to me. I talked about the importance of reading books and telling stories and playing board games and not dumbing down language when talking to the children. And then I talked about how the children don’t watch any TV (except for our once a week family movie night) or play computer games.

She was on board with everything until I mentioned TV. But she asked, so I explained.

I explained about the latest research that shows the effect TV has on young brains. I told her that I believe TV encourages children to be spectators rather than to fully engage in the world. I talked about how not watching TV gives my boys plenty of time to play outside, read books, and stage elaborate puppet shows with their toys. But, most of all, I said that I’m not anti-TV. It has its place. Nor do I have a problem with people who let their young children watch TV. Every child and every family is different. But this works for us, and I believe it’s one of the contributing factors in the way Master Six interacts with people and the world.

“Yes,” she said. “But aren’t you worried that when your kids get older and learn about TV and advertising and social media, they won’t be able to communicate with people in the real world?”

To which, I referred her back to her original statement.


Filed under Life With Kids, Opinion

11 responses to “Children, Communication, and No TV

  1. You’re absolutely right, and the proof is in the pudding. My family enjoys watching TV as a family, but we are interactive–we make a game out of guessing the resolution, or delve into conversations about the character development, or moral implications. I suppose to a serious watcher we would be incredibly annoying with our chatting. Though, I promise we are silent in a movie theater. 😛

    • Haha. That sounds very similar to our family movie nights. 🙂 I’m so used to talking about the movie while watching it, I got into all sorts of trouble sitting down to watch a movie with a friend of mine. I kept pointing out interesting bits of dialogue, and musing about backstory, and wanting to discuss plot developments, until she told me to be quiet and just watch it!

  2. My mother refused to have a television in the house. She didn’t prevent me from watching television at my best friend’s house, so she wasn’t anti-television. She just believed I would learn to think for myself without one; and, in her words, “Not be like the Joneses.” It’s the main reason I became such a prolific reader. We eventually acquired a television when I was about nineteen, by which time I didn’t care, one way or the other. Not that I cared when I was little, either. I never felt I was missing out on something “great.” In the boarding school I attended we were allowed to watch certain television programmes, in fact, we had to, sort of, because there was only one common room. But that experience also didn’t convince me that I was missing anything when I went home to a house without T.V. To this day, I can watch it, or not. I can live for long periods of time without a television. If I have one I watch it, but usually not more than four hours a week in total, and only when my favourite dramas are on. Even those I could give up, if I had to. I love that I am not addicted to television, and I’m thankful my mother had the wisdom to understand this (long before research was available). On the flip side, I have known highly successful playwrights who grew up on television. Their ability to create quirky dialogue resonant with cultural references is staggering. So that, television as good or bad influence, in some ways, may also depend on the child. For me, its deprivation was positive.

    • “Television as good or bad influence, in some ways, may also depend on the child.”

      I think that’s true. And I think it depends on the family environment, and the cultural environment as well. But I definitely agree with your mother — I prefer my children to learn to think for themselves. I’ve often debated getting rid of the TV completely, but I’m pretty sure my husband would have a panic attack if I suggested it. (Not because he watches it — just because he likes to feel like we’re “normal”.)

  3. I wish, I wish, I wish I followed those rules. Every last one. The TV rules this house, even if just as background noise. I would much rather play a game or read a book or go over Noah’s lines. One thing, though. There is no television in our room. Nor are there pictures of anyone but us. Our room is our sanctuary and it is meant only for us and only for sex and sleep. I love the way Big Brother speaks. I was like that as a child. TV wasn’t a big deal back then and I was reading at 3 and my mom was engaging and I spoke very mature for my age, asking questions and describing things. You don’t see that much anymore.

    • No, you don’t see it much, which is a shame. I love that Big Brother’s friends have similar home lives to ours, so he can play with his friends and go to their houses and there’s no feeling of him missing out or being different at all. I think it would be much harder on him (and us) if all his friends ever talked about were video games and TV shows. (Seriously… Don’t get me started on Skylanders. How is this a thing that parents allow their six year olds to play??)

  4. Roosevelt Franklin

    I have two grown children,both successful professionals.When they were kids,we had no tv.Neither my wife nor I would watch TV.We got our news from the newspapers.Our young children played with toys made from common household objects,like card board boxes or discarded pieces of wood and,my children thank us for the way we we did not let them fall victims of the TV monster.We did not adopt this behavior from any scientific studies.We simply knew that having chidren sitting in from of a box for hours staring at flickering images is not healthy.

  5. We don’t have a no-TV policy at our house, but we do limit our childrens’ TV intake to no more than about 20 minutes a day. (Even that is probably too much, but using the TV allows a very busy mommy and daddy, who both work, to get things done at home.) We also have movie nights (the exception to the 20-minutes-per-day rule), but they’re infrequent. We’re down with the research on the issue, and as much as possible we tried to keep the TV off entirely when child #1 was in the sub-2-years age range.

    I personally know how important this is because I have a passive addiction to TV, which is to say that if the TV is on, even if it’s tuned to something I loathe and I can’t find an affirmative reason to be in another place, I will watch it. There’s only one thing that’s strong enough to keep my attention when the TV’s on: a really good book. (And even then I’ll peak from time to time.) I can see early signs of the same symptoms in both of my two children… 😦

    • The whole passive addiction to TV is quite a common problem. My husband is exactly the same, and so is Big Brother. Little Brother, not so much — and I don’t struggle with it over much. But I think it affects some people more than others, regardless of the quantity or quality of their TV intake.

      I think limiting TV for 2-?? year olds is a good way to go, and kudos for sticking with it. If Big Brother wasn’t so easily addicted to TV, we’d consider doing the same thing.

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