Posted by: Ticktock | January 1, 2010

A Year Without Television…

My daughters are too young to be speaking in run-on pop-culture sentences. Their imaginations have been hijacked by Disney, Pixar, Barbie, even PBS, and I’ve permitted this to happen.

It happened in increments, but I’ve become more aware of the problem in Juliet, my youngest; she has developed slower than I would prefer under the shadow of her older sister’s television schedule. Juliet has a wide vocabulary for her age when she chooses to talk, but what I’m more concerned about is her behavior and her ability to completely retain information, like colors and letters. She’s only two-and-a-half, so I will admit that this is a non-crisis, but I will invoke my unscientific intuition to justify my (perhaps) over-reaction. I’m envisioning trouble with her if I don’t make adjustments.

Those are some of the reasons that I’ve decided to remove the television from the living room starting the first of the year. Think of it as testing a hypothesis with my fears as the control group. There’s no way that I will ever know if cutting TV from the daily routine will make any difference because the kids will likely mature regardless of my intervention, but it’s a drastic enough change that I should be able to make testable predictions.

First, lack of television will not harm them. Will they benefit? I can’t say for sure, but I’m betting they will make progress in unexpected ways.

Second, this will not be easy. They’ll go through withdrawals, and start begging for the return of instant entertainment. I may even start begging for it myself.

Third, without an instant babysitter, I will be forced into more meaningful interactions with my kids. That makes me sound worse than I am, but I’m hoping most of you can relate to using an episode of Blues Clues as a crutch to get you through times when you want some peace.

Fourth, we’ll get outside more. I’ll return to a daily exercise routine, and let that be my time of solitude while they are watched at the YMCA childcare.

Fifth, Juliet will have space in her brain for colors and letters (among other things), and will stun everyone with her rapidly improving learning skills.

I’m not an extremist. I will allow them to watch one episode or movie on the weekends. Perhaps this destroys the experiment, but I’m not doing this to transform my family into “Little House on the Prairie” (to borrow a pop culture reference). I just want to start filtering out the junk that might be interfering with their little brains. It’s not my intention to make a dogmatic statement about the nature of television. It’s a personal choice, not a recommendation.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that young children older than two watch no more than 1-2 hours of TV per day, and that children under two avoid TV entirely. My honest assessment is that we actually meet the two hour recommendations already. This experiment will take things a step further.

I suppose it’s a good omen that I saw a bumper sticker that said “Kill Your Television” on my way to tonight’s New Year’s Eve dinner with friends.  Oh well, tomorrow I will cancel my cable. If all goes well, and I see the type of improvements that I’m expecting, we’ll continue our television abstinence into 2011. This is one resolution that will be tough for us.

Wish me luck.



  1. Wow, Yes, Good Luck! Wish we had that determination.

  2. Wait–how is this a science based decision?

    • I admitted that it wasn’t. It’s an intuitive-based personal decision that seemed worthy of mentioning on the blog. I strive to keep my decisions rooted in science, but that’s not always possible, or even preferable.

      In addition to science-based, this blog is logic-based. If I see that my children are obsessed with television characters instead of learning then my logical reaction is to remove the television. Again, it’s a personal decision and not a recommendation. Whenever I deviate from my self-imposed boundaries on this blog, I always try to make it clear that I’m doing so.

      • Damn it… I saw a study recently that indicated that more cartoons = better math skills, but I’m not sure where…

  3. Please keep us posted on how it goes.

  4. According to Phreakonomics there is no correlation between hours watching TV and scholarly success, so you may be barking up the wrong tree. However one thing I have noted from paying attention to other aspiring authors is the number of published writers who say that you can’t be a writer and watch lots of TV, because you aren’t as productive. So whether or not you really change your child’s learning level, you may prep her for being a producer instead of just a consumer, and that’s not a bad thing 🙂

    • You’re right, actually. I’ve even written about it here.

      The way I phrased it to my Dad is that Juliet can recognize and name every single pop culture character from Elmo to Barbie, but she only knows one letter of the alphabet, even after I’ve been working with her on it. There’s something disturbing to me about that.

      • We have brain systems dedicated to recognizing faces. So the ability to recognize lots of characters from popular culture is probably because she is human (sheep can recognize their flock, so maybe a mammal thing) and that part of her brain is well developed. It probably ought to be employed recognizing friends, and family, but in the absence of an extended tribe I dare say there is some social utility in recognizing TV characters.

        Reading and writing on the other hand are so recent they probably don’t have dedicated systems in the same way.

        I’m sure it won’t hurt losing TV for a year, but I’d guess Juliet is enjoying it? Could you not just snaffle some of that TV time for reading to her?

        My little boy at 19 months seems to know when his evening programme is due on, and points at the remote control to persuade us to switch the TV on. But he is always dragging books over to us to read, and is clearly keen to read (especially about tractors), so I hope letters aren’t going to be an issue for him.

      • We definitely read to her two or three times per day. She doesn’t seem to be stimulated by books yet, but it’s not for our lack of trying.

      • Yeah, that’s the interesting thing about reading. My six-year old wasn’t interested in reading for the longest time, though we kept doing it.

        At some point, though, it clicked with him, and if he winds up losing books as a bedtime privilege because he refused to do his chores, it’s a pretty big deal to him.

        Good luck with the TV thing. You’re braver than I.

  5. My little one knows how to work the TiVo and fast forward past commercials. She can only watch what I tape and she knows the limits (# of shows) and that seems to be working for us. I swear, they should throw in a TiVo with all the other “swag” at the hospital when you have your baby…

  6. Try the preschool prep series of DVDs. My son learned all letters, shapes, numbers, and colors before 2 and has now learned about 30 sight words (age 3). They are fun, he loves them and he retains all the knowledge. When I first saw them I thought they looked like a hoax, but tried and now I tell everyone about them. Everyone I have recommended them to has had the same success.

    I applaud your end to the tv. I wish my family would do it. My husband would never go for it.

  7. Good on You TickTock, hope it works out well!

    We only have on TV in the house, and we didn’t have one at all the first four years of our marriage. We have a strict total screentime rule in our house – 45 minutes on school nights, twice that on the weekends, exceptions made for watching the occasional movie here or there. We also cut off screen time 30 minutes prior to bed.

    We find that our kids are generally in better moods, get along better, and get involved in more play, role play, building projects, abstract thinking, etc this way than when we don’t enforce the rules. Our kids have all picked up neat hobbies and I think it is a result of the limits on screen time.

    Attitudes are better too. When we slack off, we see a pretty quick change in them and not for the better!

    BTW, our house is the house all the kids want to be at – this is ages 5-13 – and believe me we have the least video games, TVs etc.

  8. Good luck with this experiment. I’m looking forward to hearing how it goes.

    It’s really amazing at how interesting the big shiny screen is to my 8-month old daughter. If it’s on, she can’t HELP but look at it. Something about that strikes me as a displacement of where I’d like her curiosity to be directed.

  9. My 2 1/2 year old has never had access to a television although she has seen them on occasion (in a waiting room, etc), but has never really “watched” it. She has a huge vocabulary for her age (not that I attribute this to a lack of TV), but thus far as been so insulated from TVs that she didn’t learn the word television until recently.

    The reason I’m writing this comment though, is to tell a quick funny note. This past Thanksgiving, we went to grandma’s house. When we got to the living room there was a TV on that caught her attention. She got really excited, jumped up and down, and said, “Look at all of those people dancing!”

    What was on the TV at that time? Football. I guess that’s another word she doesn’t know. 🙂

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