Five Lessons from a TV-Free Household

The following is by contributor Jaimie of Two Chicks and a Hen.

When Kara suggested I write about our experience as a TV-free household, I was hesitant.  TV time for kids is one of those hot-button issues that can divide mothers or, at the very least, induce guilt in all of us–those with and without TVs.  But I”m not here to tell you that you should throw out your TV.  I”m not even here to tell you why we don”t have one; you”ve heard all the reasons before and, like me, you”ve made the choice you feel is best for your family.

Instead, I”m here to give you a little glimpse into our TV-free lives by sharing with you some lessons I”ve learned on our journey.

Five Lessons from a TV-Free Household

1. I”ve found that it”s easier to have my children watch no TV at all than it is is to allow TV sometimes.  I know the conventional wisdom says “everything in moderation,” and that some people have success limiting TV to 1/2 hour a day, or only on the weekends, or some other system.  I tried something similar and found it very challenging.  For the first few years of their lives, I didn”t show my children anything on screens, ever.

Then, from late winter of 2011 to late winter of 2012, I allowed my children one half-hour show per week, usually an episode of Little Bear or something similar on Netflix.  While my girls certainly enjoyed this 1/2 hour, I did not find it to be worth the struggles that ensued.  The begging I endured for “just one more show, for special!” and the complaints of “but we didn”t watch a show today!” (even though a show was only allowed once a week) were too much for me.

Now that we”ve returned to a truly TV-free life, my children never beg for shows.  As an activity, it simply doesn”t exist in our home.  I mention this because I know many people who have had enormous struggles trying to cut down on TV time.  I imagine it could be very difficult to go from allowing a lot of TV to allowing very little.  I honestly feel that it”s been much easier for me because I happened to have started in the opposite direction.  But if you are someone who really, genuinely wants to cut down on the screen time and you”re having trouble, I humbly suggest that you consider the possibility of trying total elimination. You may find it easier.

2.  My kids sometimes have that particular combination of boredom and crabbiness that makes TV sound incredibly appealing…and it”s OK.  Here”s an admission: There are moments, probably at least once a month, when my kids are driving me a little crazy, and I think about how nice it would be to just turn on a show to calm them down and/or entertain them.  I”m sure you know the feeling.

In the moment, it is very, very tempting–so much so that I have little mental negotiations with myself about the possibility of doing it.  But what I have realized through these experiences is that a little creativity goes a long way.  When I have my senses about me enough (read: I”ve had enough coffee), I can help them snap out of their malaise enough to get us back on track to having a good day.

What I”ve learned about my kids is that they themselves have it in them to make it through these bad moments without a distraction like TV, and when they don”t, it usually means they”re hungry, tired, or both.

3.  Eliminating TV at home doesn”t mean I”m fully able to keep my very small children away from some of the things that concern me about TV–largely, advertising and violence.  These things still seep in, whether from the products their (very sweet) classmates bring to school, or the shows my kids watch when they aren”t with me, or the syndicated character-laden books that fill the libraries; the advertising, in particular is really pervasive.  And this means that I have thoughtful conversations with my kids about these issues when they arise.

Getting rid of TV hasn”t rid my children”s world of these things.  It has, however, made a statement to them about my beliefs and values.  And while I do prefer to keep advertising and violent media away from my kids right now, as they get older it will become more and more important to be aware of such things as they learn to navigate the world.

4.  When I”m busy and can”t hang out with them, there is always something for them to do, and when forced, my children can entertain themselves.  This isn”t always the easy route to take, believe me.  While my kids are very creative and enjoy a wide variety of activities, that doesn”t mean that they don”t sometimes lay on the couch (or lay on the floor, or hang on my leg) and tell me they”re bored.

My proclamation that being bored is not an acceptable excuse for needing to be entertained and my insistence that there is always something to do are not necessarily met with joyful responses, but I”ve found that persistence pays off.  Laying on the floor complaining gets boring after a few minutes, and on the rare occasion that it doesn”t, going outside always snaps them out of it.

5.  Finally, a much sillier lesson: not having a TV doesn”t prevent me from watching something when I feel like it. I don”t feel deprived not owning a TV, in part because I don”t usually love watching it, but also because (yay for living in 2012!) anything I want to watch is available online somewhere.  It”s nice, really, because not having that big black box sitting out in public view means my kids don”t walk by, see it, and ask for TV.  And it means that our small space is not made even smaller.

For those interested: I don”t know what my long-term plan is.  A couple of months ago, I introduced a special once-a-month movie night with my older daughter (who turns six next week), and when my little one gets older, she”ll join in with us.  It”s likely that as the years go by, I will re-introduce the possibility of a television show or two, or a free-reign day, or TV on the weekends.

It”s also possible that I won”t; I really can”t predict how I”ll feel about it.  But right now, my children are very young, and in our household, this is what I”ve found to work best.

Kara, here: Is your household TV-Free? Have you considered making that switch? We”re not a TV-Free household, but I do consider it from time to time. TV-Free or not, can you relate to these lessons? As Jaimie writes, everyone makes the choices they feel best. It is certainly okay to disagree, but as always, I hope I can count on Simple Kids readers to keep their comments respectful and to explore our differences in a non-judgmental manner.

About Jaimie

Jaimie, an American ex-pat living in chilly Montreal, is a single, work-at-home mom to a preschooler and a kindergartener. When she’s not busy building her freelance editing and writing career or making messes with her kids, she blogs about her adventures in creating a simple, creative, sustainable life for her family at Two Chicks and a Hen.

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  1. We have been cable-TV free for almost seven years (the year before our child was born, we gave away our TV in trade for three shiatsu massages). My husband and I do watch DVDs/ BLURAYs/ netflix/ hulu after our son goes to bed (currently we’re watching season one of Game of Thrones and I love it, I have read the books many times).

    Originally, my plan was not to introduce shows/ movies to my kid til he was about four, but that got thrown out the window when I developed bronchitis when he was 18 months old (and my husband was away for a conference that week). Elmo saved me. It was still hard, but not as hard as it could have been. I was the only one of my real life friends who had never allowed shows, so I quickly succumbed.

    But we never connected to cable again. That turns out to be my biggest TV-free “rule” – no ads. (With Hulu, there are ads, but only the adults are allowed to watch Hulu in my house. And while I hate those ads, I put up with it for certain shows: Castle. Survivor. My husband watches more shows on Hulu than I do.)

    So where we are now: our child is able to watch netflix/ DVDs anytime after 4pm, until bathtime (around 6:15). The TV/ DVD player he watches shows on is in the guest bedroom, so it isn’t out in the open, tempting him.

    Most days he doesn’t watch anything, some days he does and some days he watches the entire two hours and usually there’s a reason when he wants to watch a lot, usually it’s during a growth spurt, or he isn’t feeling well or he needs to process something… he’s on the autism spectrum and watching shows is one way he decompresses/ learns language.

    (He has echolalia and repetitive speech – shows – are one big way he learned to communicate. Obviously we also did speech therapy, but I personally believe Dora and Diego also helped).

    I take more of an unschooling approach to it, to be honest because that is what works best for us. (The after 4pm rule has been in place for about a year and isn’t unschooling-style, but it works for us, mostly because of the obsessive tendencies of ASD: if he watches something early in the day, he will obsess about it all day.)

    Actually, his biggest obsession at the moment is Super Heroes (particularly The Avengers) and he has never seen a single Super Hero show/ movie!! He is obsessed because of Lego and magazines/ books. I find it hard to comprehend why Lego is doing such a strong tie-in to The Avengers, but since my kid has no interest in seeing the movie, I don’t mind him getting into the Lego figures/ sets. It’s his birthday in a few weeks and the grandparents needed gift ideas anyway. LOL

    I’m not doing screen free week. We have our own rhythms and I am happy with them. But I am really happy to read (and share) different versions of how TV-free works, because that’s how we found our stride. I was a TV-free tribe member on MDC for awhile, while I figured out what worked for us.

    • Alexis–It sounds like you guys have been extremely thoughtful and have found a system that works great for all of your needs.

      And by the way, I LOVE that you traded your TV for shiatsu massages!
      Jaimie´s latest post: Corn Syrup Paint

  2. Katelyn says:

    We have a TV and it has a prominent spot in the living room. I do wish we had another spot to tuck it away, but that’s not reality right now. That said, my 21 month old son and I do not watch TV while home during the day. He has never seen a “kids” show except while sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. We have a TV because my husband loves his NFL football. I don’t have a problem with the sports being on in season. There are a few other shows my husband likes to watch in the evenings – these are mainly recorded and the commercials fast forwarded. (My big peeve with commercials is how loud they are compared to the volume of the show.) I watch a few shows online during my son’s nap time while knitting. We do occasionally watch some of the travel shows together, which is fun.
    I see some very select children’s programing coming into our home as my son gets older, but not anytime soon. I dislike many of the children’s cartoons for their crude humor and innuendos. My almost 2 year old imitates enough right now without adding cartoons into it as well. I like the idea of a family movie night as he gets bigger.
    There are definitely days that I wish it was as easy to entertain him as flipping on a TV, but that’s mainly a product of his short attention span and my wanting to finish something without little helping hands.
    Instead of TV we go play at the park, building block towers, finger paint in the bathtub, race cars in the hallway, read LOTS of books, go to story-time at the library, cook/bake fun things in the kitchen, draw with chalk on the unfinished basement walls (a microfiber cloth wipes it easily away,) window watch the cars/buses/trucks go by. He’s also small enough to enjoy helping around the house – a squirt bottle of water and a rag to wash windows is a favorite as is pushing the loaded laundry basket down the hallway.

    • Katelyn–I’m also really excited for when we can all do movie nights together. I’m not ready to show movies to my younger one yet (with the exception of a Christmas movie during advent), so my older one and I have to be a little more covert about it. I think it will be totally fun when we can all snuggle up for movies together.

      And I wholeheartedly agree with your comments about having the kids help. They generally love it, and it’s a great way to bring them into what you’re doing without having to provide “entertainment.”
      Jaimie´s latest post: Corn Syrup Paint

  3. Amanda says:

    We have a t.v. in our living room and I can take or leave it. My husband is the one who prefers the thing. For me, having a t.v. is not an issue. I love that my son watches PBS and at his age, can tell me all about what he has learned. I am his primary teacher, but I love how PBS children’s shows are set up to help build on math and science. Sometimes we will watch his cartoon together or he might watch it while I cook and then we can talk about it. Some days he wants to watch more than he’s allowed but then there are days he knows what to do and turns it off after his set limit without being told. Those days make me so proud!!!
    Again, I can take or leave it, but in our house, it’s not a big deal.

  4. We do not have a tv, and I like it that way. One thing I find is that our girls, 2 & 4, have excellent attention spans for books and the like. I wonder if no tv plays into that.

    I really love it that we can control what comes into our home. As you mentioned, advertising and other things are exposures in other places, but I want our home to be a safe learning environment, free from the influence of worldviews we oppose.

  5. We are TV-free as well. It is DEFINITELY easier than trying to just watch a little tv for us. The hardest part is explaining it to others, but we just tell them that we watch everything we want to watch online (true, though we don’t generally want to watch much).

  6. We don’t have a TV. Our two-year old does watch some PBS shows online and we watch some stuff on Hulu. I love that there isn’t anything in the living room to distract us and that my daughter only sees commercial free shows. She also doesn’t understand the concept of turning on the TV and watching whatever is on. That said, I don’t know how long we’ll stay TV-free.
    Steph´s latest post: Busy Week? Focus on High Returns

  7. Shauna says:

    Like several of the other readers, we don’t have cable, but will watch content via Netflix or Amazon or on DVDs. Our biggest screen issues is computer games. I have a 9 year old who loves challenges and will get really involved in some of the puzzle games like World of Goo, Crazy Contraptions or Minecraft (which has a social element to it). We were late adopters to the Wii, but interested in that has fizzled out. We have been doing the screen free week (including video games) and so far it’s been great. But I do look forward to celebrating it’s end with a family movie night!

  8. We’re not TV-free, but several years ago we went cable-free, and cutting that out reduced the amount of time we spent watching TV. I thought I would miss it, and very occasionally I do, but for the most part it’s been nice not to be tempted to watch so many useless shows!
    Audrey @ Mom Drop Box´s latest post: The Gift of Time

    • Audrey, I totally understand the temptation to watch useless shows. That’s one of the many reasons that I don’t even like TV for myself–I know that if it’s there, I will be tempted to watch it more than I like, and that I am as likely as the next person to be sucked in by some drama or reality show!
      Jaimie´s latest post: Corn Syrup Paint

  9. We are another family who is cable free but uses Netflix/Hulu. We mostly have a TV simply because my husband is a gamer. If he wasn’t I would push harder to get rid of the TV completely, and I hope that when we move in November we will have the space to be able to put the TV somewhere not so prominent as the living room.
    Samantha´s latest post: On blogging.

  10. Just thought I’d drop in to comment, as we don’t have a TV in our home with our four kids, and I never had one as a child myself. When my husband and I were first married, someone gave me a TV and I was super excited, but we returned it after a month when we realized how much time it was sucking away. My husband and I do watch movies on the computer and the occasional show on Hulu, but my kids only see movies once every three or four months. And as someone else mentioned, I think it’s much easier to go cold turkey and just never have that negotiation–my kids don’t ask because it’s not an option.

    On another note–I feel like I see WAY more of my husband because he’s not watching sports. We visited a lot of family over Christmas and it was a totally different dynamic with a basketball game on in the background all the time–it honestly drove me crazy trying to get my husband’s attention!
    Rachael´s latest post: Juliet’s stream of consciousness

    • Rachael, I loved hearing from you–it’s rare that I talk to an adult who was raised in a TV-free home. I think there’s this fear that if we don’t let our kids watch TV (or eat junk, or whatever), that when they get older, they will go crazy and overdo it. It sounds to me like you turned out just fine!
      Jaimie´s latest post: Corn Syrup Paint

  11. I have had the exact same experience: I allowed Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood (which I love, love) and Fraggle Rock, as well as nature and dinosaur documentaries. We limited it to one show every other day (something easy to remember). However, since we have recently moved, the computer is now in the basement, while all of our toys are on the main floor, so we haven’t watched anything since the move nearly a month ago. Now, there is no whining and complaining about watching shows. which makes for happier kids and happier mama.
    Wendy´s latest post: Seventh Generation Response

  12. Sylwia Bielec says:

    Although we don’t watch TV at our house, my daughter does watch TV at her grandmother’s on Saturday morning – PBS or a Polish DVD. I agree with you, Jamie, that having SOME tv might just be worse than having none at all. The mornings are especially hard as I struggle to get ready for work and get her ready for daycare. I have succumbed more than once to Caillou on YouTube on my iPhone so I could shower without screams and whinging. I find everything to be a lot easier now that it is warmer and we can stay outside for longer where the screens do not beckon at all.

  13. Queen of Choas says:

    We’ve never paid for cable in the almost eight years we’ve lived together. We’ve had tv’s on and off throughout the time, always hand me downs, that were used exclusively for dvds. I’ll admit that I’ve enjoyed having better online viewing options in more recent years than when we started (I grew up in a cable heavy family, tv always on, you know the kind), but the benefit of going for a few years without those options is that I learned to be critical of whether the show is worth my time.
    Our daughter started off nearly screen free (occasionally watching some home videos with daddy) for the first couple years. Then we moved to half hour a day (only while mommy showers, *if requested*). When naps dropped initially I could tell she still needed down time so we moved to one set (1-2 hours) of parent approved shows on dvd. As she has continued her adjustment to no nap, she occasionally passes “rest time” altogether for the day. We almost never have battles about watching outside of the parameters, and I’m happy she’s weaning herself off of her afternoon movie break as she adjusts. It tells me she still prefers real life fun!
    I’m really glad to see the approach here that everyone is doing what works best for their family instead of judging by a zero tv standard. I tip my hat to those who go zero for their kids. I also tip my hat to those who take their time to pay attention to what is and isn’t working in their families, even when, like us, it involves some regular tv time!

  14. Very interesting and thoughtful discussion of an important topic, with a lot of food for thought. It’s something that has been on our minds as our little guy reaches 1 year old. He is fascinated by electronics — loves Skypeing with his grandparents, for example — and I can just seem him falling hard for TV.

    My wife and I have both been TV-free for most of our adult lives (apart from roommates’ TV’s), though we have a screen we watch discs and Netflix movies on and the laptops are always nearby. As you say, it’s great that it’s 2012 and one can still get great video content without ads and (if one avoids choosing it) violence. We loathe TV culture and would love to give our little guy the gift of not being brainwashing from the get-go.

    So it is tremendously encouraging to learn that, simply by being adamant with ourselves that TV should be absent from his ordinary life, we will be able to prevent the craving for it.

    I don’t actually know at what age kids start wanting to read by themselves, but I really hope it’s something that appeals to our little guy. (Signs are good so far!) If I could only get back all the TV-wasted hours of my childhood!

    Thanks again for a great piece.

  15. nopinkhere says:

    Our house is almost TV free. I discovered that the more TV they watched, the more TV they asked for.
    We watch Shaun the Sheep about every other week, usually two three-part episodes on Netflix. Usually this happens when they are loud and running around in the house and need some outside time. I’m trying to be better about taking them out when I don’t feel like it. Or we play a dance game on the Wii. screen + physical activity.
    They also get to watch “Saturday morning cartoons” with their father while I get to sleep in or have quiet time. Right now that means two or three episodes of Spiderman from 1968 about twice a month. (also on Netflix)
    I personally don’t watch TV (though I’m tempted when I hear about some series), but I do like to play video games.
    My son enjoys video games too, but he’s just not good enough to figure out how to get through the levels by himself. So he only gets to play when his dad or I are willing.

  16. Wow. I have to admit that I’ve only just given up my playstation obsession (not sure how I had time to play on that but I found it) so giving up TV I think would be harder for me than for my son.

    That said, once my son is old enough to be having more meals with us (at the moment his naptimes and Daddy’s work times often get in the way), I hope we will eat around the table with no television. You learn so much more about your kids that way.
    Mamacook´s latest post: How to wean your baby onto solid food

  17. I recently blogged about our “Big Experiment” where we got rid of cable for awhile. It wasn’t too hard at all, but I wanted to see if limiting screen time was possible for our family. I work with families with kids with special needs, and so many families were spending way too much time in front of the tube. I wanted to make sure that my recommendations and suggestions for changes THEY could make were things that I could follow, as well.
    I credit much of the imaginative play my almost-3-yr-old does with her time away from a screen, where the stories are just fed to her.
    Hillary´s latest post: Just another day in the life…

  18. Ashley says:

    Wow, well put. Thanks for this. My kids (2, 4, 5, and baby on the way) are TV-free too and have been from day one. (My husband and I watch some Netflix and he plays some video games in the evening; kids occasionally play games and watch clips on I completely agree with your first point. Sometimes I think about using it a little for my older kids, for their fun and my sanity, but I always conclude that it wouldn’t be worth the struggles that would surely ensue. I rarely tell my mom friends about it for fear of coming across as holier-than-thou, and and most of my extended family is respectful but I’m sure they think I am crazy. I am so glad, though, that I made this decision in the beginning and stuck with it. I’ve seen a lot of benefits for our family. I’m glad to hear that you have no long-term plan, either. I know I won’t keep them away forever, but I feel strongly about no TV for little ones, and I haven’t thought of a satisfactory solution to allow TV for some and not others, and to avoid the pleas for more. No TV has worked so well for so long for us, and I figure if it ain’t broke, I won’t fix it.

  19. We are tv free too. We became that way after a move. We had been trying to limit shows to 1 a day but all I heard was begging for more…I got so tired of the begging. The tv is gone now and everyone is happier and we have been tv free for almost 2 years! We do see an occasional mr. Rogers on….our girls go to a waldorf school where they discourage media and encourage creativity. I love it…most other families limit media as well so it’s great to be surrounded by others who have similar values about media.

  20. We are mostly media free. We have definitely cut back in the last 2 years to media free during the week. It was quite a transition. I blogged all about it here.
    Sheridan´s latest post: Our Book is Out Just in Time for Mother’s Day!

  21. The kids watch half an hour of tv most days.

    Here in Australia we have a show called “play school” and it’s absolutely wonderful. I record it, then they can watch it for the half an hour I need to cook dinner. This is great since I’m usually here by myself, and making dinner with two toddlers underfoot can be challenging and, in our kitchen, frankly unsafe. There are no ads, no innuendo, no violence, just songs and toys, it’s reasonably educational and very sweet.

    Dinner provides the cut off needed to end tv time without argument. Since we do the same thing every day, we don’t have any arguments about watching at other times, either. It’s routine.
    The Accidental Housewife´s latest post: Co-sleeping. Experiences may vary.

  22. we have been tv free for our entire 10 year marriage.

    i love it.

    we have 5 kids, boys in fact, and i feel like it makes them more creative, spend more time outdoors, they read more, they practice piano, play sports, use their imagination, and ask me to buy less things (dumb advertising to children!).

    that said, we do go to my parents’ house every sunday after church and my older 2 boys watch football or basketball or baseball (or whatever sport my dad is watching) with the guys. i am not anti-tv, just anti-tv in my house and on as a default. i don’t love the commercials especially and have my kids still turn away on lots of the sports channel commercials (some are really terrible!). they do get to watch movies on our computer for special family movie nights and obviously see tv stuff at friends’ houses. but for us, it works to not have it at our home and i feel like they are more productive in good ways without tv and so are we.
    charis´s latest post: 15 things that i love

  23. My 3 year old has been watching way too much TV for my liking lately. When a show is over and I tell her its time to turn it off she has started throwing huge hissy fits over it! That I just cannot take. When a child would rather sit mindlessly in front of a screen instead of playing with her beautiful toys sitting 3 feet away I feel like there is a problem. This morning I just told her, “Papa is going to have to take the TV down and do some work on it for a while”. She simply said “OK”.

  24. Not sure if anyone is checking comments on this post, but if someone is…my son is close to 3 1/2. We have a TV but only watch it after he’s in bed. The other kids his age we know (at preschool, in the neighborhood, etc) all watch TV. I’m starting to worry that he’s missing out on social interaction because he doesn’t know the storylines etc….I certainly have had some confusing conversations come to an abrupt end when it became clear I had no idea who the characters in particular movies or shows were. Any thoughts? I hate to bring TV into his life just for that reason, but the explanation of “we don’t watch TV” sounds so terribly holier-than-thou, when really it’s for my own convenience more than anything because TV kind of bugs me and I’d prefer that it just stay turned off. But at the same time, I’m going to want to have movie nights with him at some point.


  1. […] want to thank contributor Jaimie Franchi and guest poster for their posts this past week.  5 Lessons from a TV Free Household, and the discussion that took place in the comments, gave me much to ponder during my […]