TV Time: What's the Magic Number?

TV gets a bad rep a lot of the time, but I'm here to admit that we are a family who loves our TV. We are fairly picky about what we watch, especially as a family, but we genuinely love great movies, beautiful documentaries, and creative kid shows and feel like our lives are enriched because of them. This may be partly due to the fact that my husband and I were each babysat regularly by the almighty TV growing up (à la Donald Draper style).

It's no surprise to us that our kid came into this world fascinated with that glowing screen too. Maybe some of you can relate. Baby Einstein. Planet Earth documentaries. From the time he was just a babe, it didn't matter, he loved it all. But how much is too much?

At each stage in his life, as he grows and matures, we are faced with evaluating this question again and again. In his first year of life, we frequented our community health baby-and-me classes where we learned, among other things, that 30 minutes is the magic maximum daily number. This advice came from a presentation by a couple of local speech therapists who shed some light on the relationship between language acquisition and TV watching. They said, that in order for children to learn to speak they need plenty of feedback, which is something that the TV just can't provide. Yet. So we followed their advice. As a new mom I found all kinds of great ways to make use of those 30 glorious minutes. And I'm not going to lie, there were many occasions when I wished it was more.

But as he entered toddlerhood we had to re-evaluate. We actually ended up giving him less TV on average -- mostly because it was hard to deal with the tears and apparent devastation that ensued at the end of each viewing. Not only that, but the more TV he watched, the more he wanted to watch it, to the exclusion of all other activities. He had a good handle on the language thing but then there are so many other things to develop, like fine and gross motor skills to name just two.

Then school started and there were piano lessons, swimming and even architecture class, which all naturally took the place of most TV watching opportunities. Eventually the time got whittled down to just Friday Family Movie Night and whatever might fit into our usually busy weekend schedule. And that's where it has remained. Until last week.

He's almost 8 now -- a very articulate boy with a love of reading that far exceeds both of our expectations. In fact, he reads better than we both did, combined, at his age. Whether there's a correlation between that and the amount of TV he did not watch, we have no way of knowing, but what I do know is that he is very capable of using his acquired articulation skills to call family meetings and negotiate things for himself now. So he's proposed a sort of point system whereby we give him some limits on the amount of TV time but at the same time give him some control over how he spends it. It seems like a fair enough proposal -- another form of allowance, really, which gives him a chance to practice saving up for future rainy days. But again, we are faced with coming up with that magic number.

Going to Google we find a lot of information on how much children at different ages are actually watching but not as much on what they should be watching. So we want to hear from you TV-lovin', movie-buff families. We want to know where you go for advice on the subject. Have you come up with a magic number? Has it changed over your children's developmental stages? What are your peers' strategies? How did your parents handle it?

(Image: Flickr member {N}Duran licensed for use under Creative Commons)

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