I agree! This is the big question.
In this post of TV Diet, I will explore ways to do just that. Not all techniques have worked for me as well as others, but I think it is important to mention all of them, mainly because we are different people and have different personalities and therefore, what did not work for me may work well for you and vice versa.
My recommendations for implementing the tips and techniques below are:
- Try each technique for a while before trying the next one.
- Some of the techniques create minor changes, while others create bigger changes. Embrace the small changes too. Step by step, you can climb a high mountain.
- Make sure you have the support of your partner. Life is just so much easier with their support.
- If you have another family member who supports you, like a grandparent, an older child, a sibling or an uncle, involve them in your plan and ask for their help.
- Involve your kids’ teachers in your decision to go on a TV diet. It is amazing how much teachers can influence kids just because they talk about it in a group and can use group dynamics to deliver messages. Use this to your advantage (and ultimately, to your kids’ advantage).
- Even if it is tough, focus on the benefits for everyone involved, learn from “failures” and keep going until you succeed.
Tips and techniques to cut “junk TV”
When I was a student and worked a lot to support us, my grandmother offered Gal and me her TV. I needed courage to say “No, thank you!” I figured that if I leave home at 7am every day (and sometimes even at 6am) and get back home at 8pm to start doing my assignments, lesson plans, cooking and cleaning, having a TV at home would take away my sleep time. It was easy – as soon as I said no, I did not have to battle watching TV anymore, because I just did not have a TV.
When Eden was a baby, we still did not have a TV, which allowed us to spend more time with her. Until she was about 2 years old, we did not have a TV at home. We would watch TV at my parents’ or Gal’s parents’, but Eden never said anything about it.
When Eden was about 2 years old, we got that TV from my grandma. I said I would only bring the TV home if we bought a video recorder, because kids’ TV time was exactly during her sleep time and there was no way I would give up sleep time for any show.
Since then, I have never managed to convince Gal we did not need a TV at home, but I have used other techniques that have worked really well.
The TV is “broken”
Two years ago, after trying to talk to the kids about planning for the summer holidays and realizing they did not have any idea what to do, except watching TV, I told them we were having a “No TV summer”. I disconnected the TV from the antenna and every time they tried to watch TV, they were very surprised to discover I had been serious and there was still no TV.
The first 3 days were tough, because the kids came again and again and asked where the antenna cable was, but I said I had taken the cable and it was not coming back until the end of summer (2 months). On the fourth day, the kids started doing fun things – inviting friends over, reading (they love reading), doing artwork, bouncing on the trampoline and so on.
At the end of summer, our friends came over and asked our kids about the summer break and what about best thing that happened during the holidays. My son, who was 11 years old then, said, “The best thing that happened was that Mom took the antenna cable and we had to come up with fun things to do”.
Until today, if they do not follow the TV rules, the antenna cable “mysteriously” disappears for a week.
After the great fun we had during Earth Hour, I think having many earth hours is a wonderful way to cut down on TV. We do such fun things together we have our own Earth Hour sometimes. But there is no need for the whole world to be in darkness for us to experience this. An hour may be short, but the quality of the time is high and it breaks the addiction.
Recording shows and programs is a good way to solve many of the problems related to “commercial exposure”. My kids love singing and dancing shows, but I do not like the commercials (plus 15-20 minutes of every hour is too much wasted time in my opinion), so I tape the shows and we watch them and skip the commercials. Nowadays, you can buy recorders that “know” how to skip commercials automatically.
Another advantage of recording is that TV does not disturb the kids’ or the family’s routine and the kids do not plan their life around any program. Dinner is dinner and sleep time does not change just because the show ends too late. TV time is only part of free time.
DVD from the video store
Another way to make sure your kids watch good quality TV (and without commercials) is to bring DVDs for your kids from the video store. If you do this, you guarantee they only see what you pick up from the video store and you are convinced is appropriate for their age and contains the messages you approve of.
Of course, this method works well only when the TV goes off at the end of the DVD, so keep your eyes and ears open. Otherwise, since the TV is already on and the kids are already in front of it, they just keep watching whatever is on. Tell your kids why you prefer DVDs and let them know that if they breach your trust, the DVDs will stop too.
Watch with your kids
Even good shows have junk in them – things you would rather the kids did not watch. Watching movies, program and shows with your kids is a good technique to minimize any damage caused by the shows and commercials they watch. Talk to them about the shows to improve their critical thinking.
If you watch things that are not real with your kids, tell them about the process of making a movie. When there are scary movies, tell your kids how many people are around the actor at that moment and show them “behind the scenes” shows to help them realize it is not real fear. Talk about ketchup and film editing to help them separate between fiction and reality.
Turn down the volume when the music is very scary. When you get to the commercials, change channels or encourage the kids to go to the toilet until the program starts again.
Protest when you see stereotypical scenes on TV. Explain to your kids that in real life “There are many dads who help in the household and love cooking”. Whenever I see a cooking show, I say to the kids “Did you see that many of the chefs are men?” to help them understand that the kitchen is not “a woman’s place”. When I see successful business women who are mothers, I say “Even parents can be successful” (I do not like hearing the excuse “I’m a mother, therefore I couldn’t have a career” and I do not want my girls to think like that). Every time you see something that does not follow your values or messages you would not like to give your kids, say something. You probably will not be able to block all of them from going in, but I am sure you will be able to block many.
If you watch TV with your kids, you can minimize the harm. If you do not watch it with them, this is a lot harder.
One technique that works very well is saying, “We don’t watch things like that in our house” (horror, killing, violence, etc) and turning the TV off. If you say it over and over again, your kids will memorize it and say it to themselves whenever they see that kind of show. Is it brain washing? Yes, it is! But this washing really makes the brain clean…
Using the same idea, you can set rules for eating and TV, “We do not eat in front of the TV in our house” and make your kids eat in the dining area. Say it enough and it will work eventually.
Of course, if eating in front of the TV has been OK in the past, you cannot suddenly say, “We do not do it in our house”. The older the kids, the harder it is to start new rules and habits.
Talk to your partner, agree on this and introduce the new rule (not when the kids are eating in front of the TV) and say, “Mom/Dad and I talked about it and have decided we are not happy with eating in front of the TV, so from now on, we will only eat in the dining area”. After introducing the new rule, if you see the kids eating in front of the TV, you can say, “I’m reminding you we do not eat in front of the TV anymore” and turn the TV off.
It works! Just do it! And do it again and again. Remember, it takes 21 days to make a new habit and if you come home one day and still see your kids eating in front of the TV, it is not the end of the world. The most important thing is that most of the time, they do not.
Another rule that works really well is “Friends come over to play with you, not to watch TV”. As I have said before, your kids might resist and might not follow the rule every time, but if you repeat the same sentence again and again, they will think like this themselves after a while.
My older daughter (20 years old now) has heard this sentence again and again for over 15 years. When I feel she watches too much TV with her boyfriend, I still tell her that friends come to spend fun time with her and not watch TV, but it does not happen very often. Now, she tells her 8 year old sister it is better to find nice games to play with her friends, because “Friends come over to play with you, not to watch TV”.
Many of the ads on TV create a sense of urgency that puts pressure on people to buy – “Buy today or you will lose the last chance of your life”. It is very important to teach your kids they will have many more opportunities to buy things later. Explain that being the first to buy is not always best, because it can be more expensive and more risky than waiting a bit (ask anyone who has installed version 1.0 of any software or bought an iPod from the first batch).
A very useful rule we have to fight over commercialism is “We do not buy things just because they are advertised on TV”. This has worked so well for me that when my kids want us to buy them something, they never say they saw it on TV. By the way, it is a useful rule for adults too. We welcome ads about festivals and local events. Otherwise, we switch channels or fast forward. We prefer to buy things based on recommendations and/or research, not based on TV ads.
When you discuss picking good TV shows and limiting the excessive time of watching with your kids, you can give them the opportunity to choose the right shows and stick to a watching plan. Decide how many hours you think are enough for TV watching and split them between weekdays and weekends. For example, if you think 6 hours a week is reasonable, say “You can watch these kinds of shows and you can watch 4 hours during week days and 2 hours in weekend. Here is the TV guide, pick your 6 hours”.
This will give your kids the feeling they can control some aspects of their TV watching and increase their “buy-in”. Next time you see them watching something that was not agreed, just say “This show was not part of the agreement”.
The older the kids, the more they will argue about the hours and try tricks, like “But in Sharon’s house, they are allowed to watch 24 hours every week” or “Why do you watch TV 7 hours a week?” Stay cool and say, “Sharon’s parents set the rules in their house and we set the rules in our house. When you have your own kids, you will set the rules for them” and “Adults and kids do not have to follow the same rules. This is why adults go to work and kids don’t”.
Another recommended rule is “No TV in the bedroom”. Buying kids TV to use in their rooms is like letting the cat watch over the gold fish, which in a sense, is a very cruel thing to do. When you buy your kids a TV screen to use in their room, you are giving them some freedom that is hard to take away. In their rooms, they can watch whatever they want, whenever they want and when you come one day and say, “Hey, this is too much”, you may feel like you have lost the battle. You have, as soon as you bought them that TV.
If you have one TV at home, be happy! You have fewer challenges, not to mention a healthier family with less radiation in the bedrooms. Do not be tempted to buy one, even if “Jenna’s dad bought her one for her birthday”.
When we bought our current house, I found out that under the kitchen counter, there was a TV antenna connection. Gal and I put a dresser in front of it, so no one has ever said anything about it and we have never had a discussion about putting a TV in our kitchen/dining room area.
If you do have many TV sets and you kids watch too much TV, give them to charity (tell your kids that poor kids needs it more than they do). Remember, staying cool and confident is more important than what you say. You are the captain of your family – behave like a captain!
Next week, I will tell you how the use of routines in the house can make your kids’ TV diet easier. Come back to read or subscribe to updates via RSS or email.
Until then, easy parenting,
This post is part of the series TV Diet:
- TV Diet (1): Too Much TV?
- TV Diet (2): Health Concerns
- TV Diet (3): Kids Behaving Badly
- TV Diet (4): Kids’ Outlook on Life
- TV Diet (5): Parent-Child Relationships
- TV Diet (6): Disposable relationships
- TV Diet (7): Learning and Education
- TV Diet (8): How Much TV is Too Much?
- TV Diet (9): Kids’ Personalities
- TV Diet (10): Parents’ Influence
- TV Diet (11): The Right TV diet
- TV Diet (12): Junk TV
- TV Diet (13): Raising Aware Kids
- TV Diet (14): Cutting Junk TV
- TV Diet (15): Routine
- TV Diet (16): Healthy Alternatives
- TV Diet (17): More Healthy Alternatives
- TV Diet (18): Conclusion