Our TV and it's off... how lovely!

For parents  TV can be both a blessing and a curse I think.

We have one TV in our home, and it’s often a cause for friction about what’s OK to watch and what’s not. My children are now eight years old, and go to school, so they’re continually comparing what their peers are (allegedly) allowed to watch to what I’ll put on during screen-time. It’s challenging for them to understand why we may have different TV standards to other families.

I see the TV as a tool – and one that needs to be treated with caution. It can be an absolute time-waster, sucking energy from our home. It can cause frustration, beaming in images of ‘stuff’ marketed to create a longing for products we don’t need ( a contentment crusher!).

On the other hand if you choose carefully you can find some brilliant TV programs that stimulate conversation within a family, as well as educate and inspire. Having said that I must confess it’s felt like a lifesaver when I’ve been unwell and I’ve used it as the TV ‘babysitter’ allowing me to have a nap whilst a movie is on (2 hours of bliss!).

TV watching is an ongoing negotiation in our house – here’s how I usually manage it (I’m not saying it’s the right way, it’s just my way…):

  • No commercial TV – anything we may want to watch on commercial TV I source on DVD etc so we don’t have to watch ads. This sometimes means using internet resources to gain access, such as iView and Youtube.
  • I try to choose TV material that stimulates debate and conversation, and can be shared together. I have children keen on learning about history so recent TV shows we’ve watched include The Frontier House, The 1940’s House, and most recently The Victorian Farm. We talk about what it must have been like to live in those days, and how it compares to what resources we have now. When the boys were younger we used to enjoy dancing to ‘The Wiggles’ together. TV doesn’t need to be passive.
  • If my kids want to watch something I’m unfamiliar with I use commonsense media‘s reviews to guide me as to whether content might be suitable. I will often sit down with my children and show them the review so that they can understand why I am saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to something.
  • Every second Friday we have ‘Movie Night’, which includes a film they haven’t seen before (or one we all loved so much it’s worth repeating!) and homemade pizza. It’s a real treat and a shared family experience.
  • I’m always on the lookout for TV that inspires or educates – recent hits have included Jimmy’s food factory (the lads were appalled as to what goes into chewing gum!), Gareth Malone’s Extraordinary School for boys (taught us about debating, and started our own reading challenge), and ‘The Choir’.  Anything in the ‘River Cottage’ series is great for learning new things that support our gardening, cooking and livestock rearing.
  • Create time limits – currently my kids watch an hour per day maximum during the school week, and it’s typically with me, watching a doco before bed. Often they’ll choose to read instead. On the weekends they may watch a bit more.
  • Discuss with children how TV programs are often linked to products through branding, so they’re aware of that link. Make a game out of finding hidden advertising.
  • My kids know that TV is a privilege in our house – they loose the right to watch it if there’s any bad behaviour.
  • No news programs – kids have enough on their plates without getting sucked into ‘adult’ issues methinks.
  • Be a one TV house – having one TV means we have to work out ways that we can all watch things we’d like to see and compromise if necessary.


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