Ask the grumpies: TV Policies for kids

The frugal ecologist asks:

Curious about what your tv policy is for your kiddos. We have done zero screen time for our 2 year old. That’s been easy, and I’m not sure when/if we want to break the glass…as a kid I had a limit of one 30 min show per day, but I remember zoning out to hours of tv if my mom wasn’t home…

When did your kids start watching tv? Do you set limits? Do you treat it as a reward? Do they watch on a regular set or on a device – tablet etc. maybe this should be an ask the grumpies!

No judgement, just curious how other folks approach this…

Well, nursing time was Comedy Central time for me, so DC1 started out from almost day one really liking The Colbert Report and to a lesser extent The Daily Show.  As for when did DC1 start watching tv hirself, it took a while for DC1 to be able to concentrate on shows by hirself without screaming, and we did have shows in moderation because when zie was able to watch shows by hirself, we wanted to be able to put a show on and have hir captivated.  We had friends who always had the tv on and the kid would just ignore it.  So they didn’t have a magic bullet when the baby-sitter called in sick or what have you.  Tv time went up probably around age 3, but by that point zie was reading well too (helped by Starfall and the Talking Letter/Words Factory videos).

DC2 has probably never not had screen time.  The amount went up dramatically after we got an ipad because kids are really good with ipads and ipads are way more interesting than say, Reading Rainbow.

We are really lazy parents.  So we don’t have the tv on by itself.  (Technically we haven’t owned a tv since early grad school, but we have had a movie projector and we do have computers and now the ipad, so it’s essentially the same thing.)  But we also don’t really limit things either.  DC1 has to do hir chores before even thinking about using the ipad.  DC2 gets to use it if DC1 isn’t using it for chores and if we feel like zie hadn’t been watching too much or not getting enough parent time or what have you.  I do suspect that this may be part of why DC2 isn’t dramatically improving with reading skills the way DC1 did at this stage (the other part being that this preschool isn’t academic like the one DC1 went to at this age/stage).  We were also much better at controlling *what* was watched by DC1, so there was a lot more educational programming.  There are a lot of things I really dislike about netflix, and not being able to keep specific shows from appearing on the kids screen is a big one.  (We did eventually get rid of the youtube app because that always ended up either with someone twerking or, worse, with one of those women advertising for toys talking about how princesses/girls/women really enjoy shopping and make-up.)

So I don’t know.  We sort of set limits but they’re not hard and fast limits, they’re lazy limits that have a lot to do with how busy we are and what else is going on.  We don’t treat it as a reward.  They watch it on a device these days and used to watch it on the movie projector.

There are a lot of parents who would condemn us, and a lot of people who think we’re hippie weirdos.  We are what we are, which is mainly lazy.  Our kids are going to be amazing no matter what, so whatever, yo.

What were your parents’ policies growing up?  If applicable, what are your policies now?  How do you access media?

15 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: TV Policies for kids”

  1. zenmoo Says:

    I have no idea what our parents policies were. About all I remember was not being allowed to watch Dirty Dancing. However I grew up in a country where most of the tv was not in a language I spoke. It may have been a moot point.

    With our kids – DD1 started watching Play school at around 2 and we mostly limited it to that show & Peppa Pig for a long time. She’s now 6 and we tend to limit it to 45 minutes a day or so. Except on weekends when she may get to watch a movie. She loves tv so limited access = stronger incentives.

    DD2 at 17 months loves the Octonauts theme song (but isn’t interested in the show itself ) and has also started watching Play School. Her limit is 25min of that show per day.

  2. zenmoo Says:

    Oh and we mostly use Netflix, recorded shows from cable. No YouTube shows. Too dubious unless I’m in control of the computer. Also, access to my iPad is limited.

  3. crazy grad mama Says:

    I too have no idea what my parents’ policies were, except that starting when I was about 2, my mom started turning on the hour of Sesame Street every morning so she could take a bath. As an older kid, I realized that I watched a lot less TV than my peers, but I don’t recall my parents ever specifically setting limits on it.

    With our 16-month-old, our policy for now is no unsupervised TV. It’s either a family thing (like watching the Rose Parade), or we’re snuggled on the couch with a sick/tired Little Boy. The latter happened a lot right after he dropped his morning nap. He still needed a period of downtime mid-morning but wasn’t interested in sleep.

    We have a strict no phone / no iPad policy for Little Boy at this age, but that’s more to protect those devices from him than the other way around.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We are on our second iPad for that reason. This one is heavily protected.

    • Leah Says:

      I’ve got a lifeproof phone case specifically because of my 1.5 year old. She mostly gets screen time when we need a break in specific circumstances (like on the plane, road trip, or if I really need 5 minutes to finish something that is honestly pressing). She already knows the word “app” and asks for them, but I limit this to once or twice a week unless we’re traveling.

  4. omdg Says:

    We didn’t really start with TV until our daughter was 2, and frankly even at that point she wasn’t that interested in it, and would only sit still for maybe 10 minutes before getting bored and going off to play with something else. Now that she’s almost 4 she is WAY into TV, which in our house means Netflix and Amazon Prime, and games and shows on the iPad. Usually our schedules mean she gets 30-60 minutes of TV in the evening during the weeknights. We don’t typically limit TV time on the weekends /vacation because sometimes we need something low energy for her to do so that we can get things done around the house. Some of those days she gets <1h of TV. Other times she gets a ton more than that (Thanksgiving she watched 6 hours). We also use the TV/iPad to bribe her into letting us do things like comb her hair.

    We have thought of eliminating TV before bedtime because she throws a tantrum about 50% of the time when we tell her it's time to go to bed, but when we tried it, I realized that *I* really need that quiet time to decompress and read for work, and I didn't get that if she was playing regular games/taking a bath/playing in her room for a longer period of time before bed.

  5. Ana Says:

    I watched unlimited TV from whenever I was old enough to pay attention. But my parents did restrict WHAT I could watch. I was actually way behind my peers on watching sitcoms, movies, etc… But cartoons were a free-for-all and when I got older it was whatever and whenever. In high school I just stopped watching TV altogether because it “wasn’t cool” and I “had a life” or some such.
    My older son didn’t watch anything until around age 3. Some shows, like Dora or Curious George, and then we started the Disney/Pixar canon. Little brother started younger, obviously, but I think we tried to limit older son to watching only during little one’s naps until close to age 2, mainly because then we could get a real break (older son stopped napping around age 2, when younger son born).
    We have no screens during the week (age 6 and 4). We don’t have a television so we watch on the projector in the basement (movies/Netflix) or on the ipad which we just got 6 months ago. On the weekend, if they behave and we aren’t out & about too much, they can watch a movie or a couple of shows. On vacations it is unlimited—the past 10 days they watched probably 3-4 hours a day of cartoons and movies (including the Star Wars trilogy) most days. any new movie we do watch with them, unless its really really inane like “lilo and stitch 2”. The only non-cartoon things they’ve watched are Back to the Future 1 & 2 (we still need to watch 3) and Star Wars and we definitely watch with them and spend 75% of the time answering questions.
    Honestly, I watched way way too much TV (and also spent obscene amounts of time playing video games) as a child and I turned out fine, so I have no judgement for people who have their kids watch more than we do. For us, its more that they get really whiny and annoying afterwards when its time to transition away from the screen, and they both have SO MUCH energy that we really need to have them active as much as possible or it comes out in aggression and horrible bedtimes. they also do a good job entertaining themselves these days, particularly on weeknights, since they’ve been at school all day, they are eager to get to their toys in the 2 hours left. If they were home all day, I’d imagine things would be different. And on weekends, we often don’t even have time to watch movies, particularly in nice weather, since we are at the park/library/museum/pool. the colder months and the super-hot months are where more of the TV-watching happens.

  6. jlp Says:

    Our kids get 10 min of iPad/day for a reward (when they earn it – sometimes it is less or not at all); 20 minutes/day on the weekend. We tightly control what they have access to (no violent games, no advertising, no tv/movies on the iPad). They occasionally see a TV show or part of a science program on the computer/Netflix as a treat (or when we have to help with grooming – nail cutting or hair brushing).

    I know this may sound counterintuitive, but this is out of laziness on our parts, as well. Screen time is a great incentive for them, so to use it as a reward helps with impulse control during the day.

    We are just getting into seeing movies (so far they have both seen Cars and the older has seen Inside Out – shown at school!). We showed them The Martian last weekend (I recognize this is an unconventional choice, but DC1 has been obsessed with all things astronomy-related for years), but various parts were too much for the younger one. Still looking for more movies that will not freak out the younger one. (Ze could not make it past the very first scene in Frozen, for instance.)

  7. Jay Says:

    My daughter is 16 and we never really limited screen time. Until she was 5 or 6, “screen time” meant videos or DVDs because she was very easily frightened even by standard children’s programming. She mostly watched dance DVDs and old musicals – my mother supplied the entire “That’s Entertainment” set of 3 movies as well as a collection of Astaire and Rogers films and “Singin’ in the Rain” plus a lot of ballet. Somewhere along the line we acquired a bunch of Looney Tunes DVD and several seasons of the original “Electric Company” to add to the mix.

    By the time she was 8, she was watching for an hour or so in the afternoons on her own. We treat screen time the same way we do other toys and recreation: chores first, people in the room outrank screens, and our expectation is that when we say “enough”, you will stop. That’s never really been a problem. If she had difficulty self-regulating with screens, as some kids do, we would have eventually come up with an actual rule. For our kid, it’s always been more effective to focus on general behavior and interactions rather than on how much of this or that she’s doing.

  8. Becca Says:

    My parents didn’t restrict tv until I wasn’t in school, but then my Dad limited me to one show a day on weekdays (which could generally be extended if I chose things like Pinky and the Brain, that Dad watched with me). Maybe 2 hours on weekends? Also, no limits to family watched evening sitcoms or educational stuff my Dad suggested. I got online at… 12? Computer in my room and no filters. Some limitations on time because it was dialup, but not many. Kind of astonishing, really.

    During the school week, kidlet gets minimal tv, because I don’t watch it and we don’t really have time. Weekends, and especially during this break he sometimes goes a bit nuts- I think he watched 9 hours today, for example (a chunk of which was family Harry Potter time). Some of that was tablet games though.
    An old friend was back in Chicago for Xmas, and her older kid and my kid are the same age. It was amazing to me how quiet and self contained they were playing Mario on the Wii. I wonder if you can rent those those (ownership would entail self discipline I would rather not bother with). Generally tablet video games plus kids have been way more trouble than they are worth, since taking turns is hard.

    Content wise, we *try* to kick kidlet out for Game of Thrones, but he has more exposure to adult topics of all sorts than is optimal. When we hear YouTube videos that have excess violence or swearing we sometimes cut those off, but by and large he is free to find whatever. He can Google, and is good at identifying how to get wifi connection, so maybe I should put some limits in place…but I’ve got a good kid, and he gets much more good media than bad, plus laziness.

  9. anandar Says:

    As a kid, I remember watching cartoons every Saturday morning (my sister and I each got to pick two shows). It is only in retrospect that I realize my parents were using this as a opportunity to sleep in; it felt like a treat to us.

    For our kids (ages 4 and almost 8), our policy is that they can watch as much TV as they want in a sitting once per week (except in cases of sickness or other unusual events), and the timing is based mostly on when we the parents need a little downtime, usually Sunday afternoons. Electronic babysitting for the win! We are pretty permissive about what they can watch on Netflix; it is very repetitive and IMO junky (Jake and the Neverland Pirates is a current favorite; My Little Ponies has been deemed “too scary”). We chose this because we didn’t want TV watching to be part of a daily routine (with full time daycare/school+aftercare, their weekdays seem full enough already), and also because I wanted to minimize the amount of time spent negotiating whether or how much TV they were allowed. It has worked out as I’d hoped. Their imaginations are fantabulous and not overly populated by TV characters, for which I am grateful.

    They are not that into iPad or other electronic devices, although we’ve never gone out of our way to add kid games or movies to those. We supervise if they are watching YouTube.

    The restrictive decision that I am most pleased with is forgoing the temptation to rely on electronic entertainment for long car rides (we drive 14 hours to in-laws a couple times a year). They are now excellent car companions and skilled at self-entertaining; they even pack their own backpacks for trips. I didn’t even use the activity books I brought as back-up on the most recent trip. [/brag]

    We were at a hotel halfway through our latest travel, where they had the treat of watching Cartoon Network (we don’t have cable at home, and they don’t watch broadcast either), and we were all struck by the number of commercials, which feel very intrusive to my streaming-native kids. It made me wonder what great new inequities we are creating where more privileged kids are mostly shielded from commercials while less protected kids get a huge onslaught (where we live, pretty much all families of our socio-economic class don’t allow their kids to watch lots of TV with commercials, regardless of the overall quantity of TV).

  10. First Gen American Says:

    Well, my husband and I come from opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to screen time. He had unlimited and I had very little. He says he always knows a person who had no tv growing up because they can’t sit down in front of one and ignore it (even if it’s some horrible show, we get sucked in).

    We limit video game time but not really tv time because again, my kids can have it on in the background and be doing other things like playing board games etc. we do limit game time though because they do get annoying if they have had too much of it. We also have a no video game time during play dates rule so the kids do normal kid stuff like building forts and what not.

    I know a lot of adult gamers and they tend to be very very smart (not the stereotypical live in your moms basement type.) I almost wonder if their minds need extra stimulation through gaming to relax. Again, I can’t really do it cuz I get sucked in and can’t stop myself so I just go for vast periods cold turkey.

    So right or wrong we probably allow our kids more than the acceptable norm of screen time but in the electronic age, I think it’s important to be able to learn some self control with technology.

  11. chacha1 Says:

    I was born in 1965 which means my options for TV were, as a child, limited to Saturday-morning cartoons on network TV channels NBC, CBS, or ABC, and PBS any other time. :-) I remember liking Scooby Doo and Josie & The Pussycats.

    Aside from the specifically kids shows that I believe were all on PBS – Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, Sesame Street, and later The Electric Company and Zoom! – we watched what Mom & Dad watched until we were teenagers. I never had cable until I was in grad school, and I don’t think my parents had a VCR or a personal computer until after I moved out, my senior year of college. They were and are more reading-oriented than viewing oriented.

    So we watched Wall Street Week; satirist Mark Russell; football; Hollywood musicals aired on PBS; Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom; Wonderful World of Disney; etc. Staying home sick meant game shows. We watched for an hour or so after getting home from school (latchkey/bus), then once the parents got home the TV went off until after dinner, at least (often off altogether).

    I don’t think this “policy” had anything to do with the relative desirability of TV or its influence on us kids, but more to do with the fact that both our parents dislike random or excessive noise. TV as background has always been associated with noise for me, and for most of my life I have used it pretty sparingly. It was getting uncomfortably habitual after a few years of Dish, which is Reason #2 that we cancelled Dish. (Reason #1: $73/mo. GTFO)

  12. MutantSupermodel Says:

    For a long time it was no screen time on school nights. That’s changed now. If everything is done by 7 they can have screen time for an hour. On weekends it depends. I try and make sure they’re not on screens all day every day but sometimes I’m too exhausted to even deal.

  13. Our evolving toddler TV policy | crazy grad mama Says:

    […] month, nicoleandmaggie (well, one of the two) over at Grumpy Rumblings asked their commenting community about TV policies […]


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