It’s 6:30am Friday morning. My 4-year-old son comes wandering into my room and asks, “Dad, what day is it?” I respond by saying, “It’s Friday.”
“It’s Friday!” he exclaims with a burst of energy. Then he asks, “Can I watch a woovie (movie)?”
Because of the research indicating the negative effects that TV watching can have on the developing brain of young children, my wife and I have tried to limit the time spent viewing movies and television in our home by only allowing our kid’s to watch shows on the weekends. While logically this approach makes sense, we have seen unexpected results from our kids. Rather than just choosing one movie, our son and his older sister would watch movie marathons that would go for two days. When they would emerge from the TV room they were often irritable and impatient with others. Obviously, this limit wasn’t having the desired effect that we had hoped for.
Another unintended and undesirable effect was that our kids began to prefer watching movies over looking at and reading books. What a sad, sad day. The limit I was setting was backfiring. I was creating a feeling of scarcity in my kids by limiting their TV and movie watching until the weekend. This in turn led them to binging on mental junk food all weekend because they knew they would be going days enduring television starvation. Something needed to change.
In order to reduce the feeling of scarcity and start helping our kids focus on more important skills then staring blankly at a screen, my wife and I decided to start allowing our kids to watch TV or movies on an “equal time” basis. We did this by asking, “How would you guys like to watch movies throughout the week rather than just waiting until Fridays?” To which our kids predictably responded with a unanimous cry of approval. We then stated, “You are welcome to watch movies for the same amount of time that you spend reading. So just let us know when you want us to start keeping track of your time, and then read nearby, so we can add the time up for you.”
At first our kids were happy about the change, but after about a week, they realized that even though they could watch movies each day, they had to earn the time by reading. Once they realized that they started saying things like, “We don’t like it this way. We want it to go back to the other way.” With empathy and sadness we respond, “I know sweetheart. But this is how it works now… and as soon as you have done some reading your welcome to enjoy some TV or movie time.”
Even though there was some protest, the TV has been off a lot more in our home lately, and it has been enjoyable to see my kids’ minds grow as they spend time looking at and reading books rather than tuning out in front of the TV screen. Interestingly, I have also noticed that my kids have seemed less irritable in general and have had more patience recently as well – an added bonus.
Thanks for reading and for modeling reading to your kids.
Shiloh Lundahl, LCSW
Child and Family Therapist