How much TV consumption is deemed health for children varies across cultures. As a mum raising bicultural kids in Germany, my thoughts about TV consumption have evolved over the years.
In Germany, families are quite strict about the amount of tv kids watch. Of course, as is usual there is a spectrum. It varies from strictly regulated TV consumption to extremes where kids are carefully shielded from watching TV by parents who are anti tv. Here in Germany, the pediatrician will ask you how much TV your child is watching and give your clear recommendations. They are also vocal with their disapproval if they think your child is watching too much TV.
We started off with no TV and by the time Tee was 3, she watched 1 hour or so of TV a day. She was only allowed to watch a particular kids channel, where there were no adverts as one of my personal pet peeves is adverts targeting kids.
It gets trickier with a second child. My son started to watch TV much earlier than his sister, because by the time he was born, she was already watching her hour a day, including Sandmann, that German kids bedtime story phenomenon.
I remember when E was 2 and we had his annual check up. The pediatrician told me with a disapproving gaze, that I needed to treat each child differently and age appropriately, even with TV. Of course that’s easier said than done.
We have tried many things over the years, but our general family philosophy with respect to TV consumption has been to allow the kids watch tv, but in a restricted manner, that does not hamper their creativity and creative development. Our TV is installed in a big cabinet, which can be closed as we don’t want to make the TV the key focal point of our living room. We also do not have any TVs in any of our bedrooms.
Having a dual working parent home, we found about 2 years ago that TV consumption had crept up slowly from 1 hour a day to a point where our son was bargaining to put the TV daily on after completing homework. That was at the high point of my business travel and daddy was a bit more relaxed so he sometimes allowed it.
They also slowly started to move to Disney and Nickkids etc which had adverts on them. My daughter, indoctrinated from birth about the evils of advert, would change the channel or switch the tv off until adverts were over. Baby boy was not so consequent and sometimes just watched the advert, getting drawn into knowing about all the latest toys!
We noticed that they had less urges to draw, do crafts, read and role play and just wanted to watch tv. So we had to act. Two years ago we banned TV during the week cold turkey. The funny thing is that it took them less than a week to adjust. It was so much better for the whole family and without TV, we found that the kids could let their imagination wander fully again.
We did notice a testing of the boundaries, with E wanting to put the TV on at 3pm on Friday since “it’s now weekend......”. This year we have restricted TV even further to only a couple of hours each weekend.
Many child health advocates have urged parents to limit screen time to no more than one or two hours a day for kids ages 2 and up and that is also similar to German paediatrics recommendation. Spending too much time on screens has been linked to not getting enough sleep, poor grades, and a greater risk of obesity.
For me, what i noticed most is that when kids watch too much TV, they lose their creative ability, they are easily bored and it seems they fall into self soothing behaviours using TV. It’s amazing what creative stuff your kids will come up with if they don’t have the TV aka electronic grandmother to occupy them. Many people talk about what the kids can learn from educational programs, but I would argue that there are many other ways to learn, including reading.
I tend to find that many of my British, American and Nigerian friends have a more relaxed attitude to how much tv their kids are watching than I now do, thanks to my German culturalisation. I do realise that every family is different and in times of extreme stress, I must admit, it was a blessing to be able to keep the kids busy for a bit.
What are your thoughts about TV for your kids? Which of the following groups do you fall into?
A. I must admit I have never given it much thought
B. TV is educational for the kids and good for my sanity
C. I restrict TV consumption for my kids
D. TV is of the devil
I would love to hear your thoughts.