Monday, June 28, 2010


I would like to discuss the idea that mothers with small children "need" television in order to get things done. How can you prepare dinner without a TV? Don't you need sponge Bob to vacuum the carpets? I answer with a resounding, "NO!"

In fact, I think this idea is more harmful than the actual time spent watching television. When you place a child in front of the TV, because you need to get stuff done, you are depriving a child from learning how to entertain herself. Learning how to play is a process; it takes time. Every year a child can sustain independent play a little bit longer.

Obviously a one or two year old is not going to be able to amuse themselves alone for two hours while you clean the house from top to bottom or while you work from home on your computer. But as they age, children learn more and more ways to have fun and play. But they need time to develop that skill. And it is a skill. Time to be bored. Time to be a little frustrated.

Children get frustrated, because they are so used to having our undivided attention. Jean Leidoff the author of the book The Continuum Concept explains this (modern) phenomenon :

What, then, is causing this unhappiness? What have we misunderstood about our human nature? And what can we do to approach the harmony the Yequana enjoy with their children?

It appears that many parents of toddlers, in their anxiety to be neither negligent nor disrespectful, have gone overboard in what may seem to be the other direction. Like the thankless martyrs of the in-arms stage, they have become centered upon their children instead of being occupied by adult activities that the children can watch, follow, imitate, and assist in as is their natural tendency. In other words, because a toddler wants to learn what his people do, he expects to be able to center his attention on an adult who is centered on her own business. An adult who stops whatever she is doing and tries to ascertain what her child wants her to do is short-circuiting this expectation. Just as significantly, she appears to the tot not to know how to behave, to be lacking in confidence and, even more alarmingly, looking for guidance from him, a two or three year old who is relying on her to be calm, competent, and sure of herself.

So on the one hand we have much parental attention, and on the other hand, we want to do other things besides make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and dig holes in the sand. Enter the television. It seems like the answer to all our problems, but what it is really doing is compounding the problem.

The problem was children that can't entertain themselves, the solution: turn on the tv. New problem: these kids that can't entertain themselves are getting older, but they are not getting any better at playing than a two year old (in fact, my 2 year old generally was better at playing than the school-aged kids that I babysat for).

If you use TV to replace your attention, you are teaching your child that they are not capable of entertaining themselves, that they need some outside force (parent, teacher, television, movie, video game) to amuse them. And that is how you end of with 6,7,8 year-olds that don't know how to play independently of adults, who can only be entertained by television and video games.

I'm not suggesting that you throw out your TV (good idea though). What I'm saying is we have to be aware of the underlying message implied by our actions (to say nothing of leaving our children to soak up the messages of a consumerist culture all alone-come on, I'm only half kidding).

TV hasn't been around for that long. Lately, when I find myself drawn toward the television (I've been staying at my parent's TV in the van:)), I ask myself what would I do if TV weren't an option. It is always something more interesting, creative, productive, or social. I think the reason I never got into the trap of sitting my son in front of the TV is because I never saw TV as an option. I grew up without a television, and so it never entered my consciousness as a child-rearing tool. What would you do without a TV? What would your children do?

If anyone has any good tips for getting things done with children without a TV, post them here. That is going to be my next blog post. Thanks!


  1. We don't have a TV. I have a three year old and a one year old. The three year old often "helps" me with whatever I am trying to get done- cooking, cleaning etc. My one year old loves to copy her brother, so that solves a lot of the problem with her. I'll often give them an art project to work on when I am busy and if baby is really nuts and I need to get something done she goes into the sling. I actually posted a blog about what we do with our days without a little while ago, you can see it at

  2. Preach it girlfriend! This is a fabulous, well written post. All the things I believe but I am too hot tempered to put into coherent words. My son is now 6 and the no TV home we've kept since his birth has paid off a million times over. I love how easily he keeps himself busy whether it's a quiet day at home, when I am doing chores, on a long airplane flight (16+ hours), or waiting in line at the DMV.

  3. This is a wonderful, well written post. Thank you for writing it. I couldn't agree more. We do own a TV, but we do not use it as a babysitter. In fact, I just so happen to be writing up a post about storytelling, which I believe to be a terrific substitute for television. And actually, that's why I'm stopping by your blog - I recently purchased your Goldilocks & the Three Bears story set and I'll be sharing how much we've enjoyed them and linking back to your story within my post. Just wanted to let you know!

    Counting Coconuts

  4. I love your post! ANd I completely agree, I don't have kids yet but I have thought a lot about this lately. The other day I was babysitting my nephew (20 months) when I went to make dinner I put a little apron on him and let him do pretty much anything he could do. I helped him hold a measuring cup, stir etc. Anything age appropriate (no knives obviously) it occurred to me that there is so much children can gain in helping us or interacting with us while we're doing our "chores" and if we just take the time to let them they'll be able to learn so much more. . . I feel like TV just zaps children, especially young children. Thank you for your post and your toys are beautiful!

  5. TV has to go:)
    Give your little one his own spray bottle (filled with water) and a rag - Make him his own small clothesline and basket to carry and hang the clothes out with you.
    It does take more time, but so much better for all.
    Warm wishes.

  6. Having grown up in front of the tv, I confess I was a tv addict till I had my kids. Then we gave away the tv and somehow amazingly we never missed it. My 4 year old son can play on his own, usually making some game up with his stuffed animals. It is really funny to hear him make the voices. My 18 month old daughter likes helping me with the housework.

    Would outside play balance out tv time? I wish we had a garden for them to run around and get muddy in but that's a luxury here in the city. Parks and playgrounds are our best bets although a little far to travel so it doesn't happen daily. I do envy families who live by the forest. What wondrous adventures their children can engage in for hours in our world in its most natural form.

    Cheryl: You were spot on about children learning to play on their own without tv. It is such an important life skill. I am grateful my son can be immersed in his own games and I can get a little respite when his sister is napping. :)

    And thank you again for your beautiful toys which will bring a bright spark of nature into our home. I think my children will love them so much.


  7. All valid points and makes perfect sense, that is 'till you have one of those overactive kids that bounces off of walls. Then t.v. is a coping tool.
    Wished i did not "need" it, but admit to using it strategically.
    Still proud that I use it minimally and yes, there is some really fun stuff for the under 5 set to watch that's miles better than just 10-20 yr ago.
    Not defending t.v. , but i thought about it:
    - How natural is it for us all to live in these virtual "smokestacks", if you will, where everyone's nuclear family is separated from the next.?

    For most of humankind, i believe, we lived in groups/clans and at least small towns in close proximity to our neighbors.
    Many times I have thought that if we Mom's were doing our work communally that our kids would be entertaining and playing with EACH OTHER. We are social creatures and while learning to play by oneself is important, i wonder how we evolved as a society to be so separate frpm each other?
    These are some of my wonderings, as you know i have an "only" child like you do.
    In the past, in addition to be closer to our extended family, clan or village there were also usually a larger number of siblings than we have on avg today in western society.

    So, agreeing with most everything you say about kids playing by themselves, but need to take many things into consideration - especially when it comes to preserving ones sanity. ;-)

  8. I have only had cable here and there. My older kids just followed me around the house when they were little. They sometimes helped me with whatever I was doing. Sometimes they just played near me.

    I think it's similar to your "picky eater" post. When you give your child too many alternatives to what you are eating (or in this case "doing") they become picky and learn to not desire what you have to offer.

    I have 5 kids. There were lots of times it felt like the kids were bouncing off the walls. Most of the time I'd realize I need to stop what I was doing and have the kids do something active to run out the energy. I wasn't perfect at it and there were many days I lost my patience. But we never "needed" tv. :)

    Even when it was just my daughter and me all day, she did whatever I did. Or she did her own thing alongside me. She was a highly energetic little girl.

    I've been homeschooling my kids for almost 11 years now. That is 24 hours a day of learning to live together.

    And I'm not saying we never watch tv. It's entertainment and at times highly educational.