Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Glimpse into Eco-Babyz #15: Life without TV

As I've mentioned in the Toddler Discipline post, we are in the middle of an experiment to see how completely eliminating television time would impact our toddler. Curious? So was I. Not knowing what to expect I decided to dive in head first, eager to see if it makes any significant difference. It has been two weeks and to say I'm excited about the results is an understatement!

First, some background. Baby E started watching some seemingly harmless Russian cartoons on YouTube when she was about eight months old. She really enjoyed it, I loved watching her smile as she watched it. Then after she turned one, we watched a little PBS here and there. Curious George, Caillou, Thomas and Friends. So what? Don't all toddlers watch television? Yes, it seems. Though the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) recommends zero minutes of television until two. Who actually follows these recommendations? I don't know of any moms who do when it comes to real life. Common, we all want a bathroom break with no interruptions, right? How about eating a meal from start to finish without being interrupted by a toddler? Television to the rescue. Ironically there is very little living done in American living rooms, a more proper name would be a television room.

So we fell to this dangerous trend and before you know it, baby E was watching at least two hours of television each day. Now if it had no effect on her whatsoever, maybe I wouldn't sound an alarm, but here are some things I noticed about her that are directly related to her screen time:
  • Obvious one, she would not respond to me or daddy while watching TV
  • She became more restless in her sleep on the days she watched too much television
  • Her appetite suffered and she would want to eat only in front of the TV
  • She started showing interest in child targeted advertising, only a matter of time before she would start begging for each new plastic, made in China gadget or toy
  • She lost her ability to play independently, she could only play with me unless the television is on
  • The television was the first thing she asked for in the morning and what she remembered most in the evening before bed
  • Though her vocabulary was always more advanced than her peers, I noticed that the more TV she watched the less she spoke. She also started forgetting Russian words and using English instead, which is fine - but we want to teach her Russian more at first since English is so easy to pick up.
I knew that if I let this slide, by the time she is three it would be very hard to reverse the damage. Just yesterday I was reading a post by a mother at the end of her rope with her three year old that requests to watch television all day and do nothing else. He doesn't listen to his parents, kicks, screams, etc. I know baby E is very strong willed as well, so I wanted to take this opportunity now before it would be too late.

The first three days were not easy. While she wasn't kicking or screaming, she would ask to turn on a cartoon every hour. What made this much easier though is covering the TV with a sheet that more or less blends in with the color of our wall, I just said it is broken (for her). Now she doesn't even mention it, as if it isn't there at all. So what's the point of trying this? Well, I've got myself a different toddler, that's what! Here are all the things that have been happening in just two weeks:
  • She sleeps better at night
  • She eats all her meals at the table with me and eats about twice more than she used to (she in the 25% for weight last time we checked)
  • Her independent play time has increased from about 3 minutes to 10-15 minutes. This took work on my part as I would spend quite a few hours a day (the first week) playing with her to show her how she can play. After that her own imagination took over and she is now playing with her blocks, doll house, talking to her dolls, flipping through photo albums, 'reading' books on her own. This is something I couldn't even dream of when she was addicted to cartoons. These bursts of independent play give me enough time to make meals, clean, use the restroom, or read a book while she is reading.
  • I'm excited she is showing much more interest in books. We make regular trips to the library for new ones. I'm surprised that when she reads Thomas books she doesn't mention the television anymore and doesn't ask for the cartoon.
  • Before we eliminated television, she was starting to talk in short 3-4 word sentences. Now it's as if she's had a breakthrough, she blurts out long sentences and trains of thought that are 8+ words in length. It makes it much easier for me because she can express exactly what she wants and thinks. She also says new words that are really long and surprises us.
  • She has been going on the potty for #2s more consistently and it is rare I have to wash her soiled cloth diapers anymore. When she watched TV she would be too spaced out to ask to use the potty, now she tells me when she needs to go.
As any mother would be, I am proud of my daughter. After having lived without the television for two weeks, I've got to say I'm liking this and want to stick with it. It's easier than I thought it would be and the benefits are well worth it. Sure we may watch a family movie or cartoon together on weekends, but I would never want to go back to depending on television as a daily babysitter. In terms of intellect, I aspire to teach my daughter to think independently and be creative. In my opinion, television does the complete opposite. It also does nothing for the development of social skills which require face to face interaction with humans.

What about you? Are you struggling with TV time for your toddler? What behavior changes have you noticed in him/her? Would you want to join us on this experiment?

Photo Credit: Erik Dungan


  1. I really enjoyed your post. We don't realize just how much damage TV and flat-screen viewing does to our children. I had issues with my kids too. Now my son who works at a tech store and is in the "entertainment department" (electronic games and movies) says that he was asked what was fun there and he said, "Why would someone want to play a game when they can go outside and do something real?"

  2. So I happened to stumble about your daily routine that you posted in september, and I happened to be doing all of the same too. But we never liked how our 16 month old baby girl was always hypnotized by the tv, would never eat unless tv is on, and you know the rest lol. Then i happened to stumble upon your experiment of no tv. I told my husband about it and we just went on living like we did, until my husband starting thinking about how sasha is talking, wondering if she should be saying more at her age (she is actually saying more than children her age but we know she can be doing even better), wondering about other children, and so we decided to test out your theory. Well its week 2 and I can say its amazing. Before she would wake up and run to the computer so i can turn on a show, but now we lay in the mornings and cuddle and we go back to sleep and sleep in. We have more quality time together, and during week 1 of no tv, she learned so many words, she actually added 10 more words to her vocabulary, while the other words she was saying took some time. And she is also talking in sentences now. They are short but now they are sentences. Really loving the result of no tv. i recommend this experiment, especially to mothers who wonder why their "2 1/2" year old isn't saying ANYTHING. Thanks for the wonderful idea of NO TV :)

  3. Sandra, that's great that he thinks that way! :)
    Ella, I'm so glad our experiment is benefiting other as well! That's awesome!

  4. My baby daughter is almost 21 months now and until 14 months she did not watch any TV. When she was about 14 months we took a trip to Russia to see her grandparents and she was exposed to some TV despite my struggle to have the TV off; up to three TV sets were on at night and on weekends! Surprisingly, my babe showed almost NO interest for the TV. Now if I turn television on for a few minutes sometimes, she may be interested for the first 2-3minutes, mostly learning how the remote works, and then drags ME from the TV.

  5. My older one is a bit stubborn i really have to get his attention when it comes to TV. Younger one is much easier. Once i have activities going on she is not interested in TV.
    What i noticed, when i say no TV they both find things to play with and can play for hours. I limit TV to few hours a day, as long as i can find things to keep them busy they are not so interested to sit in front of TV.

  6. This post made me feel so much better about our decision to not allow our kids (3 ages 3 and under) not watch any TV. In fact we don't even own one. My mother believes this is borderline child abuse (or so she tells me every time I say, no they can't watch... whatever she is asking for at the moment) but we have held firm.

    Thanks for the interesting experience.


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