Wednesday, March 6, 2013

children and television: to watch or not?

Oh do I really want to open this can of worms? Well yes. I think. At least I want to share with you my personal experience over the past few months and especially just this last week. It might. It just might change your mind.


Being introduced into Steiner education and the accompany ideals when my eldest was only young has meant she never watched television. Would I have limited television had I not had this exposure? I'm not really sure. Growing up, we were only allowed to watch selected programs and never cartoons. Now, I watch nothing - I get plenty of screen time reading blogs/blogging and relaxation from sewing, a bath or sleep!

During the first few months of my pregnancy with Millie, every evening I had rather awful 'morning sickness' and in order for me to "cope" during the happy hour after arriving home from work, I allowed Abbie one episode of a (pre-recorded) playschool.  Abbie would have been about 20 months at this time. Once I was over the morning sickness, the television was covered and its fascination disappeared after I told her playschool were on holidays. 

Recently while Olly was offshore for business, I allowed playschool to return on the computer. This time to offer some 'distraction' while I would feed Millie to sleep throughout the day. I set the limit of a maximum of two episodes per day and we were rotating about 5 episodes, so the content was familiar. Despite this I noticed rather quickly she became unbelievably moody and irritable. Asking first thing in the morning to watch it and at any point in the day when there was suddenly no planned activity. Sound familiar? That's normal for a 2 year old you may say. perhaps. However it was so out of character for her kind, enthusiastic disposition that in the back of my mind I felt rather guilty.  

Last week at playgroup, one of the wonderful Steiner teachers who takes the discussion group for the mums spoke on the topic of television. (I wrote about a talk I went to on television back here). The reasons made so much sense, just as they had the first time I had heard them. I also read this article - seriously worth the read.

For a week, there has been no television/ no playschool for Abbie. She has only asked three times in the last week (the few days initially following) if she may watch it. Two of those times resulted in a mass tantrum. I told her that television wasn't good for her eyes (not untrue) and that there are simply too many other lovely things to do in our home to have time to watch it (also very plausible). 

I overheard her telling Olly when they were reading on the lounge the other night, that she doesn't watch playschool. "It's not good for her" she stated. And that's it. No asking. Nothing. 

The difference is seriously incredible. Hence the blogpost. The most noteworthy perhaps is her ability to be happy with there being nothing to do sometimes/ with being bored/ and no whinging. It is good for children to be bored I think. They will quickly learn to busy themselves using their imagination and mind or simply fall into rhythm with your chores/ activities. (Of course the older they get the more they can do - read, craft, build, make, ride a bike, play outside etc.)

Here are some of the things Abbie has been doing instead of watching playschool:

:: helping in the kitchen: peeling/ chopping apples (as you saw here)
:: cracking macadamia nuts (image above)
:: playing in the sandpit
:: helping me hang out the washing (we have those small open out clothes horses)
:: sitting at the table with a little tea pot of peppermint tea (not too hot), a few cups and a tea towel (for the spills) and lots of pouring.
:: playdough (at her little table in the kitchen, usually while I am cooking), a sprinkling of real flour and a little pot of currents.
::"glitter" which involves some glue in a milk carton lid, an old paintbrush, water and little jars of glitter
:: watercolour painting (we do this once a week as a special morning activity)
:: lego - oh the girl  l o v e s  lego.  
:: reading her books
:: dancing. She asks for Michael Buble "Mis Deseos/ Feliz Navidad" everytime (her big sister's Christmas dancing concert!)
:: "sewing" - I have given her a basket with some scissors and wool felt scraps. We have sat together about four times this week and she has cut things out and asked me to sew together while she watched. I have found her a few times after I have been feeding Millie sitting there cutting and "making things".
:: Mothering Molly. A never ending task. Don't we know it! 

I have made a conscience effort this week to be more present with my girls. I have wanted to make another batch of ice cream and do a little more recipe testing for my cookbook however I have let it go and just enjoyed their company.

Please, flood me with your thoughts and comments. I'd love to know your experiences and perhaps if you give it a go - report back so others can read about your experiences.

A quote from this link, I particularly find relevant. Especially given my interest in nutrition. I do everything possible to ensure adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormones) are not running around my body!

"The lower brain can't discern between images that are real or created on TV, because discernment is the function of the neocortex. Therefore, when the TV presents sudden close-ups, flashing lights, etc. as stimuli, the core-limbic brain immediately goes into a "fight or flight" response with the release of hormones and chemicals throughout the body. Heart rate and blood pressure are increased and blood flow to limb muscles is increased to prepare for this apparent emergency. Because this all happens in our body without the corresponding movement of our limbs, certain TV programs actually put us in a state of chronic stress or anxiety..."  Susan R. Johnson, M.D., 1999 (emphasis my own)


  1. My children are almost 8 and almost 5. They haven't watched TV for over 2 years now; they are at a Steiner-type (Waldorf) school that insists the children do not watch TV, or have any screen time whatsoever, until at least age 11 or 12 - us parents had to sign a charter committing to this.
    I can honestly say that our life is now so much better. Our youngest (then aged 2) kicked off quite a bit in the early months - we had several big screamy tantrums for quite a few weeks but she soon got used to it and hasn't asked for TV for many months. Obviously it helps massively that their peers also do not watch - no pressure or feelings of missing out. I think that is the key really - it's all to do with who they mix with as they get older.
    They play together for hours, never ever say they are bored, spend lots of time in nature, use their imagination all the time and both adore books and audio CDs.
    I wish we'd been TV free from the start to be honest! I can't recommend it enough.
    Sam (UK)
    PS have you read Remotely Controlled by Aric Sigman? If you're not convinced about the TV-free life, his scientific research to back up the huge damage caused by screen time will surely persuade you ;)

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your experience Sam. I agree - peer pressure certainly is a factor.
      I haven't heard of that book - will look into it. thanks again x

  2. I read this with interest Natalie. Why? Because I feel guilty whenever I do put Playschool on. I am very strict with what they watch, but still... So many of your points make sense to me. Usually the only reason I'm tempted to switch it on is to stop the bickering and I'm occupied in the kitchen. The conflict can really do my head in and so I'm often begging for half an hour or so of quiet while I get the dinner on. Having said that, I could and should try harder. I've noticed Kian pointing to the TV a bit too often lately and that troubles me. In a perfect world, I'd have family around for support and Graeme would be home at a sensible hour, not commuting two hours each way into Sydney - then I'd have no need to plonk them in front of Jay and Justine. It's interesting what you say about Abbie's change of mood and I believe you when you say the difference was incredible. I also liked your other post, especially about the sensory overload. Truthfully, it's all stuff that I already knew on some level. I will definitely cut back. I must say I feel rather proud of myself at the end of the day when I realise the TV wasn't switched on at all - sound silly? So I will cut back, and perhaps work on ways to deal with the bickering rather than resort to the babysitting box. xxx Thanks Natalie.

  3. I had my first parent teacher night last week at my daughters (steiner) preschool and I have a blog post in my drafts on this very topic. My three year old has never watched a huge amount of tv, and doesn't watch it everyday, but when she does, it might be just 20 minutes, or sometimes up to an hour (if I'm honest). And when you look at the theories (and the real life behavioural changes) in support of no tv, it's pretty hard to find a way to support tv watching. The only person it is good for is the parent - and I suppose there is always an argument that the mental health of the parent is also very important for the child! But I've been consciously cutting it back since the meeting last week. In fact, I don't think Olive's watched any tv since the David Attenborough documentary we watched together last Sat night. Kellie xx

  4. I'm so intrigued by this topic - and it was interesting to hear your experience (and read the links). I allow Sassy (17 months) one episode of Playschool a day - part of a DVD usually, and she is familiar with the songs so will often be up and dancing. I use this time to cook the dinner so we can eat early as a family. I put on Playschool as I know it gives me 25 minutes of uninterrupted time, but I wonder if I'm just kidding myself - maybe there is another activity which could occupy her mind for just as long? I'd love to involve her in the kitchen work as I cook and I've been keeping my eye out for a 'little helper' type stool, but until then I can't work out how I can include her. I try not to feel too guilty about allowing her to watch TV as she is an outrageously avid book reader - and adores being outside, but I often wonder about the effect on her mood. I'd love to monitor this a bit closely actually. Thanks so much for the post x

  5. Hey Nat,

    You know we've been TV free since North (my first) was about 18months (I shudder to think he watched TV that young and younger!) and it has been absolutely amazing I would never take it back. I think if people are thinking of going TV free with young ones they need to consider what it is the TV was 'giving' the child and the mother- both quiet and still moments of time. I think we should consider this because I do know that North needs 'quiet and still' time more than his peers who do watch TV otherwise he is absolutely at it- moving, digging, running, jumping, playing all day long and it is really too much for him. So if your child is used to 20 minutes of playschool at a certain time each day you might want to consider 20 minutes of quiet time of some sorts- books, oral stories, a few playsilks and soft toys without siblings around at the same time they would have been vegging out.

    That's my two cents! xx m.

  6. This strikes a chord with me, as we have recently gotten rid of our tele and limited screen time for our little one; I've noticed huge attitude changes and more willingness to obey since we've done so, just as you mentioned in your experience. In the past couple of months I've consumed a few books relating to the subject, but my favorite and the most interesting and helpful by far was one called Last Child In the Woods by a fellow named Richard Louv. Besides covering the problem of flickering screens in regards to children's health, it also talks about the importance of play and time in nature. Fascinating book,haven't stopped recommending it to my friends!

    Very interested in hearing more in the future on this topic. I always enjoy reading your blog and pondering the thoughts and information you provide - many thanks for that!

  7. I can remember my daughter watching playschool when she was about 2. I had a 6 month old, and justified it by saying it was educational. I can remember the tantrums when it was turned off after 30 mins, and also if I said "not today". My lightbulb moment came when I asked my daughter if she wanted to watch tv one day, while she was happily playing. I then realised that it was for me that playschool was on (to give me a break). After that day the TV was turned off - and after a few days of asking for it, it was forgotten. I did have to have other activities in place of that time (I still desperately needed 20-30 minutes of alone time when the baby was down). I would read to her whilst I fed my son, then would put him down. I then took her by the hand into her room and sat down, setting up a scene. Some cloths, tea sets, a few dolls. No words, just went about my business, and she became immersed in a game. I was then able to make a cuppa and sit on the lounge for a little while ( she could see me from my bedroom). To this day, she loves a little quiet time after lunch (she's 11). I have also always included them in dinner preps - chopping salad was a favourite and could often be done with a chopping board on a chair that they stood next to. (they also ate a lot of raw veges during that time!)
    TV has now entered our lives ( we have a 11, 10 and 7 year old and a 10 month old- but at a controlled rate. No TV or screen time at all during the week and perhaps a movie or abc iview on the weekend ( but if we are busy it often doesn't happen).
    One other thing, I know teachers often comment that they know who has been watching TV in the mornings - it comes out so vividly in their play at school.
    Great post - thankyou.

  8. it's such an interesting topic isn't it? i have really enjoyed this post and the following comments. from my point of view... before jess was born we made a conscious decision not to have tv on when jess was awake or in the room and it was that way for quite a long time. now she is nearly three and doesn't have a daytime nap i allow her to watch play school most days. it started by me needing a break. i am a stay at home mum, my partner is often working away for weeks (sometimes months) at a time, i have no family close by and i don't have close friends nearby that can look after jess so i can have a break. it is often just jess and i together at home day after day so i think for my situation allowing play school to be viewed daily is my way of having a little sanity break, a little stillness in the house, a little space for myself. i have sometimes felt guilty for this but generally i see it as a good thing for my mental health. i use the time that jess is in front of the tv constructively such as sewing, knitting, reading, hunting for a recipe, exercising, yoga, online banking, making phone calls, blogging or organising an activity for jess to do after play school has finished, that kind of thing. as jess usually watches play school in the afternoon, we do a tidy up together after lunch, play for a while, listen to an audio story together and read stories on the sofa before the tv goes on. often i am doing something in the same room as her while it is on. as for behaviour changes, i honestly haven't noticed any and she knows to get up and turn the tv off straight after play school finishes so we have never had a problem. once it is finished we resume our day together playing, preparing dinner, doing the afternoon chores. i think we all want to do what is best for our children but we also shouldn't beat ourselves up for needing some me time too.
    ps love the new header and sorry about the essay!

  9. For our family, I don't think it needs to be a definitive on or off - there is a bit of grey in there for us. We follow certain steiner approaches in our parenting and day to day life at home, but have chosen not to have our 3 year old little girl go to a Steiner Preschool (we did a year of steiner playgroup ) and are leaning towards a catholic school education rather than Steiner. It's been a lot of soul-searching, researching, pondering about the best fit for our family - which does include our wider family as well.

    Regarding TV I just go with the flow and monitor monitor monitor - both the episode content and her moods. My little one watches 30-45 mins of TV of an afternoon maybe 4 times a week - preschool and a Peppa Pig normally. I mostly watch it with her, and we talk about it. Sometimes (certainly not always) there is a bit of a kerfuffle for a minute when its turned off - but we just transition to another activity - and it is forgotten. Occasionally she will also watch Alice in Wonderland, Snow White, Dance like the Flower Fairies and a few other movies - for about 20 minutes until she chooses to do something else.

    I don't really encourage TV , but I don't demonise it either. Mind you, I am probably more controlling than I think - she's never seen a Dora, Rastamouse or Sesame Street episode!! I really like to watch the news in the morning - so its hard - because I don't like having it on for her to absorb - I believe the sense impressions are not good for little ones. I may put it on for 10 minutes to catch the highlights and the weather and then turn it off. I've recently borrowed "Set Free Childhood" by Martin Lange from the Library. Maybe it will totally change my mind - but I think for us, a little bit of selected TV is ok - not as a 'babysitter' - but as a valid choice of how to spend some time, not unlike our choices to go for a bush walk, or do some painting, or do a puzzle.

  10. Thanks for this post, I have read your blog for a few months now and I find the information so interesting. We eat very similar to what you do and the inspiration is great. I have two children, 3 and 5 and both of them often ask for tv. My daughter fell over and hurt her knee and between the sobs she says 'a bit of telly would make me feel a bit better' and she doesn't even watch a lot. I realised that i have to cut down a lot more than I already have. My ds likes to watch the BBC nature programs which i like to and he likes it when we watch it together. I would like to cut tv out apart from the things we can watch together as a family. so not to use the tv as a baby sitter. I do find that after they watched kids channel they are hyper active and very moody. It kind of kills any creativity. It's how to make that move from telly free. I admit having used it as a baby sitter, like when doing phone calls or on line banking as Jo above said. But there must be another way around it. Once they get over their boredom they get really creative.
    Elisabeth (UK)

  11. working with young children greatly evidences the influence of television in their ideals and play. i see it everyday. while there is programming that may seem appropriate, my belief is that no child should watch television before the age of 4 (or more if you can wait that long)..their little brains are quite busy enough exploring the physical world around them, making connections, building neurons and the like why add to it with all the chaos that television shares? parents have defended television by saying their child plays long drawn out imaginary games of Star Wars and the like but when children are not influenced by the media they play longer drawn out games of family and the world around them. That all written out, if one does allow their child to watch television, it isn't the end of the world but think of all the wonder a child can experience by watching the world outside noises...big trucks. it's all pretty magnificent.

  12. It is all about balance. My 2 kids watch Tv on a daily basis around 40mn a day and play videogames around 2/3 hours a week. They are not irritable when they do not have screen time. They can live without it but enjoy watching it too. Sharing a good family movie on a rainy Sunday afternoon sounds not evil at all and I do not think and I am hurting my kids. They have plenty of imagination and we do lots of craft with me. Anyway, we leave in a contemporary world and I do not want to keep them away from technology. Technology is all around us and can be very beneficial when use appropriately. I do think (and this is my personal point of view) that keeping them away for Hi-tegh make them unprepared. Still, I really appreciate Steiner education but do not like to be to radical like forbidding screen my all means.

  13. This seems to be a hot topic at the moment. I wrote about this just recently too...
    And from that point onwards I've been stumbling onto posts about this very contentious issue.

    I'm so happy to have found your blog - it's beautiful. Now a "follower"! x

  14. We decided when our daughter was born that we just wouldn't expose her to tv in our own home. Its never on during the day and when we venture out into the world and there is a tv on she is interested for all of about 2 minutes. I call tv a 'babysitter' and one we just don't need in our own home. She is now at that delightful age where she plays so happily on her own and I can't even imagine when we would squeeze in tv time during our busy days.

    A great post, and our decision not to have tv in our little one's world makes for a very happy home.

  15. So lovely to have found your blog and really enjoyed reading your opinion on TV. We aren't a TV free household but my husband and I limit what our 20 month old son watches. I'm lucky to work from home albeit for a corporate company but my hours are flexible, I just have to work certain days. Our son loves music, playing outdoors, books and drawing - he has a keyboard, bongo drums and guitar to play as well as having a soccer ball and other things outside to play with along with a chalkboard for drawing and plenty of books. He isn't much for structured crafts or activities with just me but gets involved with them at daycare or when I take him to the library.

    I think at the end of the day as parents we just do our best and nothing is perfect. I've had days where I've had the TV on more hours than I care to admit and days where it's just the radio on and he is playing inside/outside doing his thing. We also don't go in for fads like Giggle & Hoot and buying him DVD's and merchandise and creating a connection with any of those sorts of things.

  16. A hot topic indeed. My children are a little bit older 6 & 4 and for our family I think it is about balance. My husband grew up attending Steiner education and his family is very involved, I have many friends and my children have attended a Steiner preschool [which they did love]. We do allow TV but in a balanced way and not on a daily basis. If we watch a show we usually do it as a family. However there was a time when I was pregnant with my 2nd child that playschool and Pablo the Fox were a daily part of our lives to give me a bit of a break when I was so overtired and I felt the niggling signs of postpartum depression or when we were all sick with gastro &/or flu etc. And at times I felt guilt guilt guilt but I don’t think I should have beat myself so much about guilt as we do and did many other activities. I always got my son to help me turn off the TV and put the cover of the screen. It stopped being needed and it is not really an issue. So at times I used it and others time I haven’t.
    My children also experienced TV outside our family home at friends or at relatives. The first thing my daughter often asks for at my mothers is TV and it can make me cringe because all week I will have been thinking how well we do without TV all week. My mum does not cave in straight away but if we have been out walking, or swimming or baking with my mum she allows grandchildren to watch a show. However I don’t kick up a stink and rant and rave about not having my wishes respected I make a compromise, I allow it and most of the time it is OK and I am OK with it. However, sometimes I don’t like the whinge when I stick to my guidelines and the TV is turned off. I weigh up the huge positive impact my parents have on my childrens life [my gratitude for this can never fully by expressed], the conflict that might result if I stuck to a moral high ground about my wishes not being respected and the potential negative impact that might have. I have come to a place where the love and affection my children experience and share with my parents far out way 1 hour of playschool or something else on ABCkids they get to watch. It is worth the compromise [I know some would disagree].
    It has been interesting to me to sit in on several discussion my husband has had with siblings and friends who have attended Steiner education and talk about the "guilt" they felt as children growing up and how it is not until they got a little older they had the words to articulate these emotions they felt as a young children. The subtle judgement that what they desired was "not good for them" and the guilt they felt for wanting ‘it’, where does a little child put that? Also does the child pick up on their mothers anxiety? and then the guilt if they don't live up to certain expectations? How do we measure that sort of emotional experience and the impact of this? I am not sure. However I do think as adults we have to be careful what judgments we burden our young children with from a young age and not to make them fearful when we want to achieve the opposite.
    In our house we sometime use ‘occasional’ and ‘appropriate’ rather than it isn’t good for you or it is bad for you [which seems so ominous!]. That way it gives us all a little bit of room to have a treat ‘occasionally’ but it isn’t ‘appropriate’ for breakfast or we can watch TV occasionally but now is not an appropriate time. Or daddy/grandpa watches TV when you are in bed but it is not appropriate for children. Somehow it seems a little less judgemental and allows for those shades of grey.

  17. The same guilt can go with toys. We have a lot of natural timber, handmade toys. But yep we have more than the occasional plastic toy [and a lot of lego!]. The plastic toys are usually second hand that my child has latched onto in an opshop or from a friendly neighbour hand-me-down and it has sometimes become an incredible springboard for imaginative play. In particular a broken plastic walkie talkie my son played with all the time and a bright pink phone my daughter latched onto. The two of them would use these items a lot in their playing together, pretending to be mums & dads or ringing me to tell me how they feel if they have had a hard morning. I remember picking up my daughter once from her Steiner preschool and another girl asking her in a rather judgemental tone “is that a plastic toy? You know there not allowed and they are bad for you” and my daughter saying quite proudly “yep, it’s plastic, and I LOVE IT! I can talk to fairies”
    Now part of me was a little bit ashamed at first that my daughter had managed to sneak this plastic glittery commercialised trashy looking toy into the grounds of the school and the other part of me realised how fearful I was of being judged and my daughter being judged by other people. I was fearful that I wasn’t reaching some sort of bench mark as a parent and that people would judge my daughter in a negative light. But if it had been a timber block I would have been proud not ashamed. I realised that the emotion I was feeling was the exact opposite of what I want for my child, I certainly don’t want my child’s imaginative play to be burdened by adult judgments particularly her own mothers! so the plastic pink phone has stayed and I have had to make many more compromises along the way of my parenting journey and I am ok with this.
    My children also socialise with children in our neighbourhood who watch more TV and have a lot more exposure to commercial games then my children do. However I am continually surprised how childrens deep innate desire to ‘play’ seems to overcome this as they work out the rules/dynamics of the “do everything game”.Yep it can be a bit stiff to begin with and sometimes I cringe as I hear my son being told about Pokemon powers [I have to stop myself from intervening and ceasing the play because I don’t want them to know about these ‘commercial’ characters], but as my son & daughter come to understand and navigate the various characters they know so little about through the storytelling from other children and acting out, my son creates a new narrative and imagines new possibilities and before you know it 6 children are lost in a game that seems to go for hours that isn’t about Pokemon but a mish and mashing of many things the children have experienced and now process through their playing…”a wizard marrying a ninja girl, living in a tree house cubby and while some children busily prepare a tea party to celebrate”. Girls and boys all in the mix having a great time. I have witnessed this time and time again at parks and places where children play….they just can’t help themselves from playing.

  18. My children have also played with relatives and friends who have had a more ‘pure’ Steiner upbringing with no TV exposure whatsoever. The play has also been spontaneous and free from commercial themes but not totally free from the other things that can be part and parcel of childhood playing, they have also experienced conflict. One particular child I am usually very anxious about my kids playing with has not been exposed to any TV for 8 years and has had a pretty wholesome diet and has attended a Steiner school so far but whose play is aggressive in a way that I find quite disturbing. I can remember being a shocked at one particular gathering where my son experienced some particularly aggressive torment from this boy when he thought I was not watching; give me Pokemon anyday over watching my son being pinned down or told to walk over glass. Of course there are probably other things happening here below the surface that but we should be careful about what judgments and assumptions we make and don’t make.
    I think you have to trust your instinct and your need at a particular time. Sounds like you do a great job of that and if you feel something is not working for your family ultimately you know what is best for your family.
    I know how beautiful it is when you feel fully engaged in the moment with your children, or when your outdoors and notice the beauty in the simplest of pleasures watching your children play, or when your baking and it goes well, or when the children play beautifully together and you feel proud of the parenting job you are doing. However sometimes we are not totally on top of things and I think we need to be kinds to ourselves and kind to other mothers when we don’t meet those incredibly high standards we put on ourselves. Sometimes we rise to the occasion and manage to be in sync and other times we feel like we are moving into a new phase, or recovering or just getting by.
    I met a beautiful lady 4 years ago who was from South America. She was living in Australia while her husband finished his PhD. She had a little girl the same age is my 2nd baby and had very little English. She was very lonely when I first met her and very shy about her inability to speak English.Her daughter had to spend lengthy periods in hospital due to illness. Over the years I got to know her, her English improved a great deal. I had to let go my initial judgements about how much TV she watched with her daughter and discovered this is how she learned English and taught it to her daughter. Initially feeling very depressed and lonely she became determined to learn English even though she could not afford English classes and was busy looking after a very engaging and sometimes sick little toddler. She would watch Playschool and Dora the Explorer with her daughter until she developed enough English to feel confident enough to go out without her husband and attend playgroups, go shopping and talk to doctors about her child. Forming a friendship with these lovely people challenged a lot of my preconceptions about how I felt television was not good for young children. I still lived my life the way that felt right for me and my family but didn’t want to judge someone who I admired for being so brave in the face of many difficulties
    I am not sure if any of these anecdotes are useful however thank you for the opportunity to share.


Thanks for your sharing your thoughts. I love hearing from you and will respond to any questions in the comments sections. Natalie

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