Miracles That Happen When We Turn Off TV

Many parents choose not to limit TV use, and that’s okay. But if the amount of time your children spend sitting in front of a screen isn’t sitting well with you, or you’re concerned about the research showing TV’s impact on attention span and other foundational learning skills, the eye-opening experiences described below might give you the impetus and encouragement you need to make a change.

Chelsey’s story: The day you posted the article about TV viewing and children my son (almost three) went cold turkey. My husband and I did not grow up watching TV, so we were never a TV family.  But with the arrival of our beautiful daughter three months ago, TV (Netflix and YouTube) crept into our lives. My son was waking up incredibly early for a while, and I was using TV more and more each week to help myself cope with the early mornings and the challenges of two. But RESOLVE! I sent your article to my husband, and that was it. It was over. It’s been around a week, and I will never go back. My son’s personality is completely different. I wonder now if the challenges we had with him (tantrums, aggression, sadness) were due to his sister’s arrival (he never directed his anger towards her), or if they were mostly due to the TV watching, which commenced at the same time. Our days are so easy without TV (and its associated behaviors) and much, much more joyous. It’s been such a huge wake-up call for me as a mother. Thank you so much for helping us get back on track.

This is me (in blue) and my husband chatting about the change in our son’s personality. I could go on and on about the specific changes we have noticed. It’s honestly been a life saver:

chelsea messages

(The article they are referring to is How to Break Your Toddler’s TV Habit)

Lee’s story: Have to share! My just three-year-old is home from school today, and I was desperate to get some work done. He was moaning and whining that he was bored, wanted to play with my laptop, and was generally making it difficult to work, in spite of me setting up play dough and paint. I finally acknowledged his frustrations with me not being able to go to the park or being available to play. He walked off, found some toy cars, some towels from the cupboard, and he is now deep in play at ‘the car wash’. Thank you for your advice. Otherwise, I may have caved and let him watch TV, missing this wonderful opportunity to play. I have to add, he stopped after a few minutes to take himself to the toilet. I’d have been none the wiser if I hadn’t heard the loo flush and the tap run. I love how independent he is, which I can attribute to reading your book and blog!

Nicole’s story: I am writing to thank you for encouraging me without knowing that you do! I read a lot of the posts I see from you and have been trying hard to get my child off the TV as a time for me to get things done (or a break for me). Lately I have just been explaining that, no, we won’t be watching TV every time we have down time or when I need to make breakfast, dinner and so on. I explain that TV will turn our brains to mush if we watch too much, and he totally rolls with it most of the time! Tonight he has been playing on his own for 45 minutes and happily engaged with his things. I’m just feeling proud of sticking with it and thankful to your blog for such positive encouragement. Thank you.

As these personal stories illustrate, limiting screen time takes courage and commitment but can help to protect children from the effects of overstimulation (which include hyperactivity and aggression) and also encourage:

  • Active, therapeutic play and learning
  • Full engagement in self-directed, independent activities (like reading)
  • Daydreaming, puttering, deep thinking
  • Inventiveness, creativity, and flow
  • The expression of uncomfortable feelings like fear, frustration, and boredom (experiencing and overcoming these feelings — moving through them and then moving on — is how children build confidence and resilience)

Thanks so much to Nicole, Chelsey, and Lee for allowing me to share your stories!

Recommended resources:

Watching TV is Relaxing by Teacher Tom

Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can do About it, Jane Healy, PhD

What Does TV Do To My Kid’s Brain? by Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE  (featuring an enlightening TED talk by Dr. Dimitri Christakis of Seattle Children’s Hospital)

How to Break Your Toddler’s TV Habit and A Creative Alternative To Baby TV Time (on this blog)

I share more about setting limits with confidence in my book:

 No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame.


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Robin Kinney says:

    Hi Janet, I’m wondering about the difference between the effects of passive TV watching versus interactive games on tablets/computers on children. I have a 2.5 year old. We do not own a TV and rarely watch cartoons or movies with our son on our computers, but my son does have a tablet with several “educational” games that he plays daily. Thank you.

    1. Hi Robin,

      There haven’t been conclusive findings yet that I’m aware of. The general consensus is that toddlers and preschools learn best through real life play and hands on exploration, and that screen use is highly habit forming.

  2. When we moved to our current house, our one TV went to the basement “man cave”, and I LOVE the effect it’s had on my daughter. Now when we get home, instead of begging to watch it, she reads books and plays in her kitchen. It’s AWESOME. My husband wants to get a second TV for our main level, and I’m trying my best to dissuade him. I just sent him this article!

    1. Sounds great! Hope the article helps convince your husband 🙂

  3. Sarah Meagher says:

    Love this article and very timely it is one of the issues tha I have wanted to deal with for a bit. I reada backk to your article about breaking the tv habit and I am going to start working on it. I also loved your link (In a different article, helping toddler break bad habits (i think) a twigtale. I will start working on this tomorrow. They idea of an invitation to play is wonderful. I thought about trying to set it up before my LO gets up for her nap but that is in 15 minutes and I am not sure I have the time. But at some other point perhaps.

  4. Hi. Just wondering whether audi books for children are best used with or without an accompanying book? My children are almost 3 and 5 years old. I really like the use of audio books in place of tv and wanted to purchase some. I know using imagination and visualising whats being read is part of the benefits so that makes me think no to the book but for ones as young as mine?
    Thanks for your help. Great article

  5. Jane Smith says:

    While the link to the study is interesting, it does not identify a causal link between tv and attention. That is we don’t know if tv causes low attention or kids with low attention watch more tv. To find a causal link, we would need to randomly assign more tv watching to some kids and not to other and then see resulting attention spans. Do you know of any studies that do this type of randomized-control design?

  6. Lee Gilmer says:

    We’ve just traded one screen babysitter for another. How does all that looking at a TV or computer affect their eyes. Adults are supposed to take a 20 second break every 20 minutes and look at something at least 20 feet away to avoid eye strain when looking at a computer screen. How many times have you seen children seemingly glued to the TV/computer.

    1. Emily Teeguarden says:

      Hello Lee & all other folks reading this article.

      I highly recommend you google:

      Magda Havas, an American Professor from a University who has studied
      this situation at length.

      On her site she offers all sorts of safe ways to interact w/ all the electronic screens etc. that are now in every home, in mulitples!

      What I love about her research is that many of the ways that we are
      living with these electronic devices is totally unsafe for us as adults but with little ones and children it is completely unsafe! Example: children and little ones should never place cell phones to their ears as their skull is not fully formed and the radiation from the phone penetrates much more so than with an adult skull. Also see the book: Zapped by Louise Gittelman. Easy to remember! Knowledge is Power. Lets not have our families be guinea pigs for these billion dollar co.’s that do not give us safety brochures with these devices for our families safe use. Magda Havas’s site does!

      I love the idea of no devices and just play more outside. . . there is no comparison when you envision both!

  7. Actually, you are absolutely right. Technology is affecting the growth of children and we have to limit its usage. It is not only about the TV but also laptops and mobile phones. They need proper supervision for complete well-being and creativity.

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