Kill Your TV, and iPod, and Computer, and Cell Phone?

My cyber friend Alexandra Grabbe, who has a wonderful, environmentally conscious, and superbly written blog about being an innkeeper in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, sent me the link to this New York Times article about the epidemic of childhood obesity and how America’s overweight children cost the whole country money.

You have to read to almost the end of the article to get to the really surprising and perhaps the most upsetting part of the article. According to a study by the Kaiser Foundation released on January 20, 2010, children ages 8 to 18 spend an average of 7 hours 38 minutes A DAY using media. But that number is actually an underestimate. Here’s what the Kaiser Foundation says:

And because they spend so much of that time ‘media multitasking’ (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content into those 7½ hours.

Oh. My. Expletive Deleted (the good Web editors at would rather we did not swear). God.

What. The. Expletive Deleted?!

How many hours are there in a day that an 8-year-old child could spend more than seven of them watching TV, playing video games, using the computer, listening to an iPod, and talking on the cell phone?

We don’t have a TV.

My kids do not have computers.

There are no video games at our house.

And though 10-year-old Hesperus has been begging for an iPod (”ALL my friends have them, Mommy! I want one!”), we A) don’t have enough money to buy her one right now and B) wouldn’t buy her one even if we did.

“How do you spell, ‘Poor deprived child, Mommy?’” 6-year-old Etani wanted to know the other day. This was in reference to not being allowed to eat candy at that exact second of the day.

The kids haven’t caught on yet that they are deprived for so many other multi-media reasons.

Here’s what I’d like to know: Do your kids spend THAT much time in front of electronic devices? Does the results of this study seem plausible? Have you decided to kill your TV and more or do you think all this media exposure is good for children? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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25 thoughts on “Kill Your TV, and iPod, and Computer, and Cell Phone?”

  1. How is that even possible? My kids are only AWAKE for 4-5 hours a day while not in school, and if you subtract 30-45 minutes for chores (they do them daily), 30-45 minutes for homework (pretty much daily) and another 30-45 minutes for dinner (we eat together most days and never in front of the TV) that only leaves a couple of hours. The rest of the time, the TV may or may not be on, but the kids aren’t sitting in front of it and actively watching. They may play a computer game, but not for the entire evening! Even for kids who don’t have chores or other after-school activities, I don’t see where the time comes from. Maybe the weekends and summer break skew the results?

    It does get more challenging, I think, as kids get bigger. They don’t play with toys anymore, we live in a cold climate where playing outside for hours is challenging for months of the year and it’s not as easy as it was when they’d just shut themselves up in their rooms for hours playing with toys. If it were up to me we’d have no TV or video games, but my husband let that particular cat out of the bag long ago and it’s awfully hard to stuff it back in. But I find that number really troubling and worry about how much time I may be “passively” letting my kids absorb electronic entertainment without really noticing how it adds up.

    However, these numbers seem almost impossible to me. If that’s true, are kids watching TV until 10 or 11 at night? Or spending their entire summer vacations indoors?

  2. Jennifer, I’m with you. We have no TV, no computer but my own, and no video games or Wii. We have iPods only to be used on long plane trips (and they do come in handy then, though my oldest is a bookworm so he doesn’t even really use them). My husband and I are on the same page about this, which makes it easier. I think it’s easiest when these things aren’t even in the house.
    .-= Christine´s last blog ..Sweet Korean pancakes =-.

  3. I’d venture that yes (@Meagan), kids are watching TV quite late, that many kids have TVs in their rooms, and if they don’t have TVs they have computers on which TV shows can be watched.

    On a different but similar note: the texting is a real time grab, as I see it. Even if you’re not chatting or emailing or watching TV or playing a video game, the moment a text comes in a response is required. If a kid has 10 friends who text throughout the day, and the kid “has to” respond back, that’s a lot of texts. Now, if the kid has 20, 30 or 50 friends who text (probably not as unlikely as you think particularly as they get older)you can see the time it eats up.
    .-= Meredith´s last blog ..The 5-Question [Author] Interview: Amy Ferris =-.

  4. We have a TV but don’t watch during the week. The kids (ages 7, 7, and 10) can watch pre-approved shows on Fridays after school and Saturday mornings while mom and dad sleep in. They try to push it — pushing into Saturday afternoons, begging to watch other shows, etc. And we watch a movie together as a family once every weekend or two. We got the kids iPods for their one big Christmas gift, thinking that listening to music (that we chose, at this age) would be good for them, not realizing that the good Apple folks put games on the iPods. It’s hard to limit that, now that they have them, but we try. But it’s a constant battle.

    On one hand, it would be easier not to have any of it in the house. On the other, I’d rather they learn how to control the game-playing impulse here at home, rather than first be introduced to video games, etc., while at college, when there’s no one there to help them learn how to set limits. It’s a can of worms, for sure. We WON’T be getting them cell phones or X-Box or Playstation… Mostly because I don’t want to fight that fight. We’ve got enough to wrangle over as it is!

  5. I agree that the statistics are absolutely staggering. What a time suck. I wish, I wish, that we had your rules when my kids were little. I would have been sooo happy with no TV. But, my husband loves it, and I backed down (sadly). It becomes such a habit after a while, too..he’ll just turn it on for some background chatter. I find myself always muting it because the noise is like static to me. Life is so much calmer when I keep the tv, my email alerts and the phone on SILENT.

  6. You make such a good point, Shari (and Meagan too). James and I had a friend in graduate school who grew up with no television. He absolutely could NOT set limits for himself and while he did not choose to watch TV for the most part, the minute he saw a TV that was switched on, he had to sit in front of it and watch it. It was bizarre how drawn to the TV he was and how unable he was to monitor his own TV use. That’s an extreme case, of course, but I do worry that my kids will end up obsessed by TV despite (or because of) our efforts to teach them otherwise.
    .-= Jennifer Margulis´s last blog ..Two New Travel Articles: Everything you want to know about kids and airport security =-.

  7. Great article, jennifer. i find that this is a subject that very few parents want to get into. i think that many overworked parents believe that electronics gives them some peace, when it’s just the opposite. children then become incapable of entertaining themselves. thanks for writing about this!

  8. I agree with Shari: You can make something terribly attractive by banning it. Teaching kids how to use technology — as opposed to being used by it — is the route my husband and I took. But nothing’s perfect and the enforcement is tough.
    .-= Ruth Pennebaker´s last blog ..The Night We Sort of Saw Lauren Bacall =-.

  9. We have a TV. It absolutely does not go on unless my husband (the tv watcher who drives me crazy) is home. Or, in the case of events such as the current Olympics. If it were up to me? It would be gone.

    My kids have video games. As teens, they saved their own money and bought them, WITH the caveat that they are limited on how much they can play (5 hours a week).

    My kids have a computer. They are homeschooled, so I consider this part of their education. My eldest has his own website ( and my youngest is exploring digital photography. Yet, the DO use it more than I’d like.

    And they do have ipods. Again, purchased with their own money. In the case of my eldest, it’s important for him with his music. They absolutely are not allowed to wear earbuds when they are with other people. It’s rude.

    So, though I dislike the prevalent use of technology by kids, I seem to have more than my share in my household. Am I fooling myself that we use it intelligently?
    .-= Kris´s last blog ..Get face-to-face with Oahu

  10. I think teens are skewing these numbers a bit. Once kids have phones and those handheld gaming thingies, their screen time is really hard to control. I suppose by then they are nearly on their own.

    I don’t watch much TV, but my husband came from a family that had it on all day long. So whenever he’s home he can’t seem to stand it if the tv isn’t on, even if he is not in the room with it. It used to be a constant battle, but I suppose he turned out all right in other ways and his other obsession is riding his bicycle.

    I think the question to ask is this: what are we doing with our children? How do we enrich their lives? if those questions end up with befuddled blanks, then we, as parents, aren’t working hard enough at parenting.
    .-= Alisa Bowman´s last blog ..The Oddest Communication Advice You

  11. A home where the television, computer, video game is on all the time, to keep the kids distracted so the parents don’t have to deal with specifics seems to me,in an odd way, to present the same problem as a home where there is no TV, computer, video games. Just want to play devil’s advocate here and ask if you aren’t avoiding some important lessons? The kids are going to grow up in a world with computers–they need to know how to use them responsibly. They are going to grow up in a world with TV’s (probably built into refrigerators, into the walls of the house, inside and out and who knows what etc.?) And as they become teens, things that are totally banned become the most desirable things. Just some food for thought. Does a total ban shut off communication and make it easier for a parent not to talk about the difficult choices of life?
    .-= Vera Marie Badertscher´s last blog ..Four Good Reads about Road Trips =-.

  12. I used to make my kids recite a poem that began, “TV rots the senses in your head, it kills the imagination dead.” We even made a cardboard TV and bashed it in for fun. Didn’t help. They still love tv. lol. The husband factor seems to a common one, and it is in our house too, or I’d be happy to get rid of it. My kids are limited to one hour a day of all kinds of screen time, their pick, and their school work has to be done first. On Sundays we eat ice cream and watch a movie. In the summer they have to read books to earn tv time. What’s really hard is when your kids are older, and all their friends play video games or have seen certain movies or are on facebook (which I am resisting as long possible) and they don’t even know what their friends are talking about. They feel like outsiders. We have elected to compromise, allowing them to participate but with time limits and nothing that is morally damaging to them. You have to be super diligent about filters and not letting them use computers in any private space and teaching them about the addictive nature of porn and why they ought to be scared to death of it and stay far away from it. I’ve personally seen more than one family blown apart by porn, it is very scary stuff and you have to work to avoid it. My daughter went to a site just last week to learn to draw a disney character, and when she got there, she also found directions and pictures of “how to draw boobs.” We had a filter, but it didn’t filter out the site content. What a world!

  13. At the risk of sounding insufficiently fretful, I’ve never understood all the hand-wringing over TV. Television (or computers, video games, iPods, cell phones) is neither good nor bad — it’s simply a thing. If you or your kids become obsessed with it to the exclusion of all else, then, yes, it’s probably doing harm.

    But if you watch some TV, read some books, get some fresh air, and spend some time with your family over the course of a day, then it’s hard to see how the TV portion of the proceedings has somehow derailed or negated the rest of it. I think the problem is that some people who are vehemently opposed to TV envision TV-watching homes as high-def Bacchanalian orgies of digital depravity, over-stimulated, slack-jawed children (probably drinking directly from a keg of high-fructose corn syrup perched on the recliner), and disengaged, lazy parents. But in reality? That’s only how it is in my house.


    Seriously, I think it’s a matter of all things in moderation. For example, I want my kids to eat leafy green vegetables, but not at the exclusion of every other food. I want them to read voraciously, but not at the exclusion of playing outside. And I want them to play outside, but not at the exclusion of pitching in around the house. TV is the same — it’s simply one component of a large, varied life; it can be educational, enriching, or just entertaining, but it’s simply ONE THING. And I’d like to think my four kids’ lives are being shaped by more than one thing.

    It’s also interesting that a lot of awesome, engaged, educated parents, who were themselves raised on TV, have banned it in their own homes. I’m guessing they think they turned out to be awesome, engaged, and educated *despite* having grown up with TV. My hunch, though, is that they turned out that way *independent* of TV, because TV was simply one small component of the large, rich landscape of their own upbringing. And, chances are, their own kids are going to turn out awesome, engaged, and educated, too, and it’ll end up having had nothing to do with the TV.

  14. Great discussion! I tried to avoid having a TV for my kids, but they went to watch at the neighbor’s house, so decided we needed one, too. This was in France, so the viewing options were different and not as seductive. I agree with Vera about the value of kids’ feeling at ease with computers at an early age. In today’s world, that is definitely a plus. What no one has mentioned is sports, and exercise. My husband pointed out that his grandkids in Sweden all do spend hours in front of TV and computer, but also put major chunks of time into playing on hockey, soccer, and basketball teams ….
    .-= Alexandra´s last blog ..Water Tower Casts Shadow Down Long Pond Road =-.

  15. “TV or no TV, that is the question: whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the jingles and adverts of outrageous Fortune 500 companies…”

    Well, no, Hamlet, maybe the question is really about how even a little can be a very slippery slope, whether you are used to it or have been denied it entirely. I grew up watching all the time, but found that after high school I choose to do other things with my time and got rid of my TV. Yet, I hear about shows like Lost and I would be afraid to watch an episode like I’d be afraid to try crack: it might be very hard to stop, and I don’t really want to spend a hundred hours of my life catching up on episodes of Lost (and smoking crack so I can stay up late doing so.) Teens may skew the numbers a bit, because texting and tweeting and facebook are all connected now, so those alerts are Pushed to kids’ mobile devices every few minutes, even while they are in school or playing video games or watching TV. But even the pre-literate kids, mercifully free from texting, mostly have mobile game players (with video watching functionality!), and 24-hour kids TV programming (a far cry from when I had to miss the Saturday Morning Cartoons to go to religious instruction). And kids ARE staying up too late, because of all the content and distractions.

  16. Our children are exposed to computers at school, and learning how to use them there in interesting ways, and exposed to it enough through our having it at home that I am not worried about their not learning to use them responsibly. I do feel that we need to be vigilant and can’t compare to how things were when we were growing up because there simply were not this many options then. We didn’t even have cable TV. No cell phones, no texting. Media and screens are absolutely everywhere now and that’s why I feel it behooves us to think about this. Plus there’s the whole multitasking issue which wasn’t an issue even just a few years ago.

    But I do know that things which are completely banned can be very tempting. Fortunately (I guess?) even if we don’t have this stuff in our house itself it’s in the world out there, around them, and that’s plenty of exposure right there. Plus, when we do use screens we can talk about them, talk with our kids about what they see and experience, and that’s so important. Overall, I think that in our family’s case, not having had screen time as a default activity really helped all of us to develop lots of other ways to fill free time.
    .-= Christine´s last blog ..Sweet Korean pancakes =-.

  17. Who are these kids watching so much tv?? I don’t personally know any of them. We have a tv, vcr and computer. Our 11 yr old gets to watch fishing videos on you tube, etc, about twice a week for 15 minutes. The kids do not watch any television, but they watch a movie about 1-2 times a month or less sometimes (usually depends on weather and what we’ve got going on). We don’t rent movies for them so it’s just one of the Planet Earth videos or the handful of VHS movies we’ve had for years (“Aristocats again?”). I used to let them watch a PBS show every afternoon, but the amount of whining for more afterwards wasn’t worth it! The less they watch, the less it’s a part of their consciousness as something to want and then it’s just a treat, like chocolate!

  18. What could I possibly contribute to this amazing conversation? Great post Jennifer.

    I have to say I grew up with unlimited access to TVs, computers, video games and other gadgets. My brothers and I, while we love TV, spend a lot of time doing other things like reading, getting outside, etc.

    With my daughter, I avoided TV until she was around 18 months and now she gets to watch PBS for about an hour a day. Girl loves it, but she prefers the playground, painting, dancing and singing. So, I guess I’m with Holly. For me, it’s all about moderation.

    Also, technology is only getting more and more pervasive in our culture. Heck, I work on the computer much of the day. Baby girl’s preschool teaches computer classes and she figured out how to work our friend’s iPhone in a matter of minutes. I think there is no avoiding it, but learning to manage it is key.
    .-= Almost Slowfood´s last blog ..Classic Meals: Steak Frites =-.

  19. I don’t know about you, Jennifer, but I grew up on a steady diet of TV and turned out okay. That said, I didn’t watch anywhere near the number of hours you mention and I didn’t want that for my kid so we had no television or game console for his first 10 years.

    And then I did an about face. We have a TV now, we use it to watch movies, the World Series, and once-in-a-while The Simpsons. That’s about it. Most of the time it’s covered under a lacy cloth.

    He also saved for his own game console. But he still only gets an hour of screen time on the weekend days. Zip during the week. These are personal decisions, but taking the “forbidden” out of this stuff seemed key for my son, as did normalizing among his peers, who become increasingly important as your kid reaches the tween years.

    I wanted my home to be a place where the kids wanted to hang. So we got a secondhand ping pong table around the same time as the game console and any child who comes to my house knows you gotta run around outside before you can even think about asking to plug in. I’m comfortable with that.
    .-= sarah henry´s last blog ..Marvelous Mushrooms =-.

  20. I’m with Holly on this.. it’s about moderation. However, I think it’s also important to not make your kid feel too “different” then the general population.

    During HS I did not have american channels (no cable came so far out in the country.) We were able to get 2 channels which were from Canada. Ottawa in fact. Can you say, “B O R I N G?” All they had was parliament on TV. Then there were the times when I went to class and they asked if we watched NOVA, as assigned, and I would lie that I had because I was too embarrassed to say that we didn’t get those normal channels. I mostly listened to music, and read a lot of books. Today we have a TV and plenty of channels. I watch very little–but I like what I do watch. I do not feel compelled to watch or drawn to it. Even my kids, who are on break, could take it or leave it. My husband came home from work and asked the kids if they watched the Olympics and they were like, “uhh.. no..” The boys had played with legos all day long and the TV was never on.

    I try to treat most things like that kid you knew in college, who was never allowed out EVER, and they go NUTS drinking and partying and eventually drop out or fail. As parents I really think that it’s all just a fine line and we just have to hope it all works out in the end. 🙂
    .-= Claudine´s last blog ..A Bad Day =-.

  21. I can’t believe kids could fit that much media into one day! We do a “media fast” once a week so that we don’t get too addicted.
    .-= MyKidsEatSquid´s last blog ..Why I don

  22. Postscript to this blog post:

    A reader sent me this poem by Roald Dahl:

    “So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray,

    Go throw your TV set away,

    And in its place you can install,

    A lovely bookshelf on the wall.”
    .-= Jennifer Margulis´s last blog ..Take a Trip to Wizard Island =-.

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