My Son, the T.V. Addict

Posted April 24, 2009 by

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Recently, we finally broke down and got cable T.V.  My husband found a great deal, so we decided to take the plunge, even though we’d been hesitant about jumping into the 200+ channel pool.

What I didn’t count on was the lure of Sponge Bob. Or Lilo & Stitch. Or Special Agent Oso.

My son has officially become a T.V. addict, and it’s scaring me. I’m ready to stage an intervention: “Alex Honey, we love you, but your addiction is preventing you from living your life. When was the last time you rode your bike? Drew a picture? Combed your hair?” My son now quotes Phineas and Ferb on a regular basis. And don’t get me going on Sponge Bob –it makes him manic, I swear. (To be honest, I get a little slap happy whenever I watch. And even more alarmingly, I caught myself laughing like Sponge Bob at a party recently and had to pretend-cough to get out of it.) As for my husband Joe, a few weeks ago I woke to find him in the guest room at 2 a.m., watching an info-mercial with a giddy, expectant look on his face. “Look– we can grow tomatoes upside down on our porch,” he shouted with glee, when I asked him what was going on.  In short, in one month, Cable T.V. has taken over our lives.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m actually not anti-television. I think it has its place, as long as the shows our kids are watching aren’t violent and don’t promote snotty behavior. (In fact, recently another study came out that warned against the dangers of kids watching violent T.V. Kids who watch it tend to engage in more violent behavior, according to the researchers.) I also know people who were never allowed to watch television as kids who have grown up to be certified T.V. junkies. So, I’m pretty much in the “everything in moderation” camp here.

I think that since we lived without T.V. for so long, (we’ve never gotten any T.V. reception out where we live, and the digital converter box didn’t help after we set it up) I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of shows…and promotions. My son gets frantic any time a new toy comes on the screen, and insists he has to have it,  whether it’s the tomato grower that grows upside-down tomatoes (just like his daddy!) or the remote control car that can do flips. He has grown so attached to T.V., in fact, that he has developed ways of putting on his clothing so he doesn’t have to miss anything. What really gets me, though, is that blank T.V. stare. The other day at dinner, he even said, “Look Mommy, here’s my T.V. face!” and went right into slack-jawed zombie mode over his pasta.

That’s when I knew this had to stop.

So here’s my dilemma: I know that doctors recommend 2 hours of screen time a day, but boy, I’ll bet we surpass that most days, if I count in PBSkids.org, video games, and now, the dreaded cable.  I’m trying a new “No T.V. after dinner rule” but I’ve caught my son sneaking into the guest room to watch behind my back. He got a consequence for it, but I’m starting to think I’d rather pay the cable company their extortion money to take down the dish on our roof just to have peace and quiet back again.

What do you think? Parents, how do you handle this in your house? Clearly, we’re out of control and we need help.

About

Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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  1. Kimberly Report

    When I read this story it really made me laugh. I enjoyed reading the stand against TV, since I also experience the same issues with my 8 year old son. It’s funny to see we are not the only ones exclaiming, “Look we should buy the upsidedown tomato grower!” I know you can make one yourself with a bucket and a hole in one end. I plan on making one with him next week after school rather than watching the ads for it again. That is my idea of a small battle won.
    I consider a little TV. O.K. With careful guidance it can be a pleasurable and educational experience. Sponge Bob is funny but overdose can be annoying at worst, and just consumes too much time that could be better used. I know TV can be a form of entertainment and relaxation for my son on the weekends after long days at school, so I do allow for a generous time slot on Saturdays. He loves nothing better than to lay around in his PJ’s and watching childrens cable channels.
    As far as daily decisions go with time restraints it varies. Maybe one day I will strongly suggest in the car on the way home from school, that we go swimming, wash the car, tennis, shopping, or skateboarding. I give him some options. He usually picks one. That way for one or two hours a couple times a week he is outside. I breath a sigh of relief that he is living and learning something, not passively watching life from inside a livingroom. While I make dinner T.V. goes on. When dinner is served, T.V. goes out. After dinner T.V. goes on. UUUGHHH. However then homework and bedtime stories are the rest of his night.
    I have discovered that many of my friends were allowed to watch more TV than I ever was growing up.
    I think my son watches more than I did too. But things in the world have changed. My friends don’t seem much worse off for the wear, however I do notice sometimes that their conversations seem to lack a lot of the fun experiences I had growing up. I just hang on to the memories of my youth, when I would say to my mother, “I’m bored and hungry, can I watch TV?” Her response was always, “Then eat an apple, and go outside!” Sometimes I imagine she actually threw the apple at my head on the way out the door. Mothers are always right. You will be too. Don’t worry.

    Reply
  2. Elisabeth, EP Editor Report

    Thanks everyone — these are all great suggestions. CC, I think we are in the same boat! I know that before we got cable, my son was more willing/able to come up with things to do on his own in the afternoon. (He’s 6, so around the same age as your daughter.) I think it’s really hard when you have to get something done, like make dinner, and you don’t want your child underfoot or asking you for things every 2 seconds. I wonder what the pioneers did? (I suppose all the kids were busy making candles and carding wool?) At any rate, my husband and I sat down and talked about it and decided we’d institute a “No T.V. after dinner” rule, and limit viewing to two hours during the day. I’ll let you all know how that goes! Wish us luck…

    Reply
  3. Kathleen Report

    We have our sons “earn” their T.V. time. If they do their homework and chores, they earn up to 2 hours per night. If they can’t, then we don’t watch. It’s worked really well as a motivator for them! And we also use Tivo. It’s been a life saver, because we always know what their watching! good luck.

    Reply
  4. Jule Report

    I have a 10 yr. old who seems to have a high need for stimulation. He likes to do his homework while the t.v. is on and actually does it. He seems to automatically hit the on button on the tele, and then proceed to the computer, which is in the same room, and start it up as well. He uses it for school research, emailing friends, and online games. He doesn’t really tune into the tele all that much, but seems to catch what he wants from it. My suggestion to curb either medium, is to set limits for the computer at one time, ie: 1/2 hr. then he/she has to do something else for an hour. As for the tele, ask your child to pick x-number of shows, whatever amount of time you are comfortable with in any given night, and then limit them to that number. ie: four – 1/2 sitcoms over a 4 – 6 hr. period, get them to do something else for the time in between. this would include; dinner – away from the tele, a bath, homework, reading, hobbytime, it is not that difficult to fill an evening. I had my cable disconnected last summer, initially for the summer, but decided to leave it that way over the winter as well. It is working out just fine. This will work better with older children, 7 and up, better than the under 6 age category, but then they go to bed earlier

    Reply
  5. Annita Woz Report

    tivo.
    it has changed our tv addiction. I’m serious.

    Tivo allows my kids to realize that they control the tv, tv does not control them. Example: they can be right in the middle of a favorite show, and there will be a rainbow outside and they’d rather see the repeat show than the rainbow in the sky! Its crazy!

    so tivo has saved us– now even my youngest can push record, and the kids will run out and play and forget all about tv, cuz they know it will be right there for them…

    Plus, we skip all the commercials for toys by tivo’ing (is that a word?) and passing right over them to the show.

    Even better, I can get my show tivo’d and watch it at night and shave off 22 minutes of commercials! i’m not controlled by tv either! It’s the most control I’ve had over the remote since I got married… : )

    Seriously tho, I’d love to be a family that does not “do” tv. But that just isn’t the way it is. My kids veg on tv. My husband vegges (that cannot be a word) on tv. I like to watch PBS, documentaries, news, but hey, that is all too violent for kids…so I admit, we can’t do without tv, but we can do without so much of it…

    Reply
  6. cc Report

    i concur with the comments and we have had this issue for awhile. My daughter is 5 1/2–she starts kindergarten in the fall and I promised to start a routine to incorporate homeowrk. The problem I have is she is an only child. TV becomes a form of companionship for her in the late afternoon after school. I have worked all day, need to start dinner and can not play. Coloring only goes so far. I am finding trouble keeping her entertained with out the box. what would you suggest?? She goes to preschool daily from 9-3 and I work full time.

    Reply
  7. Brooke Williams Report

    I feel your pain. We don’t have cable, but if I let my child, he would watch Movies all day. And, the more they watch, the more they want to watch.

    I let him watch a movie in the afternoon when his sister naps and then on Tuesday nights, when I have the night off Cool Dad hosts “movie night” when they get to eat pizza and watch a movie together. It made me a little mad that my husband was arm chair parenting in this way, but I will say that it makes tv seem like more of special occasion that they look forward to, instead of get whenever they want.

    Reply
  8. Debbie Report

    We are having the same problem. My son is 12 and all he does is watch TV or play games on the computer. He plans all his activities around different programs. And we now have dishnetwork with a DVR, so he records shows everyday. He watches everything from cartoons, disney, food network, health channels, discovery and seems very smart about things, but he gets his info from the tv. I am going to watch this blog for a while and see what others are doing. My son is ADHD, OCD, and other learning disabilities and getting him away from the TV is a major war. Hope to hear some good ideas.

    Reply

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