Friday, June 10, 2011

A TV Guide for Kids on Summer Vacation

As the school days dwindle down to a precious few--ok who am I kidding?--we are on a speeding freight train to Summer Vacation! And no matter if you've got a swanky family getawy planned or are preparing yourself to blow up the kiddie pool, chances are your kids are going to have a lot more free time on their hands (and yours) and will be gratitating toward one screen or another. In this first of our series on kids and screen-time, I'll offer some tips that may help you curb the urge to use the idiot box as a full time babysitter, and embrace it for the good, and sometimes even great, things it has to offer your kids.

For most households in the US, a totally TV free home is not very realistic, and perhaps not too appealing, either. I am right there with (most) of you. I’m no unimommer--but when my kids were really little we were, happily, TV free…so carefully making the transition into welcoming that seductive colorful box is what this is all about. Because you don’t want to end up with a free-for-all gorge on 899 channels, and a bunch of couch potato zombies, I’ll offer you several different approaches to a green and modified TV, (and computer.)
Here’s the abbreviated story of how it went for my family:
  • First kid: No TV in the house.
  • Second kid: One TV but husband rigged it so we could only get PBS (except Sunday nights when we could switch to HBO for Curb Your Enthusiasm)
  • Third Kid: Little TV that only picked up broadcast stations until the lumbering television antenna on the roof fell off in a windy storm. Practically overnight, that was replaced by cable, and every imaginable channel.
That’s actually what happened, and eventually it may happen to you too. Below is the slightly longer version of my family’s relationship with the magic box:
In the city we did opt for TV-free, but that’s easy when your child is under 5, and there are other likeminded folks to arrange playdates with. But as your kids grow, and co mingle with others whose parents aren’t Ludites, it becomes much, much harder to keep the outside world, well, out. Besides, there is something to be said for limited ‘exposure’ and building immunity. Beyond missing the entertainment value (which can be high) completely banning TV can turn it into the coveted Golden Fleece, and instill it with a mystique and allure that would turn Svengolli green (with envy, not the good green.) So you may want to take it easy, be flexible, and open that Pandora’s Box., just a little, while still keeping the plagues and pestilance in place.
Below is our set of rules and you can take them, leave them or adapt them to your own needs. With these, we have found great happiness with the magic box…


  1. No TV after school or in the evening on school nights M,T, W, TH and Sun.
  2. Even on total veg out days, no more than 2 hours unless it includes a family show we all want to watch together
  3. No R rated moves (duh!)
  4. When mom or dad says enough, no questions asked (OK this doesn’t actually work nearly as well as planned)
  5. Occasional exceptions to every rule, (except the R rating which stays firmly in place)

Finally, if you're a bit of a pushover and feel guilty about limiting your kids fun, remember this, The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests no more than 2 hours a day TV tops, and reccommends parents always be within viewing area. Hmmnnnn, maybe I can get my kids into Antiques Roadshow yet!


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