But won’t they just watch TV all day?

A reader asked me recently about how to encourage her child to watch less tv and spend more time actively learning. You know,  in the tangible kind of way we mothers can measure and record. I quickly shot back a reply but I’ve been pondering the issue ever since. To be honest, I was already thinking about this a lot lately as I tried to figure out the balance in my own home. And this lady wasn’t the first person to bring the issue up either. I am often asked about unschooling, “If you let them choose for themselves,  won’t they just watch TV all day?”


Clearly NOT just watching TV all day

To be perfectly honest, unless you are a TV-less family, the answer is, “yes, they probably will”.  The second part of my answer though is that it is only for a time, and only for a reason. But, and here is the tricky part, it’s your job to figure out the why and go from there. When you understand why your children make the choices they do, you can respond appropriately.

This isn’t always easy, and it’s an ongoing process. Unschooling really calls on a parent to become very aware, to observe carefully, to respond thoughtfully. It also requires a good deal of self-reflection and this can be uncomfortable. Necessary. Life-changingly beneficial. But uncomfortable nonetheless.

Look carefully at what is happening.  Is the TV watching part of the de-schooling process you aren’t allowing for? Is it because you have inadvertently made it a reward or a forbidden fruit? Is it being utilised as a learning tool and you haven’t noticed? Is it because you aren’t as involved as your child needs in this moment?

None of the reasons are because the child is lazy, manipulative or addicted (although I personally think this last one can become a problem if the issue goes unchecked). It’s not even that there is something inheritantly wrong with TV. Each of the reasons actually come back to you. Told you this may be uncomfortable.

Think on what you and most other adults do at the end of a long, stressful day at work. We come home, turn on the box and relax a while. Children are the same. The come home from school after a long, stressful day and they want to use the tv to relax. De-schooling can be looked at in part as an extended period of relaxing after a period of stress (conventional schooling). Eventually they relax, realise they aren’t going to be forced to sit at their books for hours on end and then they feel free to re-engage with the world around them. Providing a rich environment to explore along with a peaceful atmosphere will go a long way in helping this transition.

Of course there is trust involved in the process and we wouldn’t be human if fear didn’t occasionally creep in. Fear is a part of the ‘new’ and the ‘different’. Fear can lead us to place arbitrary limits on TV but these limits can be counterproductive.

Imagine you are told you can only eat chocolate on a Saturday afternoon (substitute your favourite treat if you’re one of those odd people who doesn’t LOVE chocolate). You are going to think about it, talk about it, all week long, just waiting for that moment when you can have the chocolate. It’s the same with kids. We focus on the limits and they focus on the whinging. What happens when we stop talking about restricting tv and instead start offering our own time? The value shifts!

Sometimes with TV there is learning happening and we can’t see it. We become so focused on the perceived negatives that we can’t see what is actually happening. Jess from A Thoughtful Life wrote a great piece explaining how this happened in her family (read about it here). Look closely to see if this is what is happening and then help to support this learning. This may be the perfect time to try your hand at strewing.

In my home I have come to realise that TV watching increases as my level of involvement decreases. That isn’t easy for me to admit, but there you have it. My uncomfortable truth.

“Do you want to turn off the TV and go play outside? “ (I say as I am busy washing dishes/checking my phone/dressing the baby)
“No thanks, Mum”
But if I wander out into the garden you can be sure a certain someone will appear behind me, ready and eager to help and to learn.

“You’ve watched far too much TV. Turn it off and go play!”
“But this is my favourite!”
“There isn’t anything else to do!”
“But that’s boring! “

But if I ask if he would like to come play with me, or go to the library with me, or have project time with me, the answer is almost always a resounding,  “Yes please, Mum! I’ll just turn the TV off”.


Construction time is fun when Mum is there

What he is really telling me here isn’t that he wants to spend all day watching TV, it’s that he wants me. He wants my time, my attention, my support and my encouragement. He wants me. He needs ME. So rather than focussing on restrictions, it is better for me to focus on fulfilling this need. It is better for me to stop focusing on what I don’t want him doing, and instead focus on what we could be doing together.

So answer honestly, do your kids just watch TV all day?


14 thoughts on “But won’t they just watch TV all day?

  1. I hate to admit it but yes we are a big “tv” family. Hubby is the kind of person who has it on ALL the time because he likes to have background noise & yes I can see my boys being transfixed by it most of the time. It’s definitely had an impact on incidental learning though which isn’t a bad thing. They do still go outside & play a lot too & l agree with them being little shadows wherever hubby & I are so I need to be more aware of how much time I spend in front of the box myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like to have it on for the background noise too, so I’ve taken to switching it to youtube and playing music. My son automatically switches to music when he has finished watching now. You are definitely right in pointing out that a lot of it is modelling.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment x


  2. Great post Kirstee. For me though ipad, ipod screens are our bugbear not the tv, but they are both the same thing aren’t thing. It is a struggle because I see so much learning going on with them also. It’s just about having a happy balance I think.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right, they are the same. I think if we can actively engage with them while they use the devices, and make sure there are lots of other opportunities for fun away from a screen, most times the balance will take care of itself. It seems to be such a difficult area for parents to feel comfortable with, myself included. Thanks for reading, Kylie xx


  3. Love this Kirstee! Jedd is my outside child but I struggle with Tully. And you are so spot on when you say it’s when we decrease our involvement. If I offer to play board games or do writing with Tull the tv goes off straight away. I think it’s definetly a lesson for me – to learn to be okay with the washing not being folded and give that time to my kids instead. I love your blog posts. You continually give me new ideas to try x

    Liked by 1 person

  4. No kids here, unless you count the man baby but he is addicted to the TV. He has it on even when he’s not watching it because he likes the background noise and it drives me crackers. Cutting back on TV time might be our life’s work!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What about kids with addiction in their families and addictive personalities? I’ve tried all this. Even for a whole year once and my six year old literally did nothing but stare at various screens. Each night he would lament about all the things he forgot to do because he was too sucked into the screen. So what about the addictive nature of these electronic devices and their effect on children with addictive personalities??


    • I touched very briefly on the fact that I also believe TV watching can be an addictive activity, but didn’t relly elaborate as that isn’t what this article was about. I’m also not an expert, just a mama sharing our experiences and what I have seen in other families we know. All that said, I think if you have identified that this is a problem in your house you are absolutely right to place restrictions on screentime. Individual circumstances trump ideology every time in parenting and in life. As I mentioned, tv watching in my household often increases when I’m not as involved as I could be (should be?), so that could be an area you look at? Since writing this post, our family has also been working on adjusting our family culture, less screen time for all and more handicraft and family activities. Perhaps an adjustment of family culture around screens and some open discussions could be useful too? I hope to write more about this in the near future. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment, and for reminding me to come back to this discussion. I hope this reply has been somewhat helpful x


  6. Pingback: Kids and screen time – My Blog

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