Why I Don't Limit My Kids' TV Time

by Laurie Ulster
Originally Published: 

Better yet, I finally feel like it’s okay to say the same thing about watching television.

The American Academy of Pediatrics likes to demonize TV, especially when it comes to kids under a certain age. Kids under two aren’t supposed to watch TV at all, they say, although you can’t help but wonder if the people making these recommendations have ever spent all day alone with a 2-year-old.

But I’m talking about older kids, kids who are old enough to use the 80 remotes it takes to operate our TV and choose a show for themselves. I’ve been hearing my whole life about how we, as a society, watch too much TV, and I could not disagree more. TV is wonderful, and I’ll defend it to my dying breath. Yes, there’s crap on, yes, there are inappropriate shows for kids and teens, and adults, too. But TV is a wondrous thing, a box (or a flat screen) full of magic, and I adore it.

I’ve joked that TV helped raise me. No disrespect to my parents intended, but it was definitely a formative influence. With unabashed nerdiness I will admit that Star Trek was a game-changer for my heart, my head, and my soul. I eagerly devoured episodes of M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, and even Bugs Bunny. The Brady Bunch. The Twilight Zone. WKRP in Cincinnatti. The Muppet Show. Roseanne. Late Night with David Letterman. All In The Family. The Bionic Woman. They were all my companions, riding shotgun as I made my way through my childhood and struggled through my teenage years.

I watched crappy shows too, ones I knew were terrible but I still liked. The Facts of Life, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island. A soap opera or two. I Dream of Jeannie. The Monkees. Charlie’s Angels!


I didn’t absorb it all unquestioningly. I knew Bewitched was dumb and that Darrin should have counted his lucky stars that he was married to an amazing witch like Samantha, and that Samantha should have used her magic to do every bit of housework their home required. She should have convinced Darrin (both Darrins) to give up the daily indignities of working for McMahon and Tate and try riding a broomstick, or being invisible. I knew there was a formula to all of it, and I knew the laughter was canned, but it didn’t dumb me down. I was being told stories, every time I turned on the TV, and I relished it.

Now we live in a new golden age of television. People famous for making great movies are now writing, directing, and producing for television, with the widest range yet of distribution and content. Our kids aren’t tied to the programming schedule like we were, and they don’t have to watch commercials, thanks to TiVo and Netflix and Hulu and Roku and a huge variety of other options.

My kids don’t think that what they see on TV represents reality any more than they think the world is filled with demigods from reading the Percy Jackson books. They are able to tell the difference, just as I was.

My daughter, at 7, is currently obsessed with The Brady Bunch. My 11-year-old son has discovered The X-Files. They both like Phineas and Ferb, and The Simpsons. And they’ll both sit with me and watch the Food Network, especially shows like Worst Cooks in America and Chopped. The day my son told me he’d like to live in a town like the one in Gilmore Girls, my heart swelled with pride. They watch endless shows created for their generation as well as the ones before, and when what they’ve chosen is tolerable—which rules out Dora and Adam Sandler in equal measure—then I often join them.

Because of TV, their world is so much more than the town we live in, and the people they come face-to-face with every day. I love that they have the ability to control what they want to watch, and while I might sometimes declare that they’ve spent too much time sitting, and it’s time to get up and move around, I’ll never tell them that watching TV is the problem, because it isn’t. Watching TV is wonderful, and I won’t pretend otherwise.

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