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'6 very good reasons my kids are never allowed to watch TV.'

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It’s a hard rule to enforce – but worth it.

Despite being a believer in “never say never,” I am partial to the occasional blanket parental generalisation. Things like swimming and eating and cramping, eating crusts for curlier hair and insisting that reading books will only make you smarter.

We’ve added a new one for our mob, and it’s massive: no TV during the week.

Sometimes that definition needs refining, hence the never say never, but it basically applies from bedtime on Sunday night to after school on Friday afternoon.

reducing tv time
‘We’ve added a new rule for our mob, and it’s massive: no TV during the week.’ (Image via iStock)

The ‘no TV rule’ is up there in family significance with ‘dinner round the table whenever possible’, ‘pick up your junk’, ‘dog sleeps outside,’ ‘books at bedtime,’ ‘please,’ ‘thanks,’ and ‘if you say you’re going to be home by a certain time, make sure you do it.’  Simple stuff.  Normal stuff.  The rules pretty much everyone has.

It’s funny how times change.

We grew up in front of the TV. The Brady Bunch weren’t just a TV family, but they were my actual TV family. Like My Three Sons, The Fonz, Richie Cunningham – even Joanie and Chachi were like cousins to us.  We didn’t spend hours in front of the telly, we spent weeks.  Years, even. We loved it the way kids love fairy bread at birthday parties.

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That box blaring away in the corner was normal.  We had books, too. And bedtime stories, but I seem to know more about the Bradies than Huckleberry Finn.

“We grew up in front of the TV. The Brady Bunch weren’t just a TV family, but they were my actual TV family.”

Then I got married and we had our own kids and suddenly a few of the things I’d thought were normal, were not.

I’d managed to put together a fairly impressive list of assumptions as to how things might go when I was all grown up, and not many of them were on the money. Fairly high up that list was the plonking of children in front of the TV while I went and did important manly things like, well, I don’t recall what they were, but they were going to be great.

Why don’t we use the TV during the week?  The short answer is, mum says so.

That’s how it started, anyway. And whilst I didn’t quite get the point at the time, I most certainly get it now. There are better things to do with your kids than watch TV. I know, horrifying, isn’t it?  What could be better than your kids forging a relationship with the big glass-fronted box in the corner? How about having one with their parents?

My grandmother used to say that too much TV sucked the life out of you, and she was probably right. Sadly, it was cigarettes that sucked the life out of her, but that’s another story for a different day. We did notice that whilst TV kept the kids occupied, it seemed to put them into a trance-like state at the same time.

With the telly on, nothing happened.  They weren’t interested or interesting, just numb.  Then, once the boob tube went off, the kids didn’t want to do anything which seemed to coincide with all hell raining down inside the house.

The best way to avoid moments like those was to take the TV out of the equation. No TV meant no withdrawals.  But the question was how do you replace someone as matey and good fun as the television? Who could possibly be that interesting?

Well, as it turned out, lots of things, but especially you.

Andrew Daddo with Mamamia senior editor Holly Wainwright.

In the short term the workload went up. It was about a cultural shift for everyone as we all had to come to terms with not just losing a good friend, but hopefully finding another one.  In the end, it wasn’t one new friend, but many. There was painting, craft, storytelling, reading books, drawing, going outside, making stuff out of nothing and nothing out of nothing. Someone picked up an imaginary friend for a while, which was very exciting.

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One of the best TV alternatives, and it still holds true now that we’ve got teenagers, is books. Whilst there’s no scientific data from our lot, the anecdotal evidence suggests that they learned to love books as little tackers, and the relationship’s only become stronger.

The delivery mechanism didn’t seem to matter, either. Whether it be hard copy or ebook, the kids still read every night, possibly longer than we’d like them to – but that’s not such a big deal, is it?

As parents, we understand this bias toward books is brilliant. We know their minds are being stimulated, their imaginations are being stretched and their vocabularies are being constantly topped up with new and different words. We don’t bother saying how beneficial books are to their education because we’d hate them to know how good their reading is for them.

“We don’t bother saying how beneficial books are to their education because we’d hate them to know how good their reading is for them.”

It’s the stories they read that we love, too. They cover every genre, every possibility. And yet, there’s a book for every occasion and every stage in their lives. Because sometimes it’s not enough for us to talk them through what they’re going through, or to tell them that we understand.

Sometimes it’s easier to offer a book about a certain subject, something they can nourish themselves with, but also use to help to navigate certain moments in their lives – real things like fitting in or bullying or not winning when they’re expecting to.

We haven’t broached the idea of being a family with no TV because I think that might be too much to bear (for me). There are computers in the house that get used for homework and some other stuff as well. The kids have phones and I’m pretty sure they’re not just for making phone calls, so they do get screen time – it’s just not the TV screen for five of seven days of the week.  And they seem to be reasonably happy and healthy, so it seems to have worked.

And best of all, they know how to entertain themselves when there’s ‘nothing to do.’

I’m pretty sure we can thank no TV for that.

Do you think it’s a good idea to limit kids’ TV time?

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