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Is your kid watching too much TV this summer? Mine is (and I don’t really care).

by Meagan Francis on June 30, 2013

MTV, 1980s, logo

My teenage son Isaac has been on a television gorge-fest since the beginning of summer break. Normally, this is something I’d feel at least a twinge of guilt over. After all, aren’t we supposed to protect our kids from screens? Aren’t they better off spending their days playing sports or hanging out with friends?

What if the answer is “not necessarily”? When I started thinking back to my own childhood, I identified several summer breaks where I went on epic TV gorges, and I don’t feel I’m any worse off for having had them – in fact, they contributed to the person I’ve become. And what other time of your life can you indulge a whim for, say, watching 7 episodes of The Office in a row every single day, as my son has been doing these days?

In my most recent Babble post, I reminisced about the summer of 1988, in which I watched MTV for hours and hours a day during one summer vacation. It was the summer before I started Junior High, the summer I developed my first serious crush, and the summer I transitioned from “little kid” to something in between. And yes, all that MTV was wrapped up in it somehow, and in my memory, in a positive way.

from the post:

Looking back, I’m sure there are other things I could have been doing with those six weeks each summer. More productive things, certainly. Perhaps things that would have helped to nurture a talent or a skill. I could certainly have taken in more fresh air and it probably wouldn’t have hurt to read a few quality YA novels.

But I don’t regret my childhood summerly obsession with TV. Many times, the random bits of cultural knowledge in my head have helped me connect with other people. I can mark passages in my life, my growth, my awareness, by the videos I held dearest. And if nothing else, I can always amuse myself (and occasionally, others) by still being able to sing every single word to Poison’s “Fallen Angel.”

Read the whole thing at my Babble Voices column, At Large: My son has done nothing but watch TV this summer (and I don’t care)

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura July 1, 2013 at 2:34 pm

I remember watching MTV all day all summer (my BFF & I took a two hour break for soaps) in the summer of 1986. The only difference between 1986 & 1988 was they probably had a slightly larger rotation of videos. We also might have taken a break to put Sun-In in on our hair & lay out to bleach our hair out. Oh, those were the days.

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Kate July 1, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Yes, they are watching more tv than normal this summer. I’m in my first trimester with baby #4 and if I’ve learned anything it’s to be kind to myself and to take care of me during this hard time. That way I can save what little energy I have for the fun things we have planned;)

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Sarah Powers July 1, 2013 at 6:22 pm

Okay, I have a logistical question. How does it work in your house with the younger kids being exposed to older kid/teen-appropriate TV and movies? I’m just curious because of the age range of your kids – do the little ones just not really care and get busy with other things? Or do you feel like you have to steer them away from some shows?

On another note: I am pop-culturally challenged because I had extremely limited TV exposure growing up (one of the only ways in which my liberal West-Coast upbringing was strict) – both quality and quantity were heavily policed. So I spent much of adolescence nodding along and pretending to understand references to music and videos and movies I had never seen – it was awful! :)

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Meagan Francis July 1, 2013 at 6:35 pm

Sarah, for the most part I would say that my little kids aren’t interested. They have their own stuff going on (sports, riding bikes, outdoor play) a lot of the time. The other part I guess is that my idea of what’s appropriate/ok for little kids has relaxed a lot. With something like The Office, I find that most of the racier material flies right over their heads. I think it’s definitely a difference between being a first child and a third or fourth or beyond. It becomes almost impossible to shield them from everything as time goes on, so you decide which hills are worth dying on, and which more adult content can be OK with some possible specific censoring and/or discussion. Another thing about being a younger is that even if your parents don’t want you seeing something, you can still find a way. Like me with my ten-years-older sister’s Prince and Madonna albums circa 1985 :)

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Meagan Francis July 1, 2013 at 6:37 pm

When something is truly INappropriate for young kids- not just iffy or ok in small doses – the big boys are only allowed to watch after the youngers are on bed. But truthfully that rarely happens. They aren’t into super adult programming, horror movies, etc.

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Sarah Powers July 1, 2013 at 6:55 pm

Totally makes sense. I know the youngers will always be exposed to things that we were more uptight about with the firsts. Like how my little sister got Doritos in her lunch and I NEVER got Doritos in my lunch. :)

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Kristi July 1, 2013 at 10:56 pm

I’m right there with you – all of my kids have had a ton of screen time this summer. They’ve also swam and played and all of that, but there have been lots of TV marathons. Somehow I managed to get straight A’s all through school and watch every single episode of about 20 different TV shows, so I figure they will probably be ok :)

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Nina July 2, 2013 at 12:49 pm

I was one of those kids that watched a ton of TV growing up. I’d go to sleep after watching Arsenio Hall and wake up at noon to watch the soap operas. Unfortunately, I actually do regret all those hours I spent in front of the TV. I wish I had more opportunities and experiences rather than the routine of watching TV as a junior high kid. Even then I felt so sluggish than the other days when we didn’t watch TV. My mom worked so it was really just me, my sister and the TV, so for my own kids when they reach that age, I’d like to offer more than just the TV.

I don’t have anything against TV and have my own faves, but I definitely wouldn’t encourage my kids to watch hours and hours the way I did.

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Meagan Francis July 2, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Nina, I can totally understand that. Want to hear something funny? I wish I’d READ less when I was a kid, especially a teenager. I stayed up until the wee hours reading, and was chronically sleepy and I know that affected how much I enjoyed school and how well I did. It also got between me and some other things that I might have enjoyed just as much that would have enriched my life in different ways, like practicing the piano. Now, do I regret being a reader? Absolutely not! But, do I think I could have done with getting my nose out of the proverbial book once in a while, particularly late at night, or when I was reading just because I was lonely or couldn’t think of anything else to do? Yup.

I think the main point is that for me (and it sounds like TV was this, for you) reading was an entire-childhood-long, all-day-long, year-round thing, rather than a once-in-a-while binge. I think that binging can be a form of moderation as long as it doesn’t take over your whole life. For example, I watch about two hours of TV a week, tops, most of the year. But when we watched the new season of Arrested Development we consumed the entire thing in about three days. Those were three sleepy, and not terribly productive, but oh-so-fun days.

If I was binge-watching EVERY good show on Netflix, I might have a problem…

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Ana July 3, 2013 at 3:55 pm

I’m kind of with Nina—I remember one particular summer (right after 7th grade) spent doing nothing but watching TV. My mom (who was mostly a SAHM) had a job that summer, so my younger sister and I stayed home—I stayed up ’til 3AM reading, then woke up around 11 and watched TV the rest of the day. I still remember the TV schedule! (different strokes reruns at 11….) It was definitely memorable, but more of an uncomfortable, kind of sad, sluggish memory for me. Was it just the mindless TV watching or was it just the uncomfortable-ness of being 13, unpopular, awkward—hard to say. Do I regret it—not really regret it, just a bad memory.

I think TV can be a really fun past-time, even in infrequent binges—not sure how I’d handle this when my kids get older. I’d like to balance the TV with something else, so that even the TV feels more like a fun, relaxing treat rather than the only option.

(oh and BTW, LOVE that song…”step off the bus, out into the city streets….”)

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kim August 22, 2013 at 10:28 am

I respect your point of view and see how what you are saying can be okay for older kids. I have a young toddler who stops drops what he is doing and becomes totally mesmerized by television when it is on that i do not condone it. I will let him watch a movie before bed that he enjoys or a show or two in the day but spread out after doing a few learning activities. As a kid, I was always outside, embarked in mini adventures. Although I do remember spending some nights in front of the tv watching my favourite shows, the memories that stick out the most were the ones where I was with my friends lost in some kind of game that we created sparked from our innocent imaginations. I guess it is not a bad thing for kids to spend time watching marathons, and tv but it can turn their brain to mush and distract them from reality. It also endorses couch potato behaviour, depending on how long and how much exposure there is. With only a few weeks off during school, I am not a fan of leaving my child in front of the tv.

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