Television: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Movie Night

{family movie night}

There’s a negative stigma associated around television, and for good reason.  The human mind is better at remembering images than words or numbers. This was confirmed by research done by the University of California as they trialled using images instead of numbers for a secret pin (how cool).  Our ability to recall images can be a good thing but there is also a danger, especially for young minds.

And then there’s always something buzzing around the Internet about the links between obesity and media; whether that be though advertising or inactivity.

Now, I could go on and on about journal articles, research, various philosophies and what Johnny’s Mum said; everyone has guidelines to give you. And this is just not only in the media and television department, but about every subject on parenting. Honestly, if I tried to, first read, and then implement every “recommendation” I would go crazy…crazy I tell you!

Detailed below is how television fits into our family life — relatively guilt free. 

Our family and television

Our family enjoys watching television: I like watching television, especially period dramas (though I don’t get much time); my husband and I like watching television together (as a date); we enjoy watching television as a family (for family fun night). We are selective about what we watch but we do enjoy the entertainment and storytelling provided by television. To put it bluntly, I would say I worry more about what my children watch than how much they watch.  Now don’t get me wrong here: I’m not a fan of huge amounts of television watching, it’s about balance.

So here’s my take on television: the good, the bad, the ugly. 

The Good


Television The Good

My take on television is like how I digest a lot of things: I filter guidelines (I come across), advice and mum-talk, into how it fits into my faith, my values and my family…and forget the guilt, but learn and grow instead. Here are some of the positives I can see from this way of thinking:

* Potentially children learn (through exmple) to self-regulate many areas of their life, not just television.

* Any guilt I feel is turned into something proactive.

* It’s more of a bottom up approach where the people running the family (ie. the parents) are the ones who work out what is best rather than parents rising up to a benchmark set by recommendations or guidelines.

* Rather than looking at how much television is watched on a daily basis (hours), look at how much is watched, say in a month, or in relation to other activities.

Note: This is not advice on how television should fit into a family but rather how television fits into our famiy life.

The Bad

Television The Bad

Why is following guidelines and advice bad? Well it’s not. However, here are the problems I see with this system:

* It’s too simplistic, which is unrealistic.

* In this approach, there’s no room for life variation which leads to guilt by the parent if they fail the system.

* Children potentially are not taught to moderate their own usage by setting their own red flags.

* Personally, I would go mad with worry because there is always new research available and guidelines set.  I would constantly try (to find and) stay on top of it all. Therefore, this approach would personally, be bad for me.

* Top down approach, set by people who don’t know know me or my family situation.

The Ugly

television the ugly

The ugly is when television is unmonitored, and children pretty much set their own usage with little, or no parental supervision.  There are huge dangers with this system including self-objectification, inactivity leading to obesity, violence and early sexualisation.

The Goal

Raising responsible kids with consience who can think creatively and problem solve: that’s quite a moutful.  When it comes to television, I gauge how it fits into family life under a goal on how I aim to raise my kids. To achieve my aim, I have a red flag system to help me constantly reassess where I’m at.

Red flags

Red flags can be seen as cure, rather than a preventive measure. I appreciate that, but in my experience, parenting is more about trial and error than it is about following a set system.  I believe there are too many variables for each respective family for blanket guidelines. Recommendations can be helpful but they are not designed for my family. They don’t take into account that I’ve moved 10 times in 11 years, that I have a daughter with special needs and that my husband works long hours (just for a start). The guidelines don’t know me and what I want for my family.  Instead I put red flags in my way to force myself to reassess television watching on a regular basis. Below are five red flags:

1. Creative thinking

Creative thinking and imaginative play are important to me. I’d rather gauge how much television my children watch on their ability for (and time spent on) creative and imaginative play rather than a blanket guideline. So, if my kids get up in the morning and constantly ask for television, I know they are watching too much. Mostly? They get ready for school and then play the most beautiful creative games or are out on the trampoline. If I notice my children are becoming reliant on constant entertainment, I reassess our media input and foster more creative play opportunities.

2. Behaviour and Play

What my children watch on television translates into their play. Mostly, it’s a positive thing, when the program, movie or story has become a stimulant for a variety of imaginative play ideas. However, if I feel uncomfortable about the changes in play or behaviour (if that be violent or attitude based) I will reassess what the kids are watching and perhaps, for example put some DVDs away.  

3. Siblings

There’s only 6 years between my four children but that’s quite a large developmental gap between my first and last child. I find myself allowing my almost 4-year-old to watch things earlier than I did my oldest child so I’m conscious of this. Juggling different age groups is always going to be a bit tricky but I rely on my eldest to be the ones to give if need-be. To balance this out, my eldest child has other opportunities (like staying up later).

4. Babysitting

Yes, I use the television for babysitting sometimes. I try not to make a habit out of it though.  It’s interesting, when I’m tired, I allow my children to watch more television…which shouldn’t surprise me.  If I feel myself falling into a unhelpful television-babysitter trap, I get out of the house. You can read my post about it here: Tired and Cranky Mum

5. Rules

I aim to teach my kids to rely more on trained common sense than rules; however establishing rules around television is a great starting point. These are our current television guidelines:

* No television in the morning on school days

* No ad watching (if a channel other than abc kids)

* If at another person’s home, and television is on, don’t be in the room (if we are visiting somewhere)

* If at another person’s home (like a relative for a sleepover), don’t watch a movie we haven’t watched before without checking with a parent

* If you see something you’re worried about or don’t understand, come and talk to Mum or Dad

* We don’t usually have time to watch tv after school but it’s not a blanket rule.


There are (and will continue to be) many, many times when I need to reassess how much (or what) my children are watching on television. Here are some ways I check this.

1. Just Say NO

If the red flags are flying in my face I just say no. I say, “No television, go find something creative to do.”

This sometimes extends to media free days or weeks. My husband and I, as parents, need to be confident  to make the right call for our family (and learn from our mistakes if we don’t). If my children don’t want to find something creative to do, then I have plenty of jobs around the place to keep them occupied. 😉

2. Media free days or weeks

It may be hard for the first few days but it’s so refreshing to have time when the television is off.  You have to be brave, but it’s well worth the effort, especially if you feel you need to get a grip on the role television plays in your family.

3. Foster creativity

Fostering creativity doesn’t necessarily have to take a lot of work.  Many of the Love the Moment Challenges can be turned into hours of creative play. Being creative is about entertaining yourself and seeing beauty around you rather than the constant need to be entertained.  It’s a change of thinking, if you will.

TV Days

There are days when I do have the television on extended periods. Here are some examples:

1. Bad weather/Extreme circumstances

Back in January, when we were caught up in the Queensland floods and I was trying to move house, my kids watched more television than they ever had before. I didn’t like it, but it was the best I could do at the time.  While not ideal, there doesn’t seem to be any long lasting effects from that period.

2. Sickness

If I’m sick, or the kids are sick, I usually hire a few video rentals to give us something quiet to do.

3. Wit’s End

There are (many) times where I feel like I’m going crazy. This might be when the husband has been gone — like forever — on a weekend and I just need some quiet. Sometimes television can be a quiet activity that allows me to regroup myself.


This is my take on television and how it fits into our family. Yours may be different and that’s great. At the end of the day, our family is so busy doing a variety of things, we don’t have time to be addicted to television. And if I do feel our family is becoming too reliant on television, I reassess using red flags, be confident to say no and foster creative opportunities. Our family enjoys having television as part of life. But it’s just a part, and that’s how I like it.

How does television fit into your family life?

Television in Our Family Worksheet (if you’re like me, it can help to write things down so what you need to do is clear in your head. This worksheet may be helpful).

You Might Also Like...


  • Reply
    Kathryn Rodda
    May 10, 2011 at 11:54 am

    well said Kelly! My 3 & 5 year olds both have asthma, my 3yr old quite bad at times, so they can’t be outside in autumn/winter after about 4pm, sometimes earlier, otherwise we will be up all night with a coughing child, giving him puffers regularly. So at about 430pm ABC kids goes on. It means I can get dinner ready with out tripping over toys (we have a small house) and usually no fights etc, plus it’s their calm down time. I love all hte shows on at that time too, Grandpa in my Pocket, Olivia etc. I have found that the older two are saying words that stun me, like ‘That would be fantastic’ etc, then realised it was from the shows 🙂 (At least they are good phrases!) They often ask for tv, but if they can be doing something else, that’s what I direct them to do. I have the TV on in the mornings, but only on Sunrise, so they aren’t really interested unless there is a story about animals on it. We have a huge DVD collection too, thanks to older cousins 🙂

  • Reply
    May 10, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    I limit Monkey’s watching of TV. He’s 3 and watches a bit more than I comfortable with somedays and other days he doesn’t watch any. I’m hoping it balances out.

    He mostly watches DVDs – blues clues, winnie the pooh and chuggington. We also let him watch some morning kids shows after breakfast but only if he plays on his own for half an hour first (It’s called Mummy Time – I am terrible in the morning)

    Recently we discovered http://www.storylineonline.net and have watched a few of the stories on there.

    So about an hour to 2 hours a day on a bad day 🙂

  • Reply
    May 10, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    What a meaty post! Very timely for me as I have just posted about reducing my kid’s TV time. Your approach is interesting and I think I need to be more aware of the red flag issues. Much food for thought for me! Thanks x

  • Reply
    May 10, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    I’m all for reading guidelines and massaging them to work with your own lifestyle.

    Right now, with Tricky not yet one, the only TV he really watches is when we put on a Rhyme Time DVD and sing along together – and yes, I’ve put him in front of it alone as a babysitter when I just wanted to sit and drink a cup of tea or check my email!!

    My husband has been putting on ABC3 at wind down time but I’m not a fan of it then – I’d prefer before bed was story time, but bedtime is his area so we’re chatting about it and we’ll see what happens.

  • Reply
    katie b
    May 10, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    another great post, like most things its all about finding your balance, we also have no tv in the morning, but on a morning where i need to make a phonecall or organise lunches because i forgot to pack the night before i find i flick over to abc kids just so they are sitting and not messing up uniforms or fighting, during the day while the older 2 are at school the tv stays off mostly, and master 2 just plays around the house or outsdie depending on weather, and then the same in the arvo, i allow them tv time after jobs and homework are done, we do watch a bit of tv on weekends but its usually dvd’s some of the add’s they have on now are highly innapropriate, i seen an add yesterday for erection problems, id rather not explain that to my children just yet! but what works for my family doesnt always work for the next family, and if i have a red flag moment the tv gets switched off and they are sent outside

  • Reply
    May 10, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    I grew up in a family where the TV was always on, particularly at night. This became the pattern in my own family until a couple of years ago when we turned the TV off at night.
    At first getting use to the ‘silence’ felt weird and even ‘lonely’ but in persevering, now the sound of a still house with just a couple of dim lights left on is one of my favorite things. Except for watching special events or my one and only favourite show once a week, the screen lays black and I enjoy the peace of the evening.

  • Reply
    May 10, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    I grew up in a family where the TV was on constantly, especially at night.
    This become the pattern for my own family too. One night I turned the TV off and it change my evenings. At first the ‘quite’ and even ‘loneliness’ felt weird, but persevering to have quiet and still beautiful peaceful evenings now has been worth it. Now I only watch TV at night for special events or my once a week favorite show. It is amazing the difference nights of quite can make to a busy family life.

  • Reply
    May 10, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    Gracious me! I don’t think I could have nodded more in agreement as i read along with you if I tried. What a common sense approach you take and inadvertently I have been doing the same thing too, though as tv has increased (from after dinner wind down only) of late I have felt guilty. You are totally right, it’s about where it fits in with the other activities & with how much is going on at our house at the moment I shouldn’t feel guilty. Thanks for a brilliant piece!

  • Reply
    May 10, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    I don’t like TV and am extremely grateful that we do not have one in our home. We have a DVD only policy and truly it is so wonderful and encouraging to have the ability to monitor EVERYTHING that our children watch. Especially with no ads. I have found that it deepens the relationships within the family unit as we ‘have’ to (or in my view ‘get’ to) spend time together rather than watching.
    As a homeschooling parent it means that I can put educational and encouraging movies/shows on and pass it off as being a positive experience.
    Besides that I am usually watching with them, or doing the odd job close by so I have to put up with it too.
    I am unsure how other people have the time to watch tv.
    Thanks for the post, and yep it is food for thought!! xx

  • Reply
    May 10, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    Thanks for another great post. I often seem to feel guilty about my kids having too much TV, but when I look at your thinking on it all, I don’t think I should be feeling guilty after all.

  • Reply
    May 10, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    Hey Kelly, have been enjoying going over this post. Thank you for sharing your method for how you fit TV in with your family. It is great food for thought – as always 🙂

  • Reply
    May 11, 2011 at 8:12 am

    OUr television usually bounces – it builds up until I’m uncomfortable then comes down again. It’s quite obvious looking at the big girl that her behaviour gets out of control when she has too much screen time, so it’s limited.

    Most of the research is nowhere near as cut and dried as it sounds, because it doesn’t look at what the kids are doing when they aren’t watching TV – if kids run around for an hour, or nap, or read, or play imaginatively, they are all counted as ‘not-TV’ – so are they the same?

  • Reply
    May 11, 2011 at 9:00 am

    I am laughing so hard at this: “If my children don’t want to find something creative to do, then I have plenty of jobs around the place to keep them occupied”. If EVER we told my mum we were bored,exactly the same thing happened. So we learnt to entertain ourselves.

    To me, you have a really balanced and flexible approach to TV. When I was a child, our neighbourhood games centered around TV – we played Robin Hood and Rin Tin Tin (Ok, nobody is old enough to remember them, but you get the idea!). They also centered around books we read. Did it matter? No, we were imagining and creating the whole time.

    The key is always balance, isn’t it? And making sure creativity is a focus of family life rather than any kind of passive entertainment, whatever that may be.

  • Reply
    May 12, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    I just wanted to let you know that there is child driven research in the area of television and the research found that children needed television for areas of socialization at school!

  • Reply
    Magical Tales: An Interview and Giveaway | Be A Fun Mum
    May 25, 2011 at 7:21 am

    […] Tales: An Interview and Giveaway In my recent post Television: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, I talked about the role television plays in our family life and the potential for creative play […]

  • Reply
    Disney•Pixar Cars 2 is Coming Soon Plus Win a Family Pass
    June 3, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    […] Television: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly […]

  • Reply
    Words As Concepts
    June 14, 2011 at 11:03 am

    […] something creative to do” is a phrase I use often.  It may be when the kids have watched television for a while or if they are feeling bored. I guess what I’m trying to encourage is the […]

  • Reply
    Popcorn Cup: Free Printable Template
    June 30, 2011 at 8:32 am

    […] Television: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly […]

  • Reply
    Why do My Kids love the Octonauts so much?
    October 10, 2011 at 10:18 am

    […] Television: The Good, Bad and Ugly […]

  • Reply
    iReview: iPad
    January 3, 2012 at 11:03 am

    […] TV: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly […]

  • Reply
    Play Products I RAVE About
    March 20, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    […] Family movie nights (see it featured in this post) […]

  • Reply
    Disney and Pixar are raising my kids!
    June 17, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    […] How Television Fits into Our Family Life […]

  • Reply
    Disney and Pixar are Raising my Kids! | Social bookmarking
    June 17, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    […] How Television Fits into Our Family Life […]

Leave a Reply