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Television and your family: is it a problem?

By Isabel Kallman

Did you know that this week is National Turnoff Week? Neither did I. And did you know that it’s not a week to describe your turnoffs to your partner? (“Ear nibbling. The word ‘creamy.’ And, oh, that shirt that you think looks good on you.”) The things you learn!
No, National Turnoff Week is a campaign to get people everywhere, kids and adults alike, to reduce their time in front of the television and related screens (yes, watching videos on Youtube counts). The idea is, you renounce your television-watching ways for one week, and then at the end of the week you realize how much quality time you’ve spent with your kids, and presto–fewer mind-numbing television hours for your family in the future.
I like this idea, but sadly (or fortunately, depending on what time of day you catch me) Henry is at his grandparents’ house this week, so we couldn’t put it into effect (at least not with Henry around, which I believe is sort of the point) and also, I didn’t find out about National Turnoff Week until, um, today.
Anyway, I don’t view our television watching as any kind of problem that needs fixing. Mostly, barring illness or snow day (or if he wake up insanely early on a Saturday morning), we’ve got it under control. The rule is one show after school, and we (mostly) stick to that. Hey, sometimes he finds out THE BEST SHOW EVER is on next, and I’m still making dinner, and am in fact a human and not an android. But nine times out of ten, he will cheerfully turn the television off after his allotted time is up, and join me in the kitchen to criticize my dinner choices. Ah, quality time.
I will say that what he wants to watch these days gives me pause. Currently my son is besotted with a show called Ben10. In case you’re unfamiliar (and thank your lucky stars if you are), Ben 10 is the story of a young boy who comes across an alien watch-like device that will allow him to turn into different aliens. The aliens, natch, all have superhero-like abilities. Most of them sport ripped abs. That’s just how it is in galaxies far, far away.
Like most entertainment options of which I have disapproved, this show was discovered early one Saturday morning while Henry watched television with Scott, who is much more willing to stray from educational programming than I (especially on Saturday mornings, when I am luxuriating in sleeping late and really can’t criticize his choices). (Except I still do. Hi, Scott!) So what do I dislike about Ben-10? Hmm, let’s see. It’s chock full of cartoony violence, for one: freakish mesomorphs pummeling each other without any apparent lasting ill effect. Number two, Ben is a whiny jerk and if Henry ever imitated his behavior even a little I would sell him. Three, Ben and his cousin Gwen (see how everything rhymes!) are jerks to each other. Four, that theme song will NEVER LEAVE MY HEAD.
But then, I can definitely see why Henry loves the show. I mean, come on. A little boy has the power to turn into multiple superheroes, and destroy the bad guys. What, exactly, is not to love? And I like the way Henry watches the show—he immediately has to reenact the episode, as soon as it’s over. With embellishments, of course. Since discovering Ben 10, Henry draws alien after alien, both ones from the show and his own creations, and they’re truly impressive. He’s also written and illustrated his own Ben 10 stories, and he has plans for us to write a script and send it to the show.
Would he have expressed his creativity in other, probably more original ways, without Ben 10? Probably. (He does, by the way. Sometimes.) I’m not saying that television has helped him become a better person, but that it hasn’t wreaked the damage the doomsayers all say it does. He’s not violent. He doesn’t model the behavior I dislike seeing on the show. Not once has he called us any of the names that Ben and Gwen like to toss at one another. Nor has he blown us away with a reverse ion beam or scrambled our DNA. I wonder what I would do if I did see negative behavior that I felt was related to his watching this one particular show. It’s hard to say, because of course it would depend on what that behavior was, and how pervasive it had become. Is it him calling me an idiot, or knocking out a kid on the playground? Could I be sure it was closely related to Ben 10? It’s hard to say. Small children, as we know, are not necessarily known for their impulse control, television shows or no.
What’s your take on your kids and television? Did you turn off your TV for the week? If you didn’t, do you think you should?

Published April 25, 2008. Last updated August 21, 2013.
Isabel Kallman
About the Author

Isabel Kallman

Isabel Kallman is the founding mom of

Feel free to send nice emails to isabel[at]alphamom[dot]com.


Isabel Kallman is the founding mom of

Feel free to send nice emails to isabel[at]alphamom[dot]com.

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  • SuburbanCorrespondent

    April 25, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    Nope – it’s already off, mostly. We’ve always lived that way, so it’s no big deal for us. It’s not so much an issue of what they watch, but of what the watching time is displacing. So far, from 16 years of research, I can tell you that the TV-watching time displaces a moderate amount of creative play interspersed with many episodes of whining (“I’m bored” and “There’s nothing to do”) and fingerpointing (“She’s looking at me” and “He’s humming again,” just for 2 examples). So why do we put up with the lack of TV? We’re just crazy that way. And if you do live without TV for more than a week (say, 6 months), you really do find much of it rather shocking to have on in front of children. Also, embarrassingly stupid. Or maybe that’s just my inner elitist snob saying that. Most people seem to enjoy it, but I just don’t get it. And it’s definitely not worth the 50 bucks a month it would cost me to have cable.

  • Cobwebs

    April 25, 2008 at 7:22 pm

    I didn’t turn off my TV for the week, largely because I didn’t know it was a Special Week for it either. Um…heh.
    We’re reasonably permissive with the amount of TV watched, but the only channels allowed are educational ones. So if the kids want to watch a documentary on the History of Jute, they’re welcome to it. Otherwise, we’re more than happy to play with them.
    We haven’t raised any psychopaths *yet*.

  • Fairly Odd Mother

    April 25, 2008 at 9:35 pm

    We’re on year 3 of doing this ‘Week of no TV’—-not really b/c I think TV is so bad, but more as an exercise in ‘change’. I don’t use the time for more family bonding b/c, good god, we get enough of that. And, I still watch whatever I want after the kids go to bed.
    Oddly, the kids don’t get really upset that there is no screen time for a few days. They just go and play. I’m not really sure if this week makes a difference one way or another except to let us all know that their lives are fine with, and without, it.

  • Holly

    April 26, 2008 at 9:43 am

    OK, we also didn’t know about the Turn Off Week. So, we did watch tv this week… Mostly I’m commenting to commiserate about Ben 10. Similar story over here. Last summer my husband and son were watching tv together and found it. My husband also has looser standards than I do, so it has become a male-bonding favorite in our house. My five year old now has several aliens and his own omnitrix. He loooves the show. Since it is a father-son favorite, it is something that is watched whenever I’m not around. It’s reserved for those rare evenings (sometimes even afternoons) when I get to leave the house alone. I’m not crazy about it, but honestly, if that’s what it takes for me to have a night off, so be it. And, Alice, I have found the same things you have-not violent, no name-calling, no behavior modeling, etc. It’s not my first choice for how he should spend his time, but he doesn’t seem any worse for it. He has a great imagination, he’s very active and he’s a very healthy five year old boy.

  • MSG

    April 27, 2008 at 9:05 am

    Ironically we are currently watching tv so that I can have coffee time and read some blogs! I find that if i get up in the morning before the kids do, the amount of tv watching is minimal. if i miss my window of opportunity, and the tv gets turned on while i am still trying to wake up…it is an uphill battle! becaue the kids favorite line is just one more mommy. thankfully no tantrums just some whining.
    my motto is everything in moderation(okay maybe not everything)
    A friend of mine has actually chosen to do a turn off season from memorial day to labor day…

  • Reverie

    April 27, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    If I didn’t live three time zones away, I’d love to meet for coffee! I enjoy reading your thoughts about life, because you view them from multiple angles and seem very grounded.
    I had no idea the TV should have been off last week…probably because there are a few shows I hate to miss 🙂 I think knowing what your children watch, discussing it with them, and making sure shows are age-appropriate is important. And for those shows that make you cringe–for me it’s the Suite Life of Zach and Cody–make sure to throw in a few parental wisdomisms during each episode!
    I posted a similar blog re: computer games a few months ago–great minds think alike!

  • AEMom

    April 28, 2008 at 8:57 am

    My boys stumbled across this show from playing the game on the Teletoons website. I’m not that crazy about it either. But my younger son (age 5) loves me to print out all the colouring pages I can find on the Internet and patiently colours and cuts them out and glues them into a book — and these skills are much improved since then. The 2 of them also re-enact the shows but the worse thing they have done is call each other a dweeb. It’s gets them running around outside to play Ben 10, it gives them something to do for half an hour while I take a shower, and it’s improving their fine motor skills with all the colouring. So I guess it’s been pretty positive.

  • CJ

    April 28, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    We took the lazy way out and don’t watch any TV ever. My husband and I don’t miss it because we are way too busy and exhausted to sit down even for some quality brain-rotting. We do occasionally plug our 2 year old in front of a Thomas video if we need to get some housework done.
    Our main reason for not wanting TV shows in our house is the child-targeted advertising. That stuff scares me way more than violent aliens with washboard abs.
    OK, I admit, every four years we buy cable for two months so my European husband can watch the World Cup. Our son was just a baby last time, but during the next World Cup I’m sure he will discover the cartoon network and about 50 toys he “needs”.

  • Mallory

    April 28, 2008 at 10:58 pm

    I turned off the t.v. 3 years ago and haven’t turned it back on yet. I’m particlularly glad now that I have a 6 mo. old, who, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, shouldn’t see any television before the age of 2. And, as CJ mentioned above, the child-targeted advertising is waaaay too scary for me.

  • anna

    May 8, 2008 at 10:56 am

    Here are some facts, in no particular order:
    I’ve watched The Simpsons almost my entire life- the show itself is a wee bit younger than me. My parents went to college with Matt Groening, so they never saw anything wrong with us watching it.
    My brother and I used to have arguments about whether we were going to watch Bill Nye or The Simpsons, because they were on against each other (the Simpsons reruns and Bill Nye).
    Luckily, Nature, Nova, Antiques Roadshow, Scientific American, and all the Star Treks were generally NOT on against each other.
    I got a 1520 on the old-fashioned, out of 1600, SAT, including an 800 (perfect) verbal.
    My main after-school entertainment was TV, although during the crappy time between the kids shows and the good syndicated reruns (Simpsons!), and after dinner, I did a lot of reading.
    If I was home during the day due to sickness, Mom expected me to NOT watch TV, unless I was super sick and something REALLY good was on.
    I have a National Merit Scholarship.
    We didn’t get cable until about a month before my 10th birthday (the day my “baby” cousin was born!) and when we did, my brother and I mostly watched the Discovery Channel, its relatives, History Channel, BBC America, Food Network, and HGTV. Edumacational stuff, you know.
    One of the few things my whole immediate family has in common is TV, and we like it that way.
    TV is great for kids IF it’s good tv to begin with. We watched mostly PBS and sci-fi stuff, and the Mariners baseball games. If nothing good was on, we listened to NPR instead.

  • PlanningQueen

    May 9, 2008 at 9:47 am

    I wrote a post about this a couple of months ago here. We have moderated TV in our house and we equate TV and Computer time s they are both sedentary activities. I find that I am on the conservative side about what I will let the kids watch. Ben 10 is one of the shows that is on the not to watch list actually. I have four children aged from 2 to 9.5. When the TV is on it needs to be appropriate for all those who are around. Our eldest son gets a stay up late night once a week and can choose to watch something different then, but he generally chooses to go on the computer.
    BTW – I have a free e-book to download on my my site that you might be interested in called Planning With Kids Top 100 Tips.

  • Andrea

    May 14, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    I’ve gone back and forth between being a TV nazi and being like, “why don’t you go watch some tv for a while?” (and stop bothering me!!). Mostly I think because my firstborn would turn into a glazed-over potted plant while watching, but his two little brothers watch for about 8 seconds before bouncing around the room like hyenas. I just read the Alphabet Versus the Goddess and now I’m like, “Yes! Watch TV and enhance your right-brain development!” Although I must say my six-year-old got “Superman Returns” for a birthday present and I had to put it up on the “not till you’re a lot older” shelf…and then had to explain why we let him watch “Superman” starring the late Christopher Reeves but not the recent PG-13 version (“Things were a lot different in the 80s”).

  • Amy-may

    May 14, 2008 at 10:15 pm

    We unplugged our cable 14 years ago. After an arguement, my DH packed the TV in a box, cancelled cable, and rearranged the entertainment center. I spent two weeks, at home, 8 months pregnant…and never noticed that the TV was gone. So, I’m just not a TV person. We get the cheapest Netflix, and generally alternate a kid appropriate movie with an “adult” movie. So, about one movie a week, that’s all folks.