No television for young children

TV watching

When Yara turned 22 months old and joined The Montessori Place we made the decision to not let her watch any form of television (including DVDs) until the age of three.  If you’re wondering why we made this decision, how hard it’s been to stick to our resolve and what has the outcome been, I’ll give you all the details here.

I tried to keep this post short, but there’s too much to say so perhaps grab yourself a smoothie and bear with me. My hope is that I offer a different possibility for any parents out there despairing over tantrums and demanding children.

What made us implement the no television resolve when she was 22 months old?

Both my husband and I are not really television watchers and when Yara was about two months old we were gifted a television, which was initially welcomed as it helped us do things like watch Wimbelon during the endless monotonous hours of looking after a newborn. As she started getting older and noticing the television we discovered Ceebees, a UK children’s channel without adverts and full of educational programs. Yara loved it and we soon fell into the welcoming arms of our new ‘babysitter’, which came in really handy when tasks needed doing like cooking and cleaning. Thirty minutes a day soon turned into an hour on a bad day, slightly longer on an even worse day.

TV watching-2

Before we knew it, age two was fast approaching and with that came the tantrums! We noticed that they were worse immediately after she had been watching television. Her vocabulary was still developing at this stage so it was guess work for us as we tried to determine what was going on for her. My husband kept suggesting that no television was something that we needed to implement, but in my sleep deprived state there was no way I was ready to give that up without some very convincing evidence.

Into our lives came Paul Pillai, one of the directors at The Montessori Place, AKA an angel in my eyes. After an hour and a half consultation with him about enrolling Yara in the school and I was ready to listen to anything this man had to say. He described a world of simplicity, ease, grace and respect and I wanted in on it. It was thanks to his beautifully written article that I began to make sense of what was happening to Yara when she watched TV and I felt it was my responsibility to offer her an experience of a simple childhood.

Growing up in Zambia, television was never something that featured majorly in my life. If we were lucky and the signal was working, the one and only television station, ZNBC, aired some kids programs for an hour from 5pm. They were never that good so playing outside in the garden alone or with other kids was always much more appealing.

What is the theory of no television for young children in a nutshell?

From my understanding of it, intelligence can only be built by real experience.  Language can only be learnt from real people.  The problem with television is not necessarily the content (there’s some highly education stuff out there), it’s the medium itself.  Television gives children a sense of reality happening a lot faster than it really is.  A fifteen or 30 minute program covers a huge span of time very quickly.  In a way, it has to be that quick because if it wasn’t children would soon loose interest.  So once the television gets turned off and life returns to it’s normal pace, this transition can be quite challenging for children – cue the tantrum.

A major consequence of television is that children get impatient with reality and can then have difficulty fixing their attention on things when they are older.  In many ways television is over stimulating the children when they are already soaking in so much in those first few precious years of their existence.  In boredom comes creativity, so instead of plonking kids in front of a television it’s arguably more beneficial to allow them to become bored and then their next creative idea is given space to emerge.

How did the changeover to no television go for us?

There’s no denying, it was hard work in the beginning!  We went cold turkey on her.  Yes there were tantrums and fortunately the power of distraction came in our favour. It meant much more work for us initially and took about two weeks until she stopped looking at the television and asking for it to be turned on.  Three weeks into the transition, the most amazing thing happened. I was in the kitchen cooking and Yara was on the floor with a basket of Duplo Lego and a board.  20 minutes had passed with me blissfully lost in the meditation of uninterrupted cooking and I glanced down to notice that Yara had been equally engaged with her task of organising the Lego blocks into equal length lines. It was then in that moment that I knew we were doing something good. I had never seen her so concentrated, content and engaged in a task.

Yara snorkelling on the reef-2

Have we managed to stick to our resolve?

Honestly, yes and no. We can control it in our own home, however in other people’s homes it’s been more challenging because it’s so much more than simply not watching television.  It’s about creating an environment free from distractions that invites creativity.

Yara turned three in May and over the summer we were ‘homeless’ for about 6 months while making our move to Turks & Caicos.  We stayed with family members and let the no television resolve slip. Yara loved it!  There were times while packing boxes that we relied on our old faithful ‘babysitter’ to look after her.  I reassured myself that allowing her to watch German Muzzy was at least doing something for her education.

It was really interesting to watch the change in her character from quite a calm natured and reasonable child to a bundle of tantrums and demands – quite frankly a bit of an obnoxious little princess at times.  On first waking she was demanding to watch something and asking consistently throughout the day at least 20 to 30 times if there wasn’t some form of attention or entertainment.  Her ability to play alone and get lost in her own world of imagination seemed to be slipping away.  In fairness to her and the situation, the change in character could also have been her reaction to being uprooting from the home of her birth and a whole heap of developmental changes all going on at the same time.

When we eventually moved into our new home in Turks & Caicos, the televisions that had been provided by the landlord were put into the cupboard and a simple and creative space was available for her once again.  After a week of demands and tantrums, our daughter that we fondly remembered had thankfully returned. Her creativity was in full swing again and her new existence being in the ocean almost daily was new fuel for her imagination. She constantly surprises me each day with the new ways she discovers to play with the limited range of toys that she has available at any given time.

Yara sand letters

I would love to hear what thoughts have been stirred for you on this topic in the comments section below.  Have you had a similar experience or any suggestions to recommend for us?


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