Monday, February 11, 2008

#171 - The Boob Tube

Shutting off the TV During the Day

I just finished reading "Consuming Kids, The Hostile Takeover of Childhood" by Susan Linn. It is an in-depth look at the advertising media, specifically, its questionable methodology of marketing to children.

Now, when I first started the book, Ms. Linn worked me up in to a nice indignant tizzy about the money-grubbing ad execs who would prostitute their own mothers for a few sheckles. However, the angry high wore off quickly and I soon found myself silently arguing with the deluded author.

Is it morally wrong for advertisers to tell kids to nag their parents? Sure.

Is it ethical to purposely target younger children with products that should be intended for a more mature audience? Prolly not.

Has advertising ever been the domain of the morally pure and ethically correct? Ummm, I don't think so.

It is, and always has been, my opinion that there are two people responsible for instilling basic moral concepts in my children. And neither one of them works in advertising. It is MY job to ensure that my children do not fall prey to the slick ad lines produces by marketers. It is MY job to ensure that my kids understand that family and friends are the most important assets in life - not gadgets and gizmos. It is MY job to teach them right from wrong, good from bad and even need from want.

Good God, these kids are screwed, aren't they?

I guess what I'm getting is that, while the book didn't exactly leave me feeling as outraged as its twitchy author, it DID open my eyes to the constant barrage of marketing I unwittingly foist upon my children each day through their television viewing habits.

Until I read that book, I'd considered myself a pretty decent mom. Not "great", but "good". Definitely a solid "OK" parent, at the least. Afterall, I never let my kids watch commercial television. It's either DVD's, PBS or a commercial-free children's station like Noggin or Boomerang. And I've already seen it payoff, because Ethan doesn't ask for any of the hyped-up, super-marketed crap the "real" tv channels advertise - even though I know kids his age that do.

But what I didn't even think about? What didn't even hit the radar? Was all the merchandising of the cartoons he does watch. Products like Tickle Me Elmo, Superman pajamas or Diego lunchboxes. All these Disney, Sesame Street, and Dora items that clog the shelves of the big box stores are the exact same shows I let my kids watch.

So what the hell am I supposed to do? Ban TV? NO WAY! Green and crazy are two different things. What I WILL do, though, is limit the amount they're watching. Often times, I turn the old boob-tube on just out of habit or to have background noise. Hell, sometimes the kids aren't even in the room!

So today's change will be to limit the tv. I'll allow a half hour in the morning (these kids are NOT morning people and I actually fear them when they first wake up. I mean, look at that:)
There will be the 2:00 pm "rest time" which I need (won't show you how I look by then). Although I'm going to try offering the option of playing quietly in their rooms for an hour and see how that goes.
Then there is the pre-bedtime half hour Tom and Jerry show. You know, cuz nothing calms a kid down for the night more than watching two cartoon animals pound the crap out of each other.

So that's it. Two hours of television per day. ugh. Even that sounds like too much, doesn't it? Hopefully they'll opt for playing in their rooms during rest. And if I juggle the day's schedule around a bit, I could move story time around and replace T&J with some good ol' book reading instead (I hear some parents read to their kids at bedtime - a novel idea, don'tcha think?).

Anyhow, I'm sure this post makes me sound like a HORRIBLE parent, but at least I'm a HORRIBLE parent taking a step in the right direction.


The idea behind this change is to reduce the consumeristic attitudes of the kids. However, it will also reduce my electricity by about .2 kilowatts every hour the tv is shut off. Assuming I turn it off 2 hours each day, that's 2.8 kWh per week, 12 kWh per month, 145 kWh per year.

Difficulty Level: 2 out of 5

I really do like the background noise. I think to help compensate, I'll dig out an old radio from somewhere and turn that on instead. Honestly, I don't know if this will be an easy transition or a hard one. I think I'm more hooked on the tube than the kids are! I might miss my Dora.


Heather said...

If you're on the BAD MOM train, then step aside, because I'm the freakin' conductor and you're in my way.

Green Bean said...

I know how you feel. When I finished that book, I started thinking of the Thomas cake I just baked my youngest, of the Diego shirt he was getting for his birthday, of the great find of the Star Wars shirt I found for my oldest at the local thrift shop. It's not just the TV but the characters that find their way into our lives. You start to realize that it's everywhere.

My kids are a bit older than yours I think - 3 and 5. They really play together now and give me a break in the afternoon. Another trick for me is to set out a big roll of paper and let them draw - that can take up 30-45 minutes of blessed silence. I'm still on the lookout for an appropriate (no blood, global warming dire predictions) nature DVD to show them when they either watch something or mommy explodes.

just ducky said...

First off--Heather's comment...I don't even know Heather, but it instantly made me love and respect Heather!

Second--I watched the movie, Matchstick Men (with Nicolas Cage and Sam Rockwell)last night...your post reminded me of my favorite quote from the movie "I'm not very good at being a father. I barely get by just being me!" A quote I replayed 3 times on the DVD because it made me laugh so hard and I understand the feeling so well...

Third--You've got to stop thinking you're driving the bad parent train. You aren't. In my experience it is the people who never question their parenting skills who actually suck at parenting. While limiting TV is always a great idea, your kids will be hit left and right with marketing crap via kids at school. They'll come home and say "if I don't have ___ then everyone will tease me". And if you are anything like me, and if you can afford whatever "it"'ll buy it because you can't let the little bully bastards squash your kids' self esteem.

Fourth--Do you have a kid's CD/Tape player? I always played music in my kids' room for them during rest time. That way I cut out the TV and kept them in their rooms so Mommy could sneakily partake of some yummy chocolate!

You are doing fine! Better than most parents, I'm sure. Now go look in the mirror and say "I'm good enough. I'm smart enough and Darn it, people like me!"

Burbanmom said...


Wow, you and I DEFINITELY watched the same tv shows growing up. I'm a huge SNL fan (you know, back when it was funny) and LOVED the daily affirmation! Also? Deep Thoughts By Jack Handy. Good stuff.

PS. That particular "Heather" is my big sis. She's hysterical and blogs over at the

Burbanmom said...


Wow, you and I DEFINITELY watched the same tv shows growing up. I'm a huge SNL fan (you know, back when it was funny) and LOVED the daily affirmation! Also? Deep Thoughts By Jack Handy. Good stuff.

PS. That particular "Heather" is my big sis. She's hysterical and blogs over at the

heather t (not her sister, but wish I was that funny) said...

I agree with all your points in this post, but what RILLY drives me bonkers is when you *can't* buy your kid something plain - it has to have this or that cartoon character on it or you can't get one, like "Jr." versions of board games.

And yes your kids will get bombarded in school (how bad probably depends on the school and its "clientele"), but you're giving them a good start by avoiding commercial TV as much as possible.

leslie said...

Who's the leader of the band that's made for you and me? M I C - K E Y M O U S E!

All you darlings are likely too young to remember Soupy Sales

His episode where he told kids to mail him the green paper from their parents wallets was a classic!

Anonymous said...

My kitties were enthralled by the documentary, "No End In Sight," last night. They're so smart. And afterwards, they didn't ask me for an Iraq War scratching post or water bowl tie-in, so I know they have their priorities in the right place.

Sometimes, reading posts like this, I wish for a second I was an actual mom so I could commiserate. And then I slap myself in the face and ask me what the heck I was thinking.

Burbanmom said...


Yeah, the one thing that WOULD definitely piss me off is if the elementary/middle/high schools had Coke sponsorships or other advertising in the schools. That one would definitely have me going after the school board.


Wow! How nice of you to offer to babysit for the weekend! They'll be on the next flight out! :-) Don't feed them sugar after 6pm and keep a mop handy as Daphne has recently developed a fear of grownup-sized toilets.

homeschoolmom said...

My kids are older (15, 12, 7), but I started them on audiobooks at a young age for lots of reasons (less TV being one). Audiobooks are fantastic at bedtime. There are tons available, Scholastic book clubs has monthly selections with the tape/cd plus the books so little kids can read along (perfect world) or look at pictures while the book is read. These are also good for passing around with a group of like-minded friends so you're not all buying more stuff all the time. I'm sure there are a bunch on eBay. Big favorites here are all the Little House on the Prairie cds (my 7yo daughter listens to these over and over and over) and the Anne of Green Gables series (even my 15yo son liked these). For us, the audiobooks actually promoted reading as a fun and worthwhile activity (seems counter-intuitive, but it worked for us) and helped the kids with their reading skills, too.

Anonymous said...

We never actually bought a tv (we were really broke when we first had kids) so I substituted music tapes when I needed the kids to get their hoohas out by dancing and book/story tapes when I needed them quieter. They learned tons of Greek and Norse myths with story CDs.

We also had quiet hour every afternoon when everyone had to lie on his or her bed for an hour. They could read/look at books, do puzzles, knit (my youngest never actually made anything but he knit long tangled messes frequently!) or string beads/do origami or any other quiet activity. You didn't need to nap (my kids were insistent that they didn't need a nap and weren't tired -- I finally explained that old people like mommy DID need naps so they had to have quiet hour while I napped).

I spent the hour on my bed with the New York Times and a fair amount of chocolate. It really made me a calmer/better mother.

Try it. You'll love quiet hour.

Wendy said...

I actually cut our cable to just the basic stations about a year or so ago, because some of the stations I thought I could trust for "safe" children's programming were the worst for kid-targeted advertising. When my daughter begged me for a "Sparkly Pink My Little Pony" that was it. And I agree with you. *I* am the one who is responsible to protecting my children against advertising, not the Disney Channel execs.

But I never actually thought about all of the promotional items for the shows they do watch.

If I could convince hubby to ditch the television altogether, I would. Maybe I'm not as convincing, because I'm not completely convinced :).

My kids get into the background noise aspect of television, and so I started turning off the tube and turning on the radio. Most of the time it works pretty well ;).

Burbanmom said...


Yeah, I would LOVE to drop to basic cable, but hubby would lose some of his sports programming so I can't. What I REALLY wish I could do is pick and choose the channels we buy on an individual basis. I'd be willing to pay a buck per channel, if I got to pick just the ones I wanted.

leslie said...

Me too, Erin! I have always said I would pay for individual channels, not "package" deals, on cable.

Ally said...

I've enjoyed reading the comments just as much as reading the post here! I wanted to say, though, you're doing great to think about ways to limit TV. Having no TV isn't realistic for my family, but we do try to limit it as much as possible. For our afternoon "quiet time" (read: stay-in-your-room-and-leave-mama-the-heck-alone-time) I reward 90 minutes of quiet time with 30 minutes of movie-time.

Melinda said...

2 hrs a day does seem like a lot, coming from someone who has no kids and just put her tv in the garage ; ). However, I used to be a nanny when I was in college. It's sure easy for me to say they should be reading or coloring or playing. Yeah, in an ideal world where moms and dads have nothing else to do, and kids are good all the time!

Kids learn about all these tv characters at schools, they need constant stimulation and sometimes you just want them to have a little quiet time... it's so easy to have the tv on! So kudos to you for reducing your kWH as much as you are.