Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Here's the real way to curb kids' TV watching -- but it might hurt a bit!

By Kelly Wallace, CNN
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Thu July 25, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Study: The top predictor of how much TV a child watches is how much parents watch
  • Parental viewing habits had a greater impact on kids' TV use than screen rules
  • Study involved more than 1,500 parents with kids 17 or younger
  • Moms have different opinions about whether their TV viewing affects their kids

Editor's note: Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. She's a mom of two girls and lives in Manhattan. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

(CNN) -- Recently, my 5-year-old turned the tables on me. Shortly after I told her she and her sister couldn't play any games on my iPhone, I picked up the device to check e-mail.

"Mom, how come you can be on the phone and we can't?" she asked.

I came to a halt, said she was exactly right and put the phone down. E-mail would wait!

I was reminded of that moment when I read about a recent study, published in the journal Pediatrics, that found that the best predictor of how much time a child spends watching television was not whether they had a TV in their bedroom or screen rules or the demographics of the household. It had to do with something else: how much television we, as parents, are watching ourselves!

"Kids observe what you do, so when they see you turning on the TV if you have free time ... then they are going to learn to do that themselves in their free time," said Amy Bleakley, senior research scientist with the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the authors of the study.

The online survey involved a national sample of 1,550 parents who have kids 17 and younger and included reports from 629 adolescents whose parents were in the sample. For every hour a parent spent watching television, their children were in front of the tube for 23 minutes, according to Bleakley.

"I think that parents who are concerned with the amount of time their children spend watching television and other media should really be aware of their own use," Bleakley said.

It makes sense if you think about it, said Lori Garcia, a mom of two boys, ages 5 and 10, and a blogger for Babble.com. "Anyone who has been a parent for any length of time knows that your children mimic your behavior far more than they listen to you across the board, so it actually doesn't surprise me to know how much TV a parent watches directly influences a child's attitude toward television."

Toddlers and technology: Good or bad?

Garcia generated quite a buzz a few years ago when she wrote a post about how she let her boys, including her then-toddler, have a television in their bedrooms. She said she and her husband have rules about how much television their boys can watch and are very careful about how they use it themselves.

Parenting advice from a non-parent

"We're doers," she said. "We're like, 'TV off. We have free time. Let's paint the kitchen. Let's organize the garage.' "

She found that even when her kids are allowed to watch television, especially when she and her husband are working on a home improvement project and they'd prefer the kids not be involved, the boys want to join them versus spend time watching a show.

"They are so much more interested in what we're doing," she said. "So it's really true (about) how you spend your free time. Your kids are going to be directly influenced."

READ: More children injured by toppling TVs

Well, maybe not in every household. Listen to Amy Oztan, mother of two and host of the hilarious blog Selfish Mom. She loves television and has it on most of the day while she works from home. Her son, who's about to turn 12, shares her passion for television viewing, while her daughter doesn't watch much at all.

"This really speaks to the whole nature versus nurture thing," she said, noting that both kids were raised in the same house pretty much the same way.

"It's the way they came out. I feel like they come out a certain way, and you've got some room to move them in one direction or another, but you are not going to totally change who they are, no matter whether it's a good habit or a bad habit."

Oztan doesn't enforce any screen rules as long as the kids are "behaving" but also doesn't believe in having televisions in her kids' bedrooms. To her, the whole issue of television and kids should be based on each individual family's experience.

"I think that the key is, you have to do what works for you. I know plenty of kids who, if you did give them unlimited screen time, they would take unlimited screen time, and their grades would suffer, and they would be brats, and then obviously (you would) have to do something," she said.

My kids seem to be a lot like Amy's: One loves television; the other likes it, just not as much. But I'm really making a mental note about the study's findings. We tend not to have the TV on when the kids are awake, but they know that we often turn it on right after we kiss them good night.

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

This study, like so many others, is probably another good reminder that our actions don't always affect our kids, but they certainly can.

"It's what we eat, they're watching. It's what we watch. It's what we listen to. It's the messages that we're listening to on the radio and the music, and what we're reading, and just how we're choosing to spend our time and what we value," Garcia said. "So I think that it's important for us to not only to look at this in terms of television but really look at this in terms of anything we bring into our house."

Agreed. Now I'm heading home to finish writing this article in front of them. If I write in my free time, maybe they'll be even more turned on to writing, too?

Follow Kelly Wallace on Twitter and on Google+, and like CNN Living on Facebook.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Sarah McLachlan, the Grammy Award winning singer, was barely out of her teenage years when her first album came out in 1988. Now, she's a 46-year-old divorced mom of two girls touring the country to promote her seventh full-length solo album called "Shine On."
Can a building or park make you happier? See 10 ways our shared spaces are being re-invented through fresh design.
updated 7:54 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Researchers say physical punishment actually alters the brain -- not only in an "I'm traumatized!" kind of way, but also in an "I literally have less gray matter in my brain!" kind of way.
updated 4:41 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
The case of a South Carolina mother arrested for allegedly leaving her 9-year-old daughter at a park for hours while she worked at a nearby McDonald's has sparked a robust debate online about whether this mother should ever have been arrested and how young is too young to leave a child on his or her own.
updated 11:15 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
CNN's Kelly Wallace reveals 5 common parenting mistakes that many parents admit to making.
updated 8:44 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Is it a bad idea for parents to let kids drink underage at home, or does an early sip make drinking less taboo? Studies are divided on the subject, which is a tough nut for parents to crack.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cellphones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night
updated 2:40 PM EDT, Tue July 15, 2014
Professional photographer Timothy Archibald uses his camera to connect with his autistic son.
updated 9:16 AM EDT, Mon July 14, 2014
Do you wish you could outsource the summer cooking, cleaning, and camp planning associated with kids? Here are 5 ways to do it -- and why you shouldn't feel guilty about it.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Tue July 15, 2014
The death of a Georgia toddler in a hot car raises the question: should government or automakers get involved to prevent accidental deaths from heatstroke inside a car?
updated 11:04 AM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
It's not just the 'baby blues.' Postpartum depression affects about 15% of new mothers. Here's what one 'warrior woman' is doing to fight it.
Post your personal essays and original photos, and tell us how it really is.
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
What does it mean to run "like a girl"? A new viral video points out that the answer changes depending on whom you ask.
updated 5:22 PM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
CNN reporter Moni Basu lived in the U.S. nearly 30 years before becoming a citizen. Here's what it meant to pledge her allegiance.
updated 5:07 PM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
Her daughter was cut from the team. Her son didn't get into that coveted honors class. It was hard but also helpful. Here's how one mom learned to find lessons in failure.
updated 11:56 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
The presence of transgender and gender nonconforming youth at NYC Pride March is latest effort to increase visibility of the transgender community.
updated 6:27 PM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
A new ad by the hair care company Pantene asks why women are always apologizing and raises the question of whether women say "sorry" more often than men.
updated 8:48 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
The American Academy of Pediatrics announced new guidelines this week urging doctors to tell parents to read to their infants and toddlers.
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Sat June 28, 2014
David Martinez grew up thinking he was just an average American kid. When he learned he was undocumented immigrant, it made him re-examine his beliefs about Mexican identity.
updated 1:47 PM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
A new survey says that working fathers, like working mothers, find it hard to balance work and family.
updated 6:29 AM EDT, Fri June 20, 2014
Jenny Mollen has no issue tweeting her breastfeeding. The new author talks motherhood and having a (more) famous husband
updated 5:20 PM EDT, Thu June 19, 2014
Experts say "mean girl" behavior begins as young as elementary school. Here's how to prevent raising a mean girl.
updated 6:40 PM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
While dads today don't get the same respect and attention as moms, and are often depicted as clueless, they've come a long way, baby.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Wed June 18, 2014
North West, the 1-year-old daughter of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, is already a social media darling due to her mom's active presence on Instagram. Now the child's new look is sparking some controversy online.
updated 4:48 PM EDT, Wed June 18, 2014
In this celebrity mecca, where the issue usually is "Who's your daddy," actor Jason Patric is engaged in a court fight that raises an even thornier question: What is a daddy?
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri June 20, 2014
If you weren't part of the "cool club" in middle school, you may have an extra spring in your step after hearing about a new study, which could be titled "Revenge of the Nerds."
cnn, parents, parenting, logo
Get the latest kid-related buzz, confessions from imperfect parents and the download on the digital life of families here at CNN Parents.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT