Getting kids to ‘agree’ to TV limits


From the archives: The original post was posted on 24 Apr 1996

“I just thought I would put my 2c worth in on the TV debate. I was quite relaxed in my approach to my children watching TV and concurrently watched their TV time increase – until they were watching nearly 5 hours (or more sometimes) per day. I noticed they were not playing games, with friends, reading etc which I considered a very necessary part of growing up (and of being grown up!). I then had to find a solution to the problem I had allowed to grow. I sat them down and talked to them about how many things there are to do apart from watching TV, I said I understood that they liked to have some time to just ‘veg out’ and to watch some fun and informative shows as well, we discussed the problem and came to a solution. Now on Sundays they sit down with the TV guide and plan and write out their list of programs they are going to watch for the coming week, for the agreed total of 10 hours. We have the flexibility to go over that limit occasionally, but I have found that if they have something they really want to watch then they do not watch – for example – cartoons so they have enough time in their ‘budget’ for the week. This has provided an excellent solution to the problem for us and has found the children finding other activities to expand their repertoire. We are now all much happier.”

I watch TV quite a lot. I do this because I enjoy it. So if someone was to suggest to me that actually I don’t enjoy it, and that there are other things that I would rather be doing I would have to tell them that they were wrong.

What you consider to be an “important part of growing up” is no longer relevant, because you are not growing up anymore. The only relevant1 ideas on what is an “important part of growing up” for your children come from your children. If they do not particularly want to play more games with their friends, do you think that somehow gives you a right to make them? According to your theory, “an important part of growing up” is to have the one thing that you find mostenjoyable rationed, against your wishes, and without decent explanation. I know you think that you gave them an explanation, and that they even agreed, but I’m sure you are wrong about that too (see below).

Before television was invented it was often decided that children played with their friends too much, and should be made to read more books. What next? Children play around in virtual reality too much, and should be made to watch more television? There will be people who say this. Your children probably will. For the sake of creativity this chain has got to end now.

So now your children are not only forbidden to watch television when they want to, they are also forced to spend some of their Sunday trying to decide which program they would least hate to miss. Why? By what right are they put through that pain? Rationing is for people who are very short of something, e.g. they have to be careful with their money. It is not for people who, someone else has decided, are getting too much of what they want. You claim that

“This has provided an excellent solution to the problem for us and has found the children finding other activities to expand their repertoire.”

But what you really mean is “This has provided an excellent solution to my problem of how to get my children to do less of the thing they like most, and has forced them to make do with other activities that I like them doing but are less enjoyable, as they have no other option.”. Also it is not “their budget”, it is simply an unjust and unnecessary limit you have placed on their fun. But your biggest blind spot of all is when you claim “We are now all much happier.”, when what you really mean is “I am now much happier”. If you went to your children and said “You can now have 11 hours TV ration instead of 10, though I still think 10 would be best for you.”, then, as I’m sure you would agree, their answer would hardly be “No mummy, please, we want to be rationed to ten hours, that’s what we agreed”. Instead, they would eagerly grasp any extra time you allowed them. This is hardly the response of someone who genuinely prefers to be rationed to 10 hours. Unless they do reply in that way, they haven’t really agreed, have they? So what has really happened is that you have forced them to stop watching, isn’t it? And then you have forced them to pretend you are not forcing them.

Don’t elect yourself as being suitable to make decisions for other people’s lives, whoever they are, because you aren’t and you can’t. And you certainly shouldn’t try to make yourself feel non-coercive by making a so-called agreement with them, because if they wanted less time, they wouldn’t need you to suggest it. We children aren’t stupid you know.

From that stupid, limited-repertoire, TV-addict kid,



1. Sorry, I didn’t mean it isn’t relevant, I just meant it isn’t what counts most. Of course you should discuss such matters with your children. I’m just saying that, just because you think X, X should not become a law for your children to follow until you decide otherwise. There is no harm in telling your children ideas which might affect their decision, just as long as it is their decision in the end, rather than yours.

See also:

Nick, 1996, ‘Getting kids to “agree” to TV limits’,