Written by: Cally Worden
Could you live without TV in your home for 10 days? The practical answer is of course, Yes. No-one ever died from boredom before the TV was invented. But really – would you consider it? And how do you think it would play out if you did? Is there any benefit? The thinking behind the idea is to illustrate to families just how influential the media is on our lives, and make them think before reaching for the remote, especially where the kiddies are concerned. So how would it work?
The 10-Day No TV Challenge
The concept came from a 2001 study by one Doctor Tom Robinson, who claimed to have found that when children watched less TV and played fewer electronic games, they were calmer at both home and school. Other research programmes had already linked TV and games to increased aggression, but prior to the Robinson study no real solutions were proposed or evaluated.
Using 8-10 year olds school kids for his research, Robinson’s colleagues first established control data that showed kids watching an average of 15.5hrs of TV, 5hrs of DVD and 3hrs of gaming each week. He then left one group be and delivered teaching on the benefits of reducing TV and games exposure to another, and challenged this second group further to abstain for 10 days from any form of TV, Film or gaming, and subsequently limit their time spent on these activities after the challenge to just 7 hours a week.
After the research period had ended he questioned both groups on how much TV, DVD and game time they were now indulging in. The group that had received the teaching on reducing time spent on these activities, and had taken the 10-day No TV Challenge showed a 33% reduction in the hours dedicated to the activities. The first group reported no change.
Incidences and perceptions of aggression were also measured in each group both before and after the study, with a broad finding of a 25% reduction in aggression in those who had taken the 10-Day No TV Challenge.
This research suggests that reducing TV and games time can be beneficial to the mental well-being of children and those around them. It offers a solution to the problem. But can it really work in practice?
A Mini-Case Study
I’m the first to admit that my kids probably watch too much TV. My husband and I don’t generally indulge too much, mainly because we’re usually too busy cleaning/cooking/bathing the kids/washing/managing the kids/ironing and oh yes, working too. But when we do switch off, it’s often to a TV show or favourite DVD.
Pre-kids, we lived without TV for about a year when we first moved to France. At first it was weird, but then it was okay. We read in companionable silence. We played cards and board games. Or chatted, or went for a walk, or took an, ahem, early night. We filled our time in other ways. Until the World Cup was looming on the horizon and DH started pining. And so our TV-free life was over.
Did we feel better for it? I can’t honestly say I noticed, but with TV now back I do occasionally get fed up of the sound and images and crave a quiet night curled up with my Kindle. Or that could just be the effect of two kids! Speaking of whom – how would they cope with NO TV?
A 10-Day Break of Sorts
As it happens, my family has just come home from a 10 day trip to the UK, where as usual we trekked manically around the country seeing as many of our family and friends as possible. We stayed in 4 different places, all homes with a TV, complete with CBeebies and Tiny Pop. But because we were not in our own environment, and out of courtesy and respect to our hosts, we spent a lot more time being social than we would normally have done at home. Consequently the kids watched far less TV.
This wasn’t a complete suspension of normality by any means, but their viewing probably plummeted from an average of 3hrs a day to just 1hr a day. They didn’t start gibbering (apart from the usual instances of this). They didn’t have tantrums and throw themselves helplessly on the floor, sobbing in protest. What they did was play. And interact with us and the people we were staying with. Our kids play a lot independently anyway, but this extra time away from the box saw them take it to another level.
Already creative in their play at home, my girl seized the chance to lose herself completely in fantasy worlds of fairies and princesses, and my little lad relished the chance to play, undistracted, with trucks, cars, trains, and anything else with wheels he could lay his hands on. They were charming (most of the time) in the way socialised with each new set of people, and thrived in the company temporary new playmates and all their toys. They are not aggressive kids anyway, so I can’t comment on that part of the study, their behaviour in that respect was unchanged.
In short, they had a good time. Do I think they came out of their shells more than they do at home? Yes, a bit. But I’m not sure how much of that has to do with the fact we once again found ourselves in our native language – neither child is totally bilingual in French yet, especially not my little boy, so the chance to play and socialise without having to think about words and verb constructions doubtless played its part. But I’m also sure that the limited TV stimulated their minds into creative play out of necessity, and also made them appreciate the box-time they were allowed far more than normal. It’s made me reflect on how much screen time we allow, and more mindful of the need to introduce regular breaks. How long this new Mummy-diligence will last is anybody’s guess, but it makes me feel all ‘Earth Mother’ for a short time!
Are you willing and able to take the challenge in your home? Do you already limit how much your kids watch and play? What do you think are appropriate limits? We’d be fascinated to have your views on this.