Kids and T.V. {can you go screen-free?}

kids and t.v.

photo credit: sarahreido


As a parent, I recognize the risks of TV marketing and felt (naively) confident when I first heard about “Screen-Free Week”, which takes place this year from April 18-24, 2011. This celebration is intended to raise awareness of how much time we as adults spend in front of “entertainment screen media” and encourage families, schools and communities to unplug and engage in activity together.

My family recently gave up our sub-basic cable service after realizing that the programming was not worth the monthly fee. Still, after an active day outside my children will often spend some time in front of a movie to relax. While we are taking some big steps in the right direction, I am still concerned about the consequences of saturating our children with media.

Consider the statistics:

  • According to Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, children under the age of five log an astonishing average of 32 hours of screen time per week and that figure increases (sometimes dramatically) with the child’s age.
  • Depending on the source and the person, the average American consumer (adult or child) is exposed to anywhere from 500 to 3,000 advertisements per day.
  • Although figures vary widely, it is estimated that the food and beverage industry spends upwards of $1.2 billion annually to market their products to children (this figure does not include cross promotion, ads during general programming, advertising in the schools or much of the internet advertising). The vast majority of those food products were high in fat, calories and/ or sodium and very low in nutrient density.
  • WebMD reports there is a strong correlation between the amount of time young children spend in front of a TV and an increase of Body Mass Index, lower grades and higher intake of nutritionally deficient foods and beverages.

What makes screen time a negative activity?

Media and marketing messages

Big corporations are thriving at the expense of our children. They are working very hard to increase profits by product placement and commercials. Excessive screen time means they have more exposure to this very specific and targeted advertising.


More than 1,000 different studies have proved that repeated exposure to violence in certain children can cause increased aggression, desensitization to violence and general fear of safety.

Sexual Content

Exposure to sexual content in the media (even if it is only talk and not visually provocative) can significantly affect the likelihood that a young adult will engage in promiscuous activity.

Health Concerns

Many children are replacing healthy, educational and community-building activities to sit in front of a screen. This alone can negatively affect their health. However, if the programs they are watching and games that they are playing not only promotes but glamorizes behaviors such as smoking and drinking, they have added pressure to join in. Alcohol and tobacco industries capitalize on this type of pressure, enough to spend billions each year to continue advertising indirectly to our youth.


How much is too much?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents keep children away from the “screen” entirely until the age of two and then limiting quality programming to 1-2 hours during the preschool years.


What can we do as parents?

1. Limit screen time and use incentives to “earn” the privilege. We require positive behavior reports from school in order to earn movie time in the evening. Other suggestions include reading one book in exchange for one hour of video games or TV.

2. Watch TV with your child. For a younger child, this is a great time to reinforce the educational components of programming. During primetime viewing, you can talk to your older kids about the choices their favorite characters are making or objectively evaluate the marketing messages during commercial time.

3. Find alternatives to the screen when you are distracted. Teach your child to help with chores or give them a similar activity to help them feel included in the task.

4. Choose educational programs and limit exposure to commercials. We have easy access to the library and prefer to preview videos for content and quality rather than exposing them to countless commercials for junk food or violent movie previews.

5. Create rules to encourage physical activity. For example, in our house we don’t turn the TV on if the sun is out. Another idea is to have children do exercises during commercial time or participate in an exercise video together and count that towards weekly screen time.

Be aware that while you may be convinced that limiting screen time is important, it may be more difficult to get your family to support your enthusiasm for unplugging the media. Take baby steps toward your goal… and start by challenging your family to participate in “Screen-Free Week” April 18-24, 2011. There is some great research and helpful resources available on the CCFC’s website to get you started.


natural living momsJana Christian, mother of two, recently transitioned to full-time stay-at-home mom. Her extensive knowledge about and passion for health and nutrition have helped her resolve her own personal health issues (including a life-threatening eating disorder and severe postpartum depression) and adjust her family’s diet to accommodate multiple food allergies and environmental sensitivities. Jana takes her job very seriously and can unusually either be found at the library researching new theories or in the kitchen baking bread.



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This blog is for educational purposes only. The information provided by Donielle, or any contributor, is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any condition. If you are seeking medical advice, please search out a qualified health practitioner.

About donielle

Donielle is a natural momma of two, lover of real foods, and owner and editor of Grand Rapids Natural Living and Naturally Knocked Up. You can usually find her in the kitchen whipping up some nourishing foods, cuddled on the couch reading books to the littles, avoiding the laundry and Mt. Saint Dishes, or tapping away on the laptop. Her husband puts up with her sometimes crazy "hippie" ways, but loves her regardless. Welcome to my home away from home.


  1. When we moved into our farmhouse 4 years ago, we decided to stop paying for our extra cable service because it just wasn’t worth it. Then, we had some trouble with the wiring from our dish that also provides basic cable here in Germany — so we are now completely without regular TV. If we watch something, it’s from a DVD or online, so we’re choosing to watch it, not just sitting around with the TV to keep us company. I think it’s really changed our lives, even though some people can’t understand how we “live” without TV.

    Our 2yo is pretty in love with Elmo, Max & Ruby and The Backyardigans — but I can also see her learning something when she gets to watch these shows…so I definitely don’t see it to be all bad.

    • @Tiffany @ No Ordinary Homestead, I wholeheartedly agree… The little TV/screen-time that my children have is well monitored and is a “treat” for physical activity. The organization getting the word out about this event is interested in the “big picture” (pun intended) dangers of marketing saturation, obesity and other (all too common) ills of our younger generation. I’m lucky if I can get my children to take a “rest” period and watch a documentary with us and the quality programming you mention does, in fact, encourage learning! Keep up the great work!


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