Do you love TV?  I'm not ashamed to say it (okay, maybe a little): I love TV.  

I love movies.  I love getting lost in characters, and costumes, and plots, and twists.  We’re living in a golden age of TV and content - there’s just so much out there that is absolutely delicious to watch.

And it’s not limited to just grown-up stuff either.  As I’m sure you know, there’s almost unlimited amounts of content just for kids, right at your fingertips (or theirs, once they’ve scaled the fireplace mantle to get the remotes that were purposely left out of reach).

But what about not being a total #parentingfail when it comes to TV?

Penelope Leach, the renowned British child psychologist, has an interesting (and warm, human, understanding) take on it in her book, Your Baby & Child:

“The more children enjoy TV, the more inclined their parents are to see it as a seductive time waster...The usually unmasked question though is ‘What would your child be doing if she were not watching TV?’  If the honest answer is, ‘Squabbling with her sister,’ or ‘Moping around waiting for me to come home from work,' it’s difficult to see how viewing is wasting her time, or to avoid seeing that it’s saving your sanity...And if using the screen as a babysitter isn’t exactly parenting to be proud of, it’s surely better than letting stress and irritation build to a point where you keep putting your child down or yelling at her.”

She goes on:

“The very qualities that make [TV] seductive also make it a superb medium for education in its very widest sense.  What matters, of course, is the balance between viewing and other activities, and the nature and quality of what your child watches.”

And finally:

“The child who will not yet sit still for a book on natural history may watch a wildlife program and emerge with mental pictures of otherwise inconceivable wonders.”

Doesn’t that make you feel better?

With all that in mind, if you're new to the screen time struggle, here are some things that have worked for us:

  • Before I let them watch TV (or use the iPad), I make them tell me what the rule is: “when it’s time to turn it off, it’s time to turn it off,” and “I won’t throw a fit when it’s time to turn it off.”  That way they're owning it, instead of me barking it at them.

  • Often (but not always), I set specific time limits, either with a timer, or by episode “you can watch this episode, and that’s it”

  • When they do start begging to watch more, sometimes I make them watch the same show (that they’ve already seen a million times) in another language, usually Italian.  At first they complained, but now they like it and feel cool that they know all the names of PJ Masks in another language.  Check it out yourself - lots of shows are available in Spanish, French and many other languages.  Just change the language setting while the show is playing.

  • Whenever possible, I watch with them.  This is to: help them understand what they're seeing, monitor what they're watching, and know what the hell they're talking about later when I'm supposed to build a submarine.

  • Rather than them getting overwhelmed and/or fighting over what to watch - and to keep them from watching absolute trash - I give them a choice of 3 shows or movies they can watch, and they’re usually educational in nature.

  • When I don’t want them to be watching TV, I set that expectation early (for example, on the way home from pickup, I mention that we’ll be doing something else).

  • In addition to laying out expectations when TV needs to be limited, I try my best to have some sort of interesting, child-driven activity ready for them (hey, lots of those in the members’ area, BTW!). By child driven, I mean something that’s simple and allows for lots of exploration and creativity on their part vs. “do steps 1, 2 and 3 exactly like this.”  Usually, they’ll get engrossed in it and forget about TV.  

  • In general, I try not to let them watch/use devices during the week.  This doesn't mean there aren't days when I'm exhausted, or sick, or just need them to sit still for 20 minutes or I'll lose my mind.  When that happens, I pretend Penelope Leach is sitting in my kitchen with a cup of tea, and gently and compassionately reminding me that I'm human.

  • No screen time or TV before bed

Did you know there's a members-only part of the site?  For free?

Did you know there's a members-only part of the site?  For free?

Goodies every month for you, mama.

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What to Watch

I remember when Sweetpea first got interested in TV, I had no idea what to let her watch.  Here’s a beginner list of shows and movies that are inventive, have enhanced the kids’ creativity + imaginative play, and that you may actually enjoy watching yourself.  They’re almost all slow-paced as well (why that’s important, from an expert).  

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Room on the Broom


Gruffalo's Child

Leap! (this was panned by critics, but we love it anyway)

For the Birds

Partly Cloudy

The Little Prince

Tumble Leaf

Ask Story Bots/Story Bots Songs


Sarah and Duck

Shaun the Sheep

Wallace and Gromit

Peppa Pig

Curious George (narrated by William H. Macy!)

This obviously isn’t complete!  What are some favorites at your house?


Your Baby and Child: From Birth to Age Five, by Penelope Leach

NPR/Ted Radio Hour: When it Comes to Screentime, is All TV Equal?

TED Talk: Dimitri Christakis, Seattle Children’s Research Institute

American Academy of Pedriatrics' recommendations on TV + media