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TV and other addictions

I have tried doing the unlimited thing, and my kids WILL sit for 3-4 hours at a time.


How long did you try unlimited TV? They need time to realize that freedom isn't a temporary thing. If they fear it will be restricted again, they're going to try to pack in as much as they can. And their fears came true, didn't they?


In fact, they choose that [TV] over other things I offer.


Things that you think are better than TV or things they think are better?


I am just not Ok with that.


And what if your husband were not okay with how much time you spent reading? An amount of time that you didn't feel interfered with what you wanted to do but an amount of time that bugged him just because his fears told him it was too much?


TV seems addicting to me, and I still am not ok about the research that has been done showing the affects on the developing brain and excess tv. Even though some have it on and aren't watching, I don't think that is healthy for anyone.


But from what people are saying on the list, the research doesn't match the reality of their families. Why does the research hold more importance for you than what unschoolers actually find is true by living life?


Anything that supports what we want to believe, takes on undue importance in our minds. Being objective is setting aside what we want to believe and looking at what is real and true.


What is real and true is that the researchers are wrong. At least in the cases of unschooled kids who have far more free hours in their day than schooled kids. And even in the case of me who went to school and had unrestricted TV. I found the time for lots of TV and other things too like drawing and reading and writing and going outside. And I got into a good college.


So how does the research explain that?


If you consider all the hours in a child's day that are affected by going to school -- which includes getting ready, homework, recovering from the day -- can you confidently say that what schooled kids get out of those hours is better spent than if the child had spent those hours doing something that interests them? Even if it's spent watching TV?


I rarely watch tv, and I don't feel as though I am missing anything.


I rarely go to sports events, opera, tractor pulls, dog shows, lectures, poetry readings and don't feel like I'm missing much. But what does that mean? It means my tastes are different than someone who adores those things. Should my not finding meaning in them mean that others shouldn't find meaning in them?


I just can't sit back and watch my kids sit and sit. Even two hours a day seems like too much to me right now. My kids are 5 1/2.


If you can't find things that interest them more than TV -- and remember learning comes from feeding their interests not enticing them to be interested in something you think is more valuable -- then either TV is really important to them or you're not being sensitive to what they are interested in. Have you watched the programs with them and watched them to see what they find funny or interesting? Have you asked them what they find so fascinating? Have you talked about their favorite characters and scenes? Have you tried sharing your favorite movies or old TV shows with them? Have you looked their shows up on the internet to find behind the scenes types of things that might interest them?


Unschooling is about helping them explore their interests, not in helping them explore what you feel is important. If their interests make you uncomfortable, then you need to learn how to become comfortable with them. Just as it would make the atmosphere in the home more restful if a nonreading spouse learned to feel comfortable that his wife wasn't wasting her life with reading.


Schools often cover up the windows because the teachers find they can't compete with what's going on outside. Rather than figuring out what would interest the kids, they choose to make other alternatives duller than the teacher.


But, after reading it, I was back again to the tv is not a healthy thing.


But if the thoughts in that book don't match what happens in the real lives of unschoolers, then what worth are they? They help you feel that your fears are justified even in the face of real life examples that demonstrate they aren't true.


I don't think it is a healthy thing for anyone, but especially the younger ones whose brains are still developing.


And how do you reconcile that belief to what people are telling you is truth in their lives and the lives of their children? It's like believing that a house is haunted because someone presented a good case for it in a book, but the people who have lived in the house their whole lives say that it isn't haunted. Why believe a book over real life? Because you wish the book were true and the people living the life weren't?


I keep reading about the unlimited tv thing, and I just can't feel ok about it.


So you hold onto what you want to believe is true rather than examining an uncomfortable reality and why reality doesn't match what you want to be true.


(Though saying kids have choice is clearer than unlimited TV.)


Plus, there is no way I will subject my kids to all of that advertising. That makes me angry (and we DO talk about advertising a lot, in fact). And, they do ask me for the things they see on the ads, and that makes me angry that the advertisers are using our children like this.


My daughter sees advertising as a resource. She sees what's available. (We have discussed the purpose of commercials and she knows the purpose is to make money and can be cynical at times at what advertisers are trying to get people to believe. I find it more effective to talk about commercials that are aimed at me so I can point out how they're trying to make me believe something is true to get me to buy something.)


Again, reality doesn't match what we fear will happen. Advertising isn't that hard to understand. It's a pretty simple concept. I've always trusted that my daughter is intelligent enough to get the concept.



Internet addiction, online gaming as an addiction etc. is very real. If you have a concern I think you should google "teen internet addiction". You will get a ton of information to help you decide if it is a problem with your teens. Always go with your gut feeling about things regarding your children. It is good to seek advice but at the end of the day it is what you feel and think that is real. Trust that instinct. When you research this you will find that this is a real problem developing in our society. If you find you are concerned about this I would start finding ways to get them interested in doing other things. I would even set up daily time limits on computer usage for things unrelated to research or academics. And I would monitor it with out appearing to do so, if you know what I mean. Teens learning limits is a good thing. Teens learning balance is a good thing. They don't always know how to do it on their own. Thus they have parents.


(Note: I answered this on a general homeschooling list so I was less, um, hard-assed about parenting practices that damage relationships. The challenge was to focus on whether seeing addiction in kids' activities -- teens using the internet in this case -- helps parents help their kids without stepping on the toes of parents who have a broad range of parenting practices.)


A huge debate could erupt on whether internet, etc. addiction is real. Professionals have problems defining addiction so ultimately addiction is a confusing term anyway.


Behavior is a better indicator and guide than labels.


Are they happy, is the best question to ask!


Sometimes recovering (from stress, if that's what's happening) people aren't happy, so it's not a good place to stop. So ask, "Are they getting happier?"


Focusing on what need they're trying to meet will help more than fear of addiction.


When trying to think clearly and calmly about these charged issues, it's good to keep two things in mind:


1) Many games are highly involving. They are huge challenging puzzles. They take a lot of time to explore and solve. And they're fun too! Wanting to spend a lot of time on something, thinking it's more involving than other things in life shouldn't immediately make people think addiction. Passionate artists get involved in projects and remove themselves from society, too.


That doesn't mean that the withdrawal from the family doesn't impact everyone. If after they've had a good several months of vacation, it would be good to discuss it and find a way for the kids to come out and visit more often. (Though obviously keep up the offers all along.)


If taking the activity away seems like a good idea, think about what it would feel like to be in a deeply involving book and have someone limit you to only 15 minutes a day. That *doesn't* mean the only two solutions are take it away or step back and not care. Talk about it :-) Helping them find solutions will be a more useful life skill than potentially feeling they're weaker than the internet and that they need someone to take charge of them to get away from it.


2) Studies are done on schooled kids. There isn't a way to separate the effects of school from the effects of what's being studied. Kids in school are stressed. They need down time. They need time to explore their passions. School limits that. So there's the two prong effect of wanting an escape/downtime from what's stressing them (school) and wanting to explore what they find fun.


Focusing on finding ways to relieve the stress they're trying to escape from will help them better than removing their stress relief. (But if the stress is already gone, then it's still a recovery period, like resting a broken leg.)


Escape can also be a sign of depression, but I wouldn't jump there first. Happiness is a good clue. And staying connected to kids is a good way to find out what's bothering them. (Which obviously is more difficult with schooled kids.)


I'm not saying internet addiction doesn't exist. (Not saying it does either! [Note: I wouldn't on that list. But the following answer rips into the idea of TV addiction.) I'm saying it will be easier to help someone if the focus is on them and their unique needs than on fear of an addiction.





I have read your article about arguments against arguments against television and I think that you are wrong about it. You say there that TV is not addictive and that you haven't experienced it in your home. But this whole article of yours seems to me to be a proof of just that: that you cannot quit TV.


You also downplay the arguments of Krugman who has found that left brain switches off and beta waves, too. You might want to read about findings of Australian couple Fred and Merrelyn Emery and also the one from dr Eric Peper from San Francisco State University.


Noone said that there is 'something inherently wrong with right brained activities' but there is something wrong when there is no left brain activities while children (and adults just like them) are watching violence, sex and all other kinds of images without left brain activity. It's different when they are drawing or playing music (although I would bet that there IS more beta wave activity then) because they DON'T NEED to analyze information at that time... But they SHOULD criticaly analyze information that is coming from the TV and they ARE NOT DOING IT... They are simply storing the images...


I realy admire the way Jerry Mander has described this in his book 'Four Arguments for Elimination of Television' which he wrote in 1979. I am sending you this book in the attachment and I hope you will read it... These things about images 'left in the brain' are mentioned in the 'Argument Three'...


Also I don't think that homeschooling with the TV is a right thing to do... I don't have kids yet and I don't know much about homeschooling but I don't think that it's got anything to do with the TV. TV is DESIGNED (maybe not with that purpose in mind) in the way to passivate you. It simply works that way that you just passively take in the images that are presented to you...


P.S.: Me and my wife gave up TV about three years ago and I am very glad we did it... It's been very liberating... I'm learning French now and I've learned to do many things around the house. Although I do have a bit of a problem with the internet, but I'm working on it - that's my next step...


While what you say sounds plausible, it just doesn't match anything I've observed in unschooled children or in myself or my husband or my friends for that matter. I do not see behavior -- beyond watching TV -- that would be described as a addictive.


What are the symptoms that you see of addiction that made you draw that conclusion? What *are* the symptoms of addiction? Unfortunately there isn't a universally accepted definition of addiction. Pharmacologists, psychologists and physicians all have different definitions. So it's difficult to respond since I don't know what definition you're using.


But this whole article of yours seems to me to be a proof of just that: that you cannot quit TV.


If you begin with the assumption that TV is addictive, then if someone chooses not to stop watching TV that would suggest addiction.


But that same argument would prove books, eating a favorite food, going on a daily walk are addictive. If I choose not to stop eating cheesecake, am I addicted? If I choose not to stop reading, am I addicted?


So the argument doesn't prove addiction to TV.


I don't, by the way, watch TV any more than I read books. I don't turn the TV on and watch what happens to be on any more than I pick up a random book and read whatever it contains. I make choices. I watch particular shows on TV just as I read particular authors. I try out TV series that sound intriguing to see if I might like them and drop them if I don't. Just as I try out new authors.


That's an important distinction in thinking clearly about the issue. An alcoholic needs alcohol. Any kind will do. If TV is addictive, then an addict needs TV, and anything that happens to be on will do.


Wikipedia has an article on addiction.


Probably the broadest definition of addiction (from the article) is psychological dependence. In the argument for including psychological dependence on activities such as  gambling, food, sex, pornography, computers, work, and shopping / spending (TV wasn't even part of their list, but no matter ...):


when an addicted gambler or shopper is satisfying their craving, unique chemicals endorphins are produced and released within the brain creating further positive reinforcement in the individual. 


So certain behaviors make people feel good. I don't think that goes far enough. Entertainment makes people feel good. So does a massage. I think a clearer description is the way some addicts have described addiction as needing to feel "right". They feel wrong when they're not satisfying their addiction. So they do it (alcohol, gambling, etc.) to feel normal.


I don't feel wrong when I'm not watching TV (or not reading or not eating cheesecake). I don't need to watch TV (read, eat cheesecake) in order to feel right or good. 


So what symptom is there of addictive TV behavior?


I'm just using myself as an example. I don't see any behavior that would indicate addiction in my family or friends. I don't see anyone needing to watch TV in order to feel right or good.


That doesn't, of course, prove that no one ever feels the need to watch TV in order to feel right or good. But you've accused me of being addicted so I'm using myself as an example.


Here's an article from the National Institute on Drug Abuse entitled The Essence of Drug Addiction that suggests a definition/description of addiction:


What does matter tremendously is whether or not a drug causes what we now know to be the essence of addiction: uncontrollable, compulsive drug seeking and use, even in the face of negative health and social consequences.




When the family has left me home for a weekend I have the free time to watch has much TV as I want. I don't have anyone depending on me so I could park myself in front of the TV and subsist on peanut butter scooped from the jar for 3 days. And yet, often when I even plan to watch one of the good movies we have on DVD, I find other activities a lot more compelling and often don't watch TV at all for the weekend.


When I'm on vacation, I don't have a desire to watch TV. I don't think about TV any more than I think about books. I don't think about favorite TV series any more than favorite book series. Actually I think about TV and TV shows less since I often visit book stores on vacation and take a book to read with me.


What behavior would lead someone to say that my TV watching is uncontrollable?


(Again, I don't see family or friends behaving any differently than what I've described of myself.)




My dictionary says compulsive is an irresistible urge, especially one that is against one's conscious wishes.


I have on occasion watched TV when I consciously wanted to do something else but the times I can remember doing that are from being exhausted. My brain might say get up and make dinner but my body says stay and rest. So is that compulsive? Is that addiction?


The dictionary also says compulsive is irresistibly interesting or exciting.


I think TV -- and not just particular TV shows -- is compelling. In restaurants that have TVs it takes conscious thought not to watch the TV. There are TVs at the checkout counters at our grocery store and it, again, takes conscious effort not to watch. 


But I don't think TV is uniquely compelling as some suggest. I feel a pull to watch a projected movie or watch live performers. The difference is that TV is a lot more common than projected movies and live performers. And people don't assign negative emotions to feeling compelled to watch a projected movie or live performers. The feelings of wanting to watch are the same but people are saying the compulsion to watch TV is bad and the compulsion to watch movies or performers is expected or good.


At least for me, TV seems to be more compelling than movies or performers. But more compelling doesn't make something bad. It just makes it more compelling! I find Ghirardelli chocolate more compelling -- less able to resist -- than cheap waxy chocolate. That doesn't make Ghirardelli bad and waxy chocolate good. It doesn't mean Ghirardelli has some demonic power to be feared and waxy chocolate is imbued with greater virtues.


In fact when I choose not to pay attention to the TV at the checkout counter, if I'm alone my attention often drifts ... to the tabloid newspapers. I find myself reading about movie stars -- and TV stars! -- and performers I don't particularly care about. So tabloids are more compelling than staring into space or reading news magazines or studying the candy displays. And additionally, when I'm eating alone, I find my eyes drifting to any printed matter that's laying on the table and I will read articles that I wouldn't normally take the time to read, starting with the least boring. When I was a child, I would read the backs of cereal boxes as I ate my breakfast. Compulsive? Compelling?


Reading seems to be a more compulsive activity -- in the absence of more interesting activities -- for me than TV watching. So what behavior suggests TV addiction?


Neither my reading nor my TV watching yields:


Negative health consequences.

Negative social consequences.


So what behavior suggests TV addiction?


One symptom that wasn't listed was that addictive behavior increases with time. Alcoholics usually need more alcohol to feel right.


I watch less TV now than I did when I was a (stressed) child and (stressed) worker. The number of shows my daughter watched increased in the 10-11 age range, just before puberty. This seems to be fairly common behavior when kids are transitioning from childhood interests to teenage interests. Now she rarely watches TV outside of an hour or so with the family in the evening.


Where is the increase in the addictive behavior? What would send up red flags for some addiction expert that any of us had a problem with TV?


I think you've thought about your fears a lot more than you've critically observed real life. If you feel negative after watching TV -- or doing anything! -- then I think rather than looking for reasons why you're not responsible for your choices, it's a lot more useful to figure out how to choose differently than to find a demon to blame. Probably since the beginning of human time people have looked for reasons to absolve themselves of responsibility for their choices. "It's not my fault. It's alcohol ... or he insulted me ... or it's because of the way the woman was dressed ... or it was Eve and her apple ..."


I think a stronger more self-empowering path is not to look for reasons to believe things as more powerful than we are but to look for ways to make better and better choices and move towards things that make us happy.


You might want to read about findings of Australian couple Fred and Merrelyn Emery


People who fear eagerly grasp at anything that suggests their fears are justified. They don't want to objectively and critically analyze it.


If a few minutes of watching TV was the same as 96 hours of sensory deprivation then considering the hours of TV we've all watched in my family that would be more hours of sensory deprivation than anyone in my family has lived. Does that make sense?


What are the effects of sensory deprivation? If sensory deprivation is a bad thing, then surely it shows some effects. Do people who've spent hours and hours of daily sensory deprivation grow up happy, healthy, intelligent, lively? Since that's how I'd characterize my family and the people I'm friends with, then the logical conclusion is that either 1) sensory deprivation is a good thing or 2) Fred Emery has drawn some very erroneous conclusions.


If a person is happy, healthy, lively, and intelligent after a childhood that includes, among many other things, television, where are the red flags that would suggest there's a problem? 


I think objective observation and critical analysis are a lot more important in finding ways to be happy than searching for justification for fears. 


because they DON'T NEED to analyze information at that time... But they SHOULD criticaly analyze information that is coming from the TV and they ARE NOT DOING IT... They are simply storing the images...


Again it sounds plausible. And yet how can people come away from a TV show having learned something if they aren't analyzing? How can people tell the plot of a movie or show they've just seen if they are "simply storing the images"? How can people analyze and contrast and compare TV shows and movies if they aren't thinking?


Does that make sense?


In the summer, when there wasn't the stress of school, I also watched a lot of TV but for different reasons. I didn't watch the block of shows in the "after school" time slot but I did follow a fair number (more than I do now) shows, watched a lot of movies, sports. But I also played with other kids, read, drew, played games. (Not sure how I packed it all in!) And yet, despite the amount of TV I watched, I was discriminating. I wouldn't watch TV. I chose shows and movies by browsing the TV Guide that sounded intriguing. Just as I discriminated when choosing books. I was able to visit people and places and times I couldn't at home. Just like with books but a lot more interesting -- at least for a visual person -- because you can see and hear what things are like.


I remember tons of stuff from TV as a child. I can recognize fashions and architecture and attitudes of various decades. I was exposed to mind-stretching ideas through science fiction and science fact. None of that supports the theory that people aren't analyzing when they watch. Even when I used TV to relax in the evening after work or after school, when I chose lighter entertainment, I wasn't just storing images. I was remembering plots and judging what I watched on how interesting it was. Not just storing images. 


Also I don't think that homeschooling with the TV is a right thing to do... I don't have kids yet ...


And there were many things I said I would never do with my daughter before I had a child. I, like many, unconsciously pictured raising a child as molding a person into my image of the right way to grow up. But raising a child is closer to tending to a tree. The tree already knows how to grow and reach out for what it needs. I just have to make sure that it can reach what it's trying to get.


But I'm there for her too, helping her make decisions. I'm not merely the provider of her environment but her partner in exploring the world in her own unique way.


P.S.: Me and my wife gave up TV about three years ago and I am very glad we did it... It's been very liberating... I'm learning French now and I've learned to do many things around the house.


TV is relaxing. TV can be used as an escape. TV, though, isn't unique in it's ability to help people relieve stress. TV isn't the cause of people wanting to relax and escape. TV is an outlet for other needs. Removing TV won't make those needs go away.


When I worked my husband and I watched TV in the evening. It was relaxing after the stress of work. When I was a kid in school, I watched a lot of TV (in addition to a lot of reading and a lot of playing with friends.) It was relaxing after the stress of school. I watched the same cartoons many times because it was relaxing and familiar.


If my husband and I hadn't had TV, we would have found other things to do to relax in the evening. But TV is a very effective and easy relaxant which is why so many stressed people choose it over other activities.


People can use TV (and drugs and eating and gambling) as a release of stress. If casual use isn't enough to relieve the stress then TV and alcohol and eating and gambling can become a crutch to escape. (But it may not happen to everyone. It may be a consequences of addictive personality or biochemistry.) But none of those activities are in and of themselves dangerous. People can drink without being alcoholics. People can place bets without being addicted to gambling. People can watch TV without being "addicted" to TV. But all those and more can all be used (by only certain people?) to the point where they result in "negative health and social consequences" if someone is using them as a way to escape something else.


I don't think finding justifications to fear/hate/dislike/avoid TV will make you happier. You will see sickness in others when people are enjoying themselves and it will make you afraid for them. As I often tell people asking about unschooling and parenting: why a child (or anyone) chooses something is a lot more important than what they're choosing. If someone is reading one book after another to escape -- not just because they've stumbled on a series that totally engages them! -- that behavior is being caused by some stress in their life. Taking away the books won't make the stress go away. It will just drive the person to find some other outlet for the stress, something they might keep hidden from others for fear that it too will be taken away. To the person who took the books away it might look like taking away books solved the problem! They might also find some other outlet for their stress that actually works and again the person who took the books away will feel justified for their actions. But I think, better than imposing a solution on someone -- which doesn't help them learn to solve problems better -- is to help the person figure out what is causing the stress and eliminate it and find more effective ways to deal with stress.



Joyfully Rejoycing
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