Cutting Back on TV During a Pandemic? Experts Say It Could Reduce Parent’s Stress

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While many parents have relied on TV to take off some of the emotional burdens of staying home during the pandemic, it may be causing more harm than good. A new study from the University of Arizona has linked increased TV watching with an increase in parent-child conflict and parental stress.


Published recently in the International Journal of Advertising, the research showed that kids who watch more TV make more requests for toys and other non-essentials and are more likely to act out when they’re told no. Streaming hasn’t solved the problem either. Lead researcher Matthew Lapierre pointed out that as commercials have fallen by the wayside, more advertising has become integrated into programming.

Kids see their favorite characters using their own laptops and smartphones, playing video game systems, wearing name brand clothing and the like. Kids are craving connection, and one way we connect is through sharing habits with people we like. That makes the urge to have and wear the same things as TV show personalities stronger than normal, which leads to an increase in coercive behavior like whining, pouting and throwing tantrums.

This is true regardless of how parents talk with their children about consumerism. Researchers identified three main ways that parents talk to children about requested purchases:

Advertising communication, “Ads try to fool you into buying things.”

Control communication, “We’re not buying toys today. You’ll get in trouble if you throw a fit over it.”

Collaborative communication, “When we buy something, we’ll take your advice on color, brand and other options.”

Both advertising and control communication styles lead to an increase in coercive behavior. Really, that shouldn’t be surprising. Kids aren’t the only ones inclined to do what they’re told to avoid. Unfortunately, while collaborative communication shows a decrease in parent stress, its effects are limited.

The strongest recommendation was reducing the amount of exposure to television and other vehicles for advertising, like mobile applications. Researchers also found that keeping kids home during shopping trips avoided consumer-related problems. That’s probably a good decision anyway considering the number of Covid cases on the rise. Thankfully, most stores now have curbside and pickup options that make it easy to avoid going inside.

Reinvesting in TV Alternatives

Since the invention of the boob tube, it’s become a convenient babysitter for kids around the world. The average time kids spend on screens has increased during the pandemic as there are fewer opportunities to be out and about. It’s tough for parents who don’t feel comfortable sending their kids off to play outdoors with friends or letting them binge their favorite shows.

Here are just a few TV alternatives:

Books, including audiobooks and graphic novels
Building toys like Lego, K’nex and magnetic tiles
Playing cards, board games and video games
Participating in individual sports like dance or tumbling
Learning a new language or how to cook
Art supplies, or focusing on projects that use household items
Upcycling and learning how to recycle
Caring for a pet

Weaning off the TV is easier once there are other activities ready to take its place. Incorporating a love of their favorite shows – like making Spongebob characters out of playdough – can help ease the transition. Many of these things can be done solo too.

While many parents have been encouraging more tube time to catch a break, now we know it might make things worse. If you’re struggling, reducing your child’s screen time might help. Creating better habits isn’t easy for kids or adults but the end results are worth it.

Have any tips for other dads looking for TV-free activities to try with their kids? Let us know in a comment!

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