Watching TV – is it helping or hindering social interaction?

When my husband and I purchased the home we currently live in, there was a TV in nearly every room. From the dining table you could see three! In total the house had seven television sets. We only have one TV in our house… and I wondered if this was unusual and/or whether I was being an old fashioned parent. I know some of the other families in our street have TV’s in each bedroom for the children.

So why more TV’s? When I asked why families have more than one TV, the answers simply boiled down to a justification to stop fights and arguments or put another way, to create peace in the home.

Pat Buoncristiani makes an interesting observation in her blog entitled “If you can’t beat them, make them useful.” She likens the modern day television to the camp fire, somewhere you go to be told stories and be entertained. Adding to Pat’s idea, I also believe one television may also provide some social lessons.

Here are some I have observed in our home:

Lesson One: Sharing and taking turns. I often overhear our children saying “I’ll watch this programme and then you can watch yours.” Perhaps one of life’s great little lessons is the ability to wait. Being able to wait, manage your impulsively or delay gratification do not necessarily come easily when people have instant access to their heart’s desires.

Lesson Two: Scheduling. The ability to stop and plan your time is perhaps fast becoming an ancient art. In our house because our children do not have access to the TV in the mornings  or after 8pm/8.30pm (see further down for reasoning). If a programme is on outside their access time, they need to record it and plan a time to watch it.

Lesson Three: Tolerance. If it is not your turn and you want to watch TV, then you need to learn to be tolerant of the other person’s likes. There are 2 Star Trek fans in our home and both my daughter and I have become tolerant of the watching, discussions and banter. We even join in!

Lesson Four: Creativity. If it is not your turn and you choose not to watch, then you need to find something else to do. I am intrigued with the concept that children need to experience boredom, to develop creativity. I am continually amazed at how our children invent games and activities when the TV access is limited. Last week they turned our dining table into a table tennis table and played for hours.

Lesson Five: Connection. We often have a family movie night with homemade popcorn. It is a special shared experience. All sitting on the couch together – laughing, crying and learning together. Plus we have shown old movies, current movies, comedies, musicals, documentaries etc – a range of genre that our children may not have been exposed to.

What other lessons might the shared TV experience bring?

Here are some of our reasons behind the limited TV access…

Because I have had access to brain research and have had the joy and pleasure of working with people such as neurologist  Dr Judy Willis, Ian Lillico, Maggie Dent and John Joseph, the access to technology perhaps works differently in our home. Both our children have smart phones and our son has an iPad, all purchased and funded with their own pocket money over a period of several years, however access to these is still limited.

Screen Shot 2014-06-14 at 9.48.50 pmHere is a summary of our tech usage rules:

1. No technology allowed before school. The research is very clear – morning technology shortens the attention span. I recall Ian Lillico speaking several years ago, saying it is the stimulation in the morning and up until about 2pm that causes the shorter attention span. Programmes and adverts are designed to be constantly changing to refocus the brains attention – some adverts even use a disconnect between the audio and the visual to stimulate the brain to take notice.  Neuro scientists suggest the constant changes and overstimulation of the brain causes people to see ‘real life’ as slow and boring and as a consequence their attention wonders –  looking for the stimulation it had in the morning.

2. No technology allowed in the bedrooms. Again it is well documented that sleep is one of the most important times for the brain and body to do vital processing. The challenge with technology in the bedroom is the exposure to light – even the small glow of the phone screen can be enough to interrupt sleep pattens. This light can inhibit the production of the brain chemical melatonin, which is responsible for sleep. Furthermore, if texts and notifications come through at night sleep becomes harder to find or maintain.

3. No phones at the dinner table. I learned this many years ago and have been talking to our children, and modelling it before they had their own phones! Our dinner time is a special connection time. A time for conversation, catching up and learning from each other. Phone calls are left to go to the answer phone as we make each other a priority.

4. No TV while we eat dinner. (Yes it occasionally is left on to watch the sports news or a specific programme – however – this is not the norm) For similar reasons as above, having the distraction of TV stops conversation and in fact, eating. Each dinner time we share our favourite part of the day, what we are grateful for and a positive difference we or someone else has made to the world today. After many years of doing this, our children still say that the family dinner is one of their favourite times of the day. Ensuring the TV is off, means we can focus on each other without distraction.

What other technology rules do you have in your house? I would be interested to know…

Some interesting stats…

I asked my Facebook followers how many TV’s they have in their home and the results are interesting – although I’m not sure that my followers are an accurate sample of an average population.

A surprising 5% had no TVs in their home. (of course this does not mean there are no devices – they did answer me on Facebook! However I was asking only about TV’s.)

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The second graph shows the average number of TV’s in the USA from 1975 to 2010. I wonder what the NZ and Australian stats would look like now.

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Links for more information:

Information on the Brain and Technology:


TV Set Ownership:



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Published on Saturday, June 14th, 2014, under Technology and the brain

Karen Tui Boyes is a champion for Life Long Learning across nations, industries and organisations. Winner of the NZ Educator of the Year 2017 and 2014 and the NZ Speaker of the Year award in 2013 & 2019, Karen is a sought after speaker who continually gets rave reviews from audiences around the world. Her dynamic style and highly informative content—which turns the latest educational research into easy-to-implement strategies and techniques — sets her apart from others in her field.

6 Responses to “Watching TV – is it helping or hindering social interaction?”

  1. Freda Farmand says:

    Thanks for this article, Karen. I am an Early Childhood Teacher and found the idea of the size of screens and time of day watched very interesting – and useful.

    • Karen Boyes says:

      Yes Freda – I not only find morning TV stops my children concentrating – it also takes 3 times as long for them to get ready for school! I’m interested in the size of the screens – is there research on this?

  2. Lorraine Kearney says:

    Hi Karen, great blog, always inspires me to continue our tough stance on TV and technology. Our 4 children love our Friday night movie night and yes they have some TV on Saturday and Sunday, but no TV during the week and during school term we have a “no technology” rule (iPods/iPads). It always amazes when people say “how do you do that?”. Easy we say No!!! And yes you are spot on, the creativity that comes from the “I’m bored” also amazes me.

    • Karen Boyes says:

      Yes Lorraine – “no” is a common word in our house too. When our children were young their school held a meeting to say that teachers were finding children could not be creative beyond the TV shows – all parents agreed to go screen free for a month – results were fabulous – games were played, invented and creativity flowed. It is easy to get stuck in front of a screen – at any age – even with the best intentions.

  3. Colin Clapp says:

    Hi Karen. We’re in the ‘no TV’ category. I chucked it out the night after the All Blacks won the world cup and I haven’t missed it since. It turned out to be a life-changing moment as it was one motivating factor (among others!) for my lovely partner to leave her then boyfriend a couple of years ago and we’re now proud parents! I don’t know if a lack of TV is affecting our eight-month old but several people comment how curious she is. She’s our first born so don’t know if this is normal. We do enjoy downloading a movie and I can imagine enjoying that with our wee one as she gets older. All in all, finding life more fulfilling without regular temptation to collapse in front of the TV!

    • Karen Boyes says:

      Great news Colin – yes healthy 8 month years olds are curious and will be even better without the TV – esp the first 3 years – ost important for brain development. THanks for taking the time to comment 🙂

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