How can TV affect your family?

We have a toddler and a new baby. We're concerned about how TV can affect our family. How can watching television affect family interactions?


Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

Like almost anything, television can be abused or used. Certainly television viewing can become addictive to adults and children alike. Yet, appropriate use can be educationally stimulating, and some shared viewing can be emotionally bonding.

On the down side, television can become a replacement for family interaction. When TV programs dominate the evening routine, it is likely that family dynamics suffer. Children need to develop relationship skills and the place our children first learn the verbal craft of interacting is at home. Television can decrease interactions with one another, and stunt the development of our family relationships.

Using television as a relaxation tool, while seemingly benign, can encourage passive retreat instead of engagement in family. A kind of "hypnotism" can result which promotes withdrawal from relationships and passive entertainment as the answer to a stressful day. Too much or too rigid of a television watching schedule can reduce intimacy in the family. Not only can we become too "zombied out" to share our feelings, but we run the danger of turning to the neon light of the screen instead to our family members for nourishment.

TV entertainment can become addictive because it can be used for instant diversion from negative feelings of pain, sadness, inadequacy or even boredom. But, like any addiction, performing the behavior results in decreased pain in the short run, yet leaves you no closer to resolving these feelings or developing yourself in the long run. Instead, things that are "bothering" you are merely suppressed and temporarily forgotten. Coping or finding answers may be put permanently on hold.

Yet, it is possible that watching TV can also be used as a springboard for communication and sharing opinions and ideas, if you as parents encourage your children to do so. Naturally, this means choosing a show that might encourage your youngsters to express themselves, their views and ideas. Time must be allotted for sharing afterwards, not just between commercials! One of the best ways to encourage discussion is to videotape the show so that you can pause it for family discussion and interaction.

Another way to enhance television viewing with family interactions is to comment on the script, writing, camera shots, direction and acting of the piece, while in progress. I learned the value of this approach from my husband whose career is in video and computer animation. He has taught me that commercials can be a work of art! Imagine my surprise. Yet, our son and daughter found that TV could be an interactive event in the family. That is, if you do not take it too seriously! Ongoing comments about plot twists or "good" or "bad" acting might disturb some viewers. But it is great family fun!

Use good judgment. Develop a time and place for active participation in family games, music or other enjoyable activities. Leave the TV off on a night you would usually watch it, just to see what happens!

You may be pleasantly surprised to find that you learn more about your partner or your children. Try reading a book for relaxation. Reading material may prove easier to put down if a family member wants to interact with you.

Remember, emotional availability is the key to healthy family relationships. Be sure that the TV watching you do supports rather than inhibits family bonding and communication!

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