More Important Than Screen Time Rules: Parents’ Own TV Habits

Kara Powell | Jul 25, 2013

“Do as I say, not as I do.”

That’s never a motto that works well in parenting.

It turns out to be especially poor when it comes to television viewing.

In a recent study by the University of Pennsylvania, researchers surveyed 1,550 parents with children under 17 living at home. Questions ranged from television viewing habits to the number of TVs in the home and how much families watch TV together.

While screen time rules are helpful, researchers found a greater factor in the quantity of kids’ TV viewing: their parents’ own TV patterns. According to the study, “Parent television viewing is a stronger predictor of child television viewing than traditional media ‘access’ and ‘rules’…regardless of child age”. Parent viewing habits even trumped whether or not a child has a TV in their bedroom, a practice widely criticized by those who champion less screen time for kids.

This finding raises some important questions for parents:

  1. How much TV am I watching every day? Parents in this study averaged four hours per day (Yikes!). You might not be at four hours, but if you add up the news you watch in the morning and TV you watch before bed, how much are you watching?

  2. In what ways is TV helpful to our family relationships? Personally, I’m not anti-TV. Dave and I have a few shows that we watch regularly, and our family has a few favorites we view together. These shows stimulate great conversations as we talk about “life lessons” and other insights we have gleaned.

  3. How is TV hurting our family relationships? I’ll also confess that often after the kids are in bed, it’s tempting to grab the remote and see what’s recorded. My kids aren’t exposed to my TV viewing, but it’s not exactly a great end-of-the-day marriage builder.

  4. What limits do I want to set on my own viewing? What if you went TV-free for a week? Or a month? Or merely stopped watching reruns, and only watched new episodes of your favorite shows? Or sacrificed cable and used the money for fun family outings each month? Or recorded sports and fast forwarded through commercials and time outs, cutting the time required to watch a game in half?

Imagine the day your children move out of your house. I bet none of us are going to wish we had watched more TV as a family. We’re going to wish we had more memories of playing games, taking walks, and lingering over meals.

What are you best ideas for setting limits on your own TV watching, or your family’s?

Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.

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