Kids Watching TV All Day - How Bad?

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Had any bad-parent moments lately, where you end up looking around for your Worst Parent Award while wondering just how much you've damaged your child? If your answer is no, check out Links We Love for some amazing Mommy Blog links! If you're saying a big YES, then welcome! Read on...

On the phone with my friend R., she says she has to go, friends are over and she's going to switch on a show for her kids so the grown-ups can eat a peaceful dinner. "Oh, how bad is this?" she asks. "I've had friends here all afternoon and the kids have watched at least four straight hours of TV. They were just so mellow I didn't want to change their scene. Is that really awful?"

Who among us hasn't taken advantage of our friend the TV-babysitter? A fellow ParentDish blogger confessed that she refused to allow her child to give up the Wii for Lent, because it was the only time her house was quiet. I checked in with Mommy Advisor Rosanne Tobey, Director of Calm and Sense Therapy, to get some insight. The question is: TV all day -- how bad?

"A full day of TV, eh?" she asked. "Well..."
"It's definitely not something you want to do habitually, since essentially you're ignoring your kids and they will start to act out to get your attention, and not in a good way."

Sure, but once in a blue moon: Damaging or not? "If this is a rare occurrence, I don't think the kids will be damaged, as long as they're safe and the shows are age-appropriate." I'm scanning Amazon for videos as we talk...

But of course, there's more: "However, you could probably come up with a better plan for the future, so they're not just staring at the TV. I mean the question is: If the kids are watching TV all day, are you being your best parent?" And the answer, obviously, is: Not so much.

Here's what Tobey suggests for your next get-together with grown-ups when you feel the need to otherwise-occupy the children:

1. If you can, invite a mother's helper over to play with the kids.
2. Pick up some easy-to-supervise activities in advance. (I favor the dollar aisles in Target and Michael's. If other parents are coming, they will thank you big time for this move.)
3. Once the TV is on (you know it will be), take turns so an adult is checking in on the kids every few minutes.
4. Always state and enforce an open-door policy for The Kids Room. "Kids can be cruel to each other and will become mischievous if they know no one is checking on them," says Tobey.
5. Lighten up about how quiet the house is. "These are your friends," says Tobey. "They understand kids are not quiet, and that kids need attention."

"One other thing," adds Tobey, seriously. "Was everyone drinking? Because sometimes when parents have friends over and there's drinking, it can be easy to lose track of who is being the responsible adult. If a child gets hurt or sick or chokes on a snack, is someone sober enough to get immediate help?"

So, to answer the question (how bad?): "If people are checking on the kids and making sure their needs are met and they're not in harm's way, doing this very rarely is not going to damage anyone, so it's a 2. But be honest with yourself, because if the TV is your frequent babysitter, that's not ideal. The caveat here is if there's a lot of drinking and the kids aren't safe, that's always a 10."

(For more advice about how much TV is okay, check out

Do you have a "parenting crime" and you'd like to find out: How bad? It can be about food, lame parenting behavior, something you said... anything. Email your How Bad? to (use subject: How Bad?) and your question could get answered, or comment below with your thoughts about whether an occasional TV marathon is okay.

Sabrina Weill is editor-in-chief of

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.