Our kids don’t see us watch television. It wasn’t planned, but I’m still taking credit for it.

Sometimes parents read the research on a subject and make informed parenting decisions. Other times they unintentionally, accidentally make a great parenting decision and, if they are like me, take credit for it anyway.

When it comes to television, my wife and I were well aware of the research indicating that television viewing should be restricted before the age of two, and we adhered to this policy fairly closely with our daughter and are doing the same with our son.

But it turns out that the amount of television that our children see us watch has an enormous impact on the amount of television they will watch in the future, too. 

According to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, what’s most important in children’s viewing habits is how much TV (or DVDs or online entertainment) parents watch.

The amount of TV the parents watched predicted the kids’ screen time, and this association was even stronger than that linked to parental restrictions on TV viewing, where the TVs were placed in the home, or how much television parents and children watched together.

“We are wired as children to pick up from our environment what we observe quicker than what we are told,” says Dr. Gopal Chopra, a neurosurgeon, associate professor at the Duke University Fuqua School of Business and founder of PINGMD, a medical app company. “Children are mirrors and we must be vigilant of the impact of our behavior, including the exposure to “glass” (technology screens), as they will know it to be OK, and any discipline will fall on deaf ears.”


I was sitting next to my daughter as I read this report. She was doing a jigsaw puzzle and humming quietly. I turned to her and said, “Clara, when do Mommy and Daddy watch TV?”

She thought about it for a moment, continuing to manipulate puzzle pieces as she did, and finally said, “You should watch TV, Daddy. Maybe you can watch TV with me.”

My heart soared.

With the exception of football, the occasional morning news program and the moments when Elysha or I sit with her and watch a show like Word World or The Wonder Pets,  it occurred to me that Clara (and now Charlie) have never seen us watch television. The viewing of scripted television programs like Breaking Bad and Mad Men is done long after our kids have gone to bed.

Just like we planned.

Not really, but again, I’m taking credit.

On a potentially negative side note, Clara has almost only watched PBS programming and this, in combination with our lack of television viewing, has left her completely unexposed to commercial television and (we recently discovered) highly susceptible to television advertising. While many of the commercials that air during football games and news programs actually frighten her, she recently went to Elysha asking which stain stick we use on the laundry, explaining that the brand she had seen on television is perfect for baseball grass stains. When Elysha showed her our preferred stain stick, she complained that it wasn’t the right one and needed to be replaced immediately.

I’m not sure what the research is on the effects of underexposure to television advertising, but I’m a little worried that we’ve created a monster when it comes to her susceptibility to marketing.