Is watching TV considered quality family time?


Fact Box

  • The first successful demonstration of electronic television was in 1927 by young inventor Philo Taylor Farnsworth.  
  • The Swanson food company revolutionized the idea of families sharing quality time together in front of the TV by introducing their TV dinners in 1954, selling 10 million in their first year of production. 
  • In 1996, the television industry created the TV Parental Guidelines, “ a voluntary system of guidelines providing parents with advance, cautionary information to help them make more informed choices about the television programs their families watch.”
  • Over 96% of US households have televisions.

Heather (No)

Watching TV together is not considered quality family time because family members are not really interacting with each other--they are ignoring each other and staring at a screen. Real quality time together requires that family members look at each other, talk, and listen to each other, without a TV that distracts, interrupts, and prevents meaningful and shared communication. Real quality time requires that family members actively interact and do things together like go to the park, play board games, sports, and various hobbies and projects of mutual interest.

Research has recently revealed that people who have a multi-task focus and approach to life have mediocre results because the brain can really only do well focusing on one thing at a time. Family members, particularly children, crave and need undivided attention to feel valued and develop healthy social skills that enable them to not be at an increased risk for social, emotional, academic, criminal, and drug and alcohol problems. Not all quality time has to be planned out in advance, though. Just being available and genuinely attentive to other family members creates spontaneous opportunities to seize the moment and deepen and strengthen familial bonds. These same unexpected opportunities would have otherwise been missed had a family been distracted by watching TV. 

Quality time is so important that it is one of the five official love languages of relationships, and it requires the undivided attention that watching TV together simply cannot provide. Families deserve to interact and grow together without the distractions that TV viewing entails. 

Bre (Yes)

Some experts are steering away from the idea of designated 'quality time,' emphasizing instead that any time together can be quality time. Logically, activities need not determine the level of connection or 'quality.' Rather, the behavior of individuals sharing time determines its depth. Therefore, watching TV together can be enhanced through advised practices. For example, experts recommend deferring to kids to choose age-appropriate programs on TV that they'd like to watch with their families, prompting conversations surrounding content. Television time can also be made more active by incorporating chores--like folding laundry together.

Despite the assumption that all TV time is wasted, co-viewing programs on television may actually foster closeness, as it's been shown in romantic partnerships to boost positive feelings and relationship confidence. Further, intentionally watching as a family creates chances for connection. With an abundance of educational programs, and the opportunity to practice boundaries and start discussions, one study revealed that mindful co-viewing and positive media use was 'positively associated with general family functioning (for girls), parental involvement (for both boys and girls), and adolescent disclosure to parents (for boys).'

Fighting the presence of technology is futile, as screens are everywhere. According to a recent poll, nearly a quarter of Americans say watching TV is their favorite evening activity. And between 32-46% of US adults also reported that family time at home is a favorite. Given these statistics, overlap is inevitable. 

Considering TV's pre-pandemic popularity (120 million-plus US homes) and the dramatically increased time spent at home in 2020, quality family time in front of the small(ish) screen has become a must for many.

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