My teen daughter is addicted to TV. Please help!

My teen daughter is addicted to TV. Please help! 150 150 Mediatrics

Q: I have a daughter who just turned 15 and is truly addicted to watching TV—about 4 hours after school, while eating (she is not overweight), and doing homework. She claims that it relaxes her and that she needs it to unwind after a long day at school and activities. I try to impose limits, but I get huge fights about turning the TV off, and she refuses. Also, the content that she enjoys most are the inappropriate reality shows that have heavy sexual content and people who do not seem to have any high aspirations in life. My daughter herself is intelligent, attractive, and talented as an actress. I do not understand the lure of these shows. I find her behavior aggressive at times and difficult to deal with. She also cannot remain focused on her schoolwork and does forget things. How do you restrict these shows and the amount of time watching TV when your child absolutely refuses to turn it off and claims she NEEDS it to escape? Please help.
Hoping to Help in Kansas City, MO

A: Dear Hoping,

The most telling part of your question is the fact that you used the word “addicted” in describing your daughter’s behavior around TV. The question of whether there is such a thing as media addiction has been examined in the research a lot recently, particularly around the issue of Internet addiction.  Looking at that research, what you describe does, in fact, sound like addictive behavior, which combines four components:

  1. Excessive use, often associated with losing a sense of time, neglecting basic needs
    (like sleep and homework).
  2. Withdrawal, including anger or sadness when, for example, you ask her to turn it off.
  3. Increasing tolerance, so that she watches more and more TV or more and more outrageous reality shows.
  4. Negative repercussions, which she accepts in order to feed the addiction. That is, she is willing to argue with you and let her school work deteriorate as the price of maintaining her addiction.

So what should you do? First of all, be straight up about what you think is going on. If she denies that she’s addicted to TV (which she almost certainly will), challenge her to prove that she can stop. If she refuses the challenge or accepts it and fails, don’t be angry or disappointed or say "I told you so"—don’t blame or shame her. Instead, set firm limits and explain why you are doing so.

If your daughter is able to live with these limits, she will discover for herself how much more fulfilling her life is when she has time to connect with family, to exercise, and to complete the other important activities of daily life. If the limits continue not to work, or if you feel that you can’t set them, reach out to professionals. Like depression or anxiety, a good therapist or pediatrician should be able to help you address this issue or direct you to someone who can.  Whether researchers agree that media addiction is a "real" issue or not, overuse that disrupts your child's life in this way is certainly a problem that needs to be addressed. 

Here are a few resources that might be helpful:
>>One mom's experience with her daughter's video game addiction
>> (on Internet addiction, but applicable to TV as well)
>>Childnet International factsheet (see p. 3 for suggestions for parents)

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician