My question is, could it be bad, in some way, for a child to not have cable/satellite television?

My husband and I are thinking about children soon. We haven't had cable hooked up in 6 or 7 years and don't really intend to get it. We do have a TV and a blue ray. We watch movies and Netflix. But we may go days or more without watching any TV.

We are on our computers a lot. I am a software developer and my husband does various online things. So the kids would have technology around them and its not like they wouldn't know what these things do.

Basically were cutting out most of the commercials (I hope), and most of the little random shows that just came out yesterday.

Why I ask,

My husbands family also did not have TV for a few years when they were growing up because (this was 25+ years ago) they were on a farm in the country and cable couldn't be hooked up.

Apparently when the kids went into grade school they didn't know what the smurfs were and got picked on by other kids. It kind of turned into an issue that still gets mentioned once in a while.

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    You may also find this question interesting: How can I help my child handle peer pressure regarding television?
    – Acire
    Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 14:50
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    I think the question can be generalized to any form of non-conformism. People not fitting into the so-called "norm" will always be picked-on by some others, if not because of the TV? it will be clothes, music or simply physical difference. So it would basically depend on how far are you ready to go with "non-conformism" and how you would deal with possible problems happening...
    – Laurent S.
    Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 15:50
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    I think this scenario is becoming increasingly common, with children watching less TV too, and is related to the cord-cutter trend.
    – user11394
    Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 20:26
  • Note that watching tv together is a different social activity than each sitting with its own internetenabled device. Commented Jul 29, 2015 at 13:16
  • I'm somewhat flabbergasted that anyone would think there is actually something positive in kids watching TV... You should rather be asking yourself what the impact is on your kids IF they are watching TV regularly...
    – fgysin
    Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 15:46

11 Answers 11


For a different perspective:

When I was in grade school, I had a friend that didn't have any type of TV service at home (they did have dial-up internet, but certainly no Netflix). I was completely unaware of this fact for a long time, until the first time I went to his house. There was a TV in the living room, but it was only used to watch home videos, and later on, for video games*. I, being a "raised by the TV" child, was initially incredulous, but his two-minute explanation made me not only completely accept it, but seriously reconsider my own TV habits (mind you, I was about 12 years old at the time). While I can't remember the excellent case he stated, I offer my current viewpoint, which is still almost entirely based on the conversation from that one day (supplemented by subsequent experience that I cannot segregate, as I do not recall all of the original details).
*Also, he was only allowed to have "family-friendly" video games.

  • My friend was the most intelligent person I knew. While not the most popular (perhaps because he wasn't familiar with some pop culture references), he had very good verbal and math skills, average or better social skills (harder to judge that one because mine were poor at that age), and excellent self-confidence.
  • He was also very well-behaved. He respected his parents better than anyone else our age. He didn't get into trouble, and yet, he was not a suck-up, nor a tattler, nor did he hold himself as better than any of the other kids.
  • His family was fairly well-off, at least as far as families of public-school kids go. Certainly, this primarily owed to his parents' jobs, but he told me that they credited a degree of their professional success to the types of lifestyle choices they made, including that of not watching TV. This is one element that I know has been reinforced by other life experiences. I've had opportunities to interact with a number of upper-middle-class people, and a few "crazy-rich" folks, and a recurring theme is that watching TV takes too much time away from the things one needs to do to improve one's life situation.

  • Watching TV is mind-dulling. As specific examples, reading books and playing video games both stimulate the mind more than TV. The reason is, in both of the latter instances, you're a participant in the activity. With video games I never get argument on that point - there's an obvious input/output interaction - but I have been asked how I can say the same about books - "You can't influence what happens in a book!" True, but if we stop paying attention to the TV (perhaps something distracts us for a moment), the story continues along without us, unless we take the time and effort to pause (and rewind a bit to catch what we missed between the distraction and our reaction time) - which we typically won't do, especially for minor and/or repetitive distractions; most times, we either ignore or accept the distraction. In such cases we are allowing the story to run on its own. Whereas with a book, any distraction (that is not ignored) will always "pause" the story. Only when we are ready to once again fully engage will it resume; and we'll never start farther down the page, but either at the exact point of interruption or, more often, back a bit to re-sync. Additionally, with a book, we fully control the speed of the story (within the limits of our reading skill), but with TV shows, the speed is dictated by the producer.

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    This feels more like a case of illustrating that affluence is beneficial, than a case that no TV is beneficial. I also disagree that TV is across the board mind "dulling". It can be an extremely engaging, inspiring, and educational format. Books can be just as trashy and dull as, say, reality TV.
    – user11394
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 5:21
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    While you raise a few good points, I don't like how you link intelligence and good behaviour with not having a TV. While I can't back it up with statistics, my gut feeling would be that being raised in a caring, stable, intellectually stimulating and economically safe environment (typically described as "good family") has a significantly larger influence than simply banning TV and allowing only "family-friendly" video games.
    – Stephie
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 5:48
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    "I offer my current viewpoint, which is still almost entirely based on the conversation from that one day..." It would be a much better answer if you could actually cite respected sources for your position. That's the SE model, and it's preferred here as well. Theory is fine, but not as an authoritative answer. Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 4:06
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    Think about this for a minute, maybe you'll see what I see. Your entire opinion is based on one person. Does that make it valuable as a source of information? Not really. Yes, experience counts, but this is pure opinion. That's imo; not written in stone. Some good sources would have made it much more valuable. Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 4:58
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    This answer is exclusively anecdotical And the calories consumed is largely irrelevant.
    – Jose Luis
    Commented Jul 28, 2015 at 14:13

I have 3 daughters who are 7, 5, and 3 years old. I didn't allow them to watch TV till a year ago when I was talked into babysitting a large plasma tv while the owner left the country for a few years. Then it didn't take much to hook it up. I watched it for maybe an hour in total over 6 months just to remind myself why I got rid of my own TV in the first place.

However during those months my daughters deteriorated. Without TV it was possible to engage them - the two older ones were interesting to speak with. The 7-year old used to pester me for math problems subtraction, addition, and multiplication and actually kept a journal since she was 6. The 5-year-old knew the ABC and counted to 100 as well as tried writing phrases.

That was before. After 6 months, they became much more confrontational and rude - behavior learned from children's shows that seem to feel it's critical that kids never question that their parents are stupid, useless, and an object of ridicule based on the cartoon 'storylines'.

They started imitating the cartoon characters, who taught them that learning is overrated, that cool people talk in broken slang, that there are no morals to govern one's behavior but - 'I want it, and I want it now, and I don't care about anything or anyone else'. On the 6-months anniversary of plugging it in, my 7 years old told me that reading is stupid and a waste of time. That night, the plasma had an unfortunate accident (sorry Mark).

The first 3 weeks without TV again, was like watching one of those shows where crackheads or dope fiends in rehab go through withdrawals. My girls didn't know what to do with themselves. Moody, tears, threats, first temper tantrum from the oldest. Now they partially recovered but the damage has been done.

Books are shunned now, 6 months later, as something stupid, and there are frequent reminiscence sessions where the girls sit and talk about how awesome a tv is and how wonderful the programs are that show you everything instead of having to make pictures in your head and read stuff.

----Advice: too late for me

TV is what they indoctrinate you to mold you into a happy little bot incapable of independent thinking and always hand in hand with the popular culture and whatever that clique happen to be supporting and opposing that week.

If you want to grow vegetables, programmed to look down at you, then agenda-driven TV is the way to go. My advice - throw it out. There is plenty of stuff on youtube and other sites.


A 2010 study, University of London Institute of Education, [The consequences at age 7 of early childhood disadvantage in Northern Ireland and Great Britain], which used test results for 11,000 seven-year-olds tracked since birth (part of the Millennium Cohort Study).

Ref: http://www.ofmdfmni.gov.uk/the_consequences_at_age_7_of_early_childhood_disadvantage.pdf

"...watching fewer than three hours of TV a day (is) positively linked to the teacher assessment score." (p.19)

"...less than three hours of TV a day in the pre-school period are all linked with a positive trajectory in teacher assessment between the ages of 5-7" (p.20)

"Moderate TV viewing (between one and three hours daily) is linked to lower (social and behavioral) difficulties scores as compared to high levels of viewing (over three hours)..." (p.22)

(p.46)/(p.49) of the study are especially interest with the coefficients listings for various conditions affecting children of various races/neighborhoods/conditions at home/parenting styles. etc.. (including hours of tv viewing).

There is lots of good data here to go over, but its plain to see from the data on pp.46/49 that the less TV the better.


A 2013 study by the same team as Study-1 above using the same Millennium Cohort sample - [Social Class and Inequalities in Early Cognitive Scores] - published in Journal of Sociology


http://eprints.ioe.ac.uk/11611/ (docx download)

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-the-neighborhood/201306/is-television-the-key-academic-success (summary)

The study concluded that children of less educated mothers who watched 3 hours of TV each day were three months ahead of their peers (also with less educated mothers) who watched less than an hour of TV per day. Thus on average, children of less educated mothers benefit from watching television. For children with educated parents in stable homes, there is damage - physical health, mental health, progress, etc.

  • @Schism Fair enough. I've deleted my comment. Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 21:44
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    This answer needs more upvotes.
    – CodeAngry
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 1:35
  • @GentlePurpleRain - I very much appreciate your comment. It should be visible, not just for this answer, but for the others as well. Anecdote has it's place, but makes for a less valuable answer. Plus, it was kind and considerate. Please reconsider posting. Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 4:33
  • @Schism - the fact that the top-voted answer is only opinion masked as fact doesn't really have bearing on this answer. The entire site would be better for all users if posters tried to support their answers with reputable research. Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 4:37
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    @anongoodnurse I edited my answer and added an ongoing study with a large enough sample. Thanks for keeping me honest. :)
    – NickNo
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 7:59

No scientific, but anecdotal answer:

We don't have a cable either and are in a very similar situation – IT pros with fast Internet.

Our kids are 6 and 9. Both go to school / preschool and interact with other kids.

While there will always be a group of kids that has seen everything that was on TV (square babysitter, you know...), others won't because their parents don't let them watch whatever they want.

I don't think that you can compare your husband's experiences with the possibilities of today's technology. While he was literally unable to watch what his peers watched, you can still access most content online. You might need to listen to what your kids report as the latest "subject" (the must-see's can change fast) and find it online, but up to today our kids usually were fine with getting a basic understanding of what a series is about. Besides, at their age, I still choose what they may watch – using the old "if all of your friends jumped from the bridge" argument if necessary. And I fully know that – whatever the kids may say to the contrary – many other parents do so, too.

Both kids can watch TV at the grandparents next door, but usually don't do so much. The both have come to appreciate ad-free movies and picking what they want to watch at the time they want to do so – and both had a hard time initially understanding that TV doesn't cater to their wishes in that respect.

I can't say for sure how that may change when they enter their teens ("Did you watch [some show] last night?"), but we'll cross that bridge when we get there.

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    Once you're into teenage years, the "show to watch" is more often a drama (or sci-fi show, among my particular friends) that doesn't lend itself to casual watching, since events from previous shows/seasons play a significant role in plot and character development. That's almost never the case in shows for younger children. But, by the time you reach that stage, it's entirely possible the hit, trendy shows will be viewable online anyway. Media is evolving incredibly quickly.
    – Acire
    Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 14:56
  • @Erica from my point of view, it's evolving incredibly slowly: the tech is there, the users are there, yet "they" resist any change as long as they can (despite hordes of evidence about the profitability of doing otherwise).
    – o0'.
    Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 15:08
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    @Lohoris From a big picture perspective (TV was invented nearly a century ago), the last 5-10 have been a pretty epic shift in the way entertainment is distributed and consumed. This serves to reinforce Stephie's point about "the possibilities of today's technology" — if nothing else, TV-free kids have the perfect comeback: Wait, you're still watching shows on TV?
    – Acire
    Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 16:13
  • @Stephie Most babysitters are widescreen these days, btw. ;)
    – Gavin42
    Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 16:29
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    @antony.trupe TV is similar to Netflix in the way the music stations you may listen to in the car are similar to Spotify. There were lots of stations playing shows at a time but you couldn't choose the exact thing you wanted to watch - you had to choose from whatever the stations were playing at that time. One big exception from radio music though - it wasn't free, it was usually quite expensive unless you had just the couple free local channels. Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 19:47

Whether children get picked on has much less to do with the thing they are picked on for and much more to do with their social skills and general social standing.

If your children asks to see something specific, make it available to them if it is appropriate for them to see, but concentrate on developing their social interaction skills.

As a child I had access to all the channels, but because I was fundamentally different from my peers (Autism spectrum disorder), I wasn't interested in the same things as them. Thus I could have known what all the rage was about, but never did, because I preferred Discovery channel to pop-singer-battles and sitcoms.

I was heavily bullied through my entire childhood, but it was never about the things they said or called me, social ridicule is all about tone of voice and social exclusion. They could have bullied me with my lack of pop band knowledge, but never did. They chose my name, my country of origin and my weight, but it was never about any of that. It was always just about my poor social skills.

In short: If your children will be picked on, the evildoers will find something to say, no matter whether you have a cable connection or not, the two are not related.


The biggest problem would be, as you state, the children not understanding the language and cultural references of their peers.

I've even noticed this myself. I don't watch (or have) a TV, I don't care about or follow sports and I listen to music outside the norm. When I talk to colleagues or other parents, I have effectively nothing to have small talk about other than work and my family. As a pretty big introvert, that doesn't really bother me, but for children I can imagine it being pretty bad.

A lot of what kids do is play, and play works best when everyone has a sort of shared culture to work from. If your child is not aware of the things the other kids in class watch, read or listen to then your child might be excluded or at least will be known as "the one that needs everything explained to them".


In my (admittedly anecdotal) experience our children have not experienced any harm from not watching TV, and may have benefitted from not having a TV around.

When my then-girlfriend and I moved into our first apartment together we had a TV and had it plugged in - but the only 'person' who watched it was our dog, because we'd turn the TV on to keep him entertained if we had to leave him home alone. (Didn't work - the neighbors still complained that he howled when we left).

When we got married and bought a home together we decided to put the TV in the basement, facing the wall, unplugged. On a couple of occasions we said "We should watch (the Olympics/the World Series/whatever)" but we always forgot to do so. Time passed and kids came, but the TV stayed downstairs, facing the wall, not plugged in. The kids were allowed to play computer games and watch movies on our computers, but TV was just not part of their lives growing up. Sports (gymnastics and soccer), clubs (Girls Scouts and various similar groups), and school activities were all things they participated in, but no TV.

Now, my wife is very smart (high school valedictorian, top grades in college, recruited by international consulting firm after college) so I suppose that maybe our kids (three girls) would have been smart anyways due to her genetic and maternal influence - but our kids are all smart and motivated. As in - all three are straight-A students - eldest scored 2400 (perfect score) on the SAT after her sophomore year in high school, and enters Harvard as a freshman next month - next eldest is a top-level (level 9, transitioning to 10) gymnast, is a varsity starter on her high school's soccer team, and does volunteer animal care work (building up her resume' to get into vet school) - youngest is also a gymnast, and is showing interests in theater and clothing design. In addition, all three are well-behaved, polite, thoughtful, less materialistic than I was at their age(s), hard workers, and just generally speaking good kids.

Is all this directly attributable to our "no TV" life? I can't say. I doubt that it's all because of "no TV" - but I think that does play a role. Early on they developed a long attention span, something which TV adversely affects. They didn't have TV showing them that "being rude is COOL". They didn't have all those "buy-buy-buy" commercials bombarding them with the message of "more stuff means more happiness!". They didn't have hours of vapid "entertainment" filling their heads with fluff - the spent those hours reading books and magazines and basically anything they could get their hands on. They didn't grow up feeling that "interrupting their show" was one of the greatest of all possible parental sins. If I need help in the barn or the orchard or the garden all I have to do is ask, "Can you please come out and help me with X?" and they're willing to help out.

I think that "no TV" is a Good Thing.


  • +1 for the funny dog-sitting story. If I could upvote more than once, I would. Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 4:42
  • Five-year-later follow-up: eldest graduated from Harvard, did a COVID-19-shortened Fulbright year in Germany, and is now working on a PhD. Middle daughter is in vet school. Youngest is in a technical theater/costume design undergrad program. I remain unconvinced that not watching TV as youngsters "deprived" them of anything important. And I'd like to discuss this further - but first, a word from our sponsors..! :-) Commented Jan 4, 2021 at 3:30

It's unlikely your child will suffer negative social consequences due to not having broadcast TV in your home.

TV is on the decline.

At this point in time, cable/satellite television is not as big of a social influence as it would have been in yours or your husband's time.

For instance, a survey found that 1/3rd of "Millennials" don't watch broadcast TV.1

Instead, websites such as YouTube and social media sites with video content are becoming increasingly popular.

Since 2011, children (12-17) are watching less of traditional TV in general2. This makes sense when you realize that they're shifting from standard TV to Internet-based media.

Internet media is on the rise.

More families are also trying to "cut the cord", which is a popular trend in the USA of using only Internet-based services, instead of cable/satellite-based services. Estimates say that traditional TV companies are losing growth and ratings in the face of this trend.3 & 4

So, it's unlikely that not having a subscription to traditional TV services will have much of an impact on your child. The Netflix CEO has even made the claim that he believes broadcast TV will die by 2030.5 While it may not necessarily die, there's a high level of probability that it's going to change. Many networks already have their content hosted on their own websites, through streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu, or are offering their own individual streaming services.6

Instead being connected to pop culture through standard TV, your child is much more likely to be connected through Internet-based media and communication. It's incredibly hard to predict what sort of services will be the de facto app for you child, as the landscape is quickly changing. Since the millennium we've seen MySpace, Facebook, Reddit, Pandora, YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, Spotify, WhatsApp, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine and more!

Ads and new content won't go away.

Basically were cutting out most of the commercials (I hope), and most of the little random shows that just came out yesterday.

Random little shows sometimes seem to be what the Internet produces. It's impossible to predict what's going to be produce, and hard to predict what's going to be popular.

As far as commercials, we're likely to see an increase to ads in our Internet media. YouTube, for instance, gives uploaders the ability to include unskippable ads in their videos. Twitter now has the ability for its Promoted Tweets to appear on other services.7

Traditionally, advertisements have been a huge source of revenue in media and in tech. Magazines and newspapers are filled with print ads. Television has commercials. Movies have previews and product-placement. Websites have ad networks. In 2014, Google's ad revenue was nearly $60 billion USD, which was about 90% of their total revenue.8 That's an incredibly large sum of money, and so you should only expect that more businesses are going to try to find ways to get a piece of it.


I don't think it's bad at all to not have cable or satellite. My wife and I deliberately raised our children (eldest is almost 14, youngest is 9) without broadcast and cable TV. We do of course have a TV and a blu-ray player, and Internet access.

Why'd we do it this way? Put simply, there's too much on TV that runs counter to the values we want our children to learn. We wanted to make sure that these undesirable influences had no chance to intrude upon our home and family life.

Do we miss TV? Not at all. Our kids became fantastic readers, and instead of spending their evenings vegetating in front of the TV watching so-called "must-see TV" they read, or we watch fun movies together or play games.

Has it harmed them socially? Not once. True, they may not know about what's going on with the latest fad TV show, but again, these aren't really shows we want them watching anyway. So nothing lost there. They've never been teased or picked on because of it.

Do I think it's been good for them? Absolutely.

  • Hi, Josh, and welcome to the site! It's helpful to know that your kids didn't suffer for their experience (or lack thereof, whichever way you look at it; it worked out well for them.) :) Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 4:40

This is a cultural thing. It will be differ with different country, different societies, and different families.

From the moment I had moved out and lived on my own more than a quarter of a century ago, I have lived without a TV. All my children grew up without a TV, except my oldest for a while, whose mother had one for a few years while they were teens. (Her mother never watches TV. During that time, the children sometimes would watch in the afternoon, before she came home. From what I understood, she still has that TV, but the children do not use it anymore.)

What were the effect?

  • While watching movies (on the computer) or going o to the cinema, one of my children was unusually strongly affected from scenes that were a bit harsher. That went away when he became a teenager.
  • None of my kids can contribute much when their peers talk about what they've seen on TV. None seems to feel they are missing out much.
  • Sometimes they would visit friends with the intent to watch TV together. We neither encouraged nor discouraged that.
  • Important football (soccer) games we watch together using the computer.
  • Those who already went through their teenage years all had a phase where they would watch sitcoms etc. on their computer.
  • My oldest is about to move into her own apartment (with two friends) pretty soon. She hopes the others won't bring a TV.
  • All my kids read books. Some more, some less, but all of them read more than the average of their peers.
  • They also spend a lot of time on their computer or tablet. For the smaller ones this time is rather limited (half an hour/day during the week, an hour on the weekend). When they were around 13 or 14, my older kids were allowed to buy their own computer, and from then on weren't monitored anymore. (Council is still given, although I try to not to be indoctrinating about it.)

All in all, I see no reason to change anything. If any of the children had difficulty with their peers because they cannot contribute to the "TV gossip", we would probably consider searching for a school where peers are better suited for that child. So far, this has never happened.

I live in a big city in Germany. Having lived in the US for a while, I can imagine this being much harder on the children there.


I grew up without TV (I was born in 1978 - not just no cable, my parents did not own a TV at all). It was sometimes annoying to not have TV and know what my peers was talking about, but not a huge deal.

I watched some children's shows at my grandmothers. Enough that I was aware of the main characters.

Later, in my teens, I watched 90210 at my neighbors house sometimes.

I think today, with access to Netflix and other streaming services, it doesn't really matter, especially for small kids. Having them watch ANY episode of Dora the Explorer and similar gives them an idea of the show enough so they can talk about it.

Later, when teens, there might be issues of not having watched the very latest Glee or Walking Dead or whatever teen/adult dramatic show where spoilers and plotline matters more.

But you can have a discussion at that time (and by that time the industry will hopefully have changed so the cable companies have lessened their grip on exclusive content)


There are not necessarily any drawbacks to not having TV. All you are really giving up is programmed content. Programmed content makes for a convenient electronic babysitter, but without it, children are not really missing out on anything. All the same content is still readily available on demand online, not to mention free of commercials. Furthermore, people (especially young people) are getting less of their content from broadcast programming and more of it from the internet every year. If you do not have children now, then by the time you do have children and they are old enough to communicate with their peers in the language of pop culture, watching TV likely will have already gone the way of talking on a landline telephone.

TV shows are not fundamentally different from movies and books. It is unquestionably good for children to have access to content that interests them, but there is no need for that content to be broadcast to them on a schedule. Take them to the library on a regular basis, take them to see the movies they want to see, give them parentally-controlled Netflix accounts they can browse at their leisure, etc.

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