Parenting 101

Why I stopped skipping commercials during kids’ shows

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During our childhood, we had barely a handful of shows every weekend aimed at children. We would wait eagerly all week long for Saturdays and Sundays. Then when the show times would approach, we would temporarily put sibling rivalries and play time squabbles on hold; and shout out to the person dawdling outside to hurry in. There was no pause button for live TV and no record button to watch it for later.

So, if you missed a show, you missed it. Period. There will again be the nail-biting wait till the next weekend before a one-minute recap will let you live the precious seconds of what you had missed the week before.

Then there were the commercials…

…many, many commercials. Chocolates, ice creams, noodles, pencils, toys, all vying for our attention and our very limited buying capacities. If I close my eyes, the jingles still ring in perfect harmony in my mind. We had no option to skip them. So, we learned to live with them. We developed what could only be described as “Commercial Blindness” similar to “Banner Blindness” of today. The ads just stopped registering in our brains. And a commercial break meant exactly that – a break – for a quick trip to the bathroom, a drink of water, grabbing snacks from the kitchen, discussing the plot and characters, maybe bickering some more, singing and dancing with the jingles or just doing nothing but waiting.

A lot of things have changed since then…

Countless research studies have made us aware of the derogatory effects of too much TV and even more so of commercials on the mental and physical well-being of our children. As a mother, sidestepping those proven statistics would be fool-hardy. So, I did what any conscientious mom would do. I recorded our son’s favorite TV shows. And then fast forwarded through the commercials of every “Cat In The Hat” and “Ready, Jet, Go” episode during his designated screen time.

The hidden aspect of commercials

But then, there is an aspect of commercials (and for that matter any waiting period) that we may have failed to appreciate. And that is the ability for our children to practice patience and delay gratification. In today’s fast-paced world, we habitually condition our children to an “I want it yesterday” mentality.

And I noticed this thought-process in action first-hand in our home when our son would hate even nanoseconds of delay due to ad-breaks and insist on fast forwarding through them.THAT.VERY.INSTANT. He will get annoyed if it took me a few seconds more in reaching the remote.

So, I did a small experiment and just stopped fast forwarding through all commercials during his TV shows. And here’s what the outcome has been so far from that experiment:

1. Patience and delayed gratification

If there is a single takeaway from the Standford Marshmallow Experiment, that has to be the power of delayed gratification in determining how our children will fare in their future lives.

When I stopped skipping commercials during our son’s favorite TV shows, after his initial impatience had subsided, I did see a definitive improvement in his patience levels and his ability to wait longer and longer for his show to start again.

He developed coping mechanisms like playing with his toys in the meantime or just jumping and hopping around – a plus from physical activity perspective too!

These days, if I turn the tables on him and ask with pretend-impatience “Why is your show not starting yet?

He readily dons on his Zen avatar and replies calmly “Wait for it, let the ads finish, then it will come!

2. Disappointments are but natural

One of the major reasons for experts to discourage commercial viewing is due to the exponential increase in whine-factor and demands from children for toys, junk food etc. that comes naturally after viewing those children-centric ads. And I agree completely.

I did see an increase in our son’s demand for toys, fast food etc. exactly as it is shown in the commercials. But even this whining has come with a silver lining for us.

Because we cannot (rather won’t) fulfill his every demand, he is slowly learning to take disappointments in his stride. He would ask for a toy. Then when we’d not entertain his demand, he would whine for a few seconds, before finally shrugging his shoulders and moving on.

Over time, he has learned to ask us only for things that he really, really wants and doesn’t care much about the ten thousand other commercials.

3. All that glitters is not gold

And last but not the least, watching commercials together has led us to many constructive discussions about their credibility. Whether an advertised food will make him healthy or not, whether the pencil is really unbreakable, will the toy turn to a superhero and save the day, and many such big and small discussions.

With time, he has come to take all ads with a pinch of salt, which in my opinion, should be the ultimate goal.

Being critical and not getting influenced by the underlying messages portrayed in the commercials is what I believe is better than trying to shield him from the bazillion different sources spewing out commercials at the speed of light.


In conclusion

It will be premature for me to say that we should stop limiting commercials during our children’s viewing time altogether. Ads influence not just small children, but even grown-ups at many different subconscious levels (as proven by numerous studies). But when I see our son demonstrate “Commercial Blindness” the way we used to as children, I feel that it may not be such a bad idea to let him suffer through some ads occasionally and discover patience in the process.

But now it’s your turn to share. Do you agree or disagree with this point of view? Don’t forget to voice your opinions in the comments section below.

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