My Dad didn’t think much of TV (always called the idiot box at our house). He often referred to my sisters and me as “slack-jawed idiots” when we watched it as kids. Nice, huh?
Hard to believe, but TV was pretty new when I was a boy. The first one I remember at home was a big brown metal box as deep as it was high and wide. Took a long time for the picture tube to warm up. Remote control? Never heard of it. Educational TV? Oh yeah – just touch that metal cabinet while standing on the bare floor for a quick lesson about electricity.
My sisters and I were allowed one hour of TV a week. That’s not per person, that’s total viewing time. Maybe it was the only thing we could agree on, or the choices were so few, but we always went for Disney’s “Wonderful World of Color” on Sunday nights (we watched it in black and white). The only show I recall my parents watching was “Gunsmoke.”
Did I feel deprived? Sometimes – especially when neighbors and friends got color TVs long before we did. But in defense of my parents, our friends were always welcome at our house, and we had plenty of outdoor activities and games and books to occupy our time and feed our imaginations. The benefits of a TV-free childhood didn’t become apparent until much later: I never got into the habit of watching it while I did get into habits of reading, making friends, enjoying games, and taking advantage of tons of other ways to make my own fun.
Now with kids of my own I have unabashedly cut off their access to TV at home. We haven’t watched it for more than twelve years. The fact that our toddler daughter (now 14) grew to love Barney seemed like an excellent reason to cut the cable, so we did. We do watch videos and DVDs, but we get to choose what comes into the house.
Here are some points on my list of advantages for a TV-free household:
- No commercials. About one of every three minutes of broadcast time is advertising. It’s estimated that $12 billion is spent annually on ads targeting the youth market, and the average kid takes in over 40,000 commercials a year. Think those ads aren’t effective? Pay attention the next time you see a kid having a fit in a store because s/he wants a product that’s advertised on TV.
- Understand how things happen. Ever notice how many shortcuts there are on TV shows or in movies? In one scene TV People discuss a vacation trip; in the next scene, TV Peoples’ car is packed and backing down the driveway; just one more scene and TV People are playing at their vacation destination. It’s like magic! Don’t know how it works at your house, but we find that putting together a vacation (or anything else) requires many non-magical intermediate steps, and we want to teach our kids how to take them. TV doesn’t help.
- Imagination. Many studies have looked at the effects of TV on childrens’ imaginations. This is not one of those scholarly efforts. We can report that our kids possess a wonderful ability to create and express their own ideas and images, and sometimes feel slighted by what media creates for them. I’m thrilled that both of them love to read. (Note: when we cut out TV, we realized it would mean more active play in the house, so we decided to increase our tolerance for chaos. This has proved to be an excellent decision that’s helped us to appreciate rather than be exasperated by the kids’ creativity.)
- Time and space. Nothing in our family schedule depends on what’s on TV. The time once spent watching it is available for other things: reading to kids, reading to ourselves, conversing around the dinner table, exercising, cooking, hosting, visiting neighbors, playing games, writing, sleeping, etc., etc. In addition, we enjoy more of a very precious and rare commodity: Quiet. So nice to have a little less noise and clutter in our heads.
As a Dad, I see one of my roles as acting as at least a buffer (if not a guardian) between my family and unwanted outside influences. Given the amount of crap on TV, it seems pretty easy to recognize it as one of those influences. I haven’t seen or heard anything in the last 12 years that’s made me want to reconsider our decision to be a no-TV household. And guess what? If there’s something we really want to watch, there’s a pretty good chance we’ll be able to find someone to let us watch TV with them. We’ve done this with neighbors (remember them?) and enjoyed the time together.
Every once in a while, the cable company (we have cable modem) calls to ask if we’d like to add basic cable TV. My standard response: “I would rather have the City install a sewer line dumping out in our living room than have cable TV. Any other questions?” That usually ends the call.
I also regard TV as competing against me for the time, attention, and affection of my kids. In this instance, I’m a warrior, baby. I will not knowingly invite the competition in to make itself comfortable and set up a camp from which to undermine my relationship with the kids. Plenty of other forces try to separate parents and children much earlier than necessary, and I have no interest in paying someone to provide such a service.
Other than this, I don’t really have much to say about TV. (OK, I do, but not now.) I don’t miss it. Susan and I spend time talking with each other. I am reasonably informed about what’s happening in the world and can engage in interesting conversations with people. Our kids are active, healthy, bright, imaginative, have lots of friends, and never complain about not being able to watch TV at home. They still enjoy us, and we’re crazy about them and they know it. In my mind all of these facts have some connection with the fact that we don’t watch TV. Care to join us?