We don't have a TV. My oldest actually wears it like a badge of honor. During get-to-know-you games where you have to give 3 interesting facts about yourself, this child will usually throw out the no-TV tidbit just to hear others' reactions.
Oh, we watch movies and YouTube videos sometimes, and the kids play games on the iPad, but for the most part we don't spend a lot of time converging with pop culture. Can I explain why I love being unplugged?
Well, first I should back up a little and explain how we came to be a TV-less family.
If you think it was a deliberate decision that I made because I'm just so principled, I'm flattered but you'd be wrong. Some of you may remember the analog-to-digital change over that happened in 2009. Well, suddenly all the people who'd been getting free network TV (i.e: us) wouldn't get it anymore.
We're too cheap to pay for cable so we grabbed a converter box courtesy of one of those free vouchers handed out by the government.
Unsurprisingly, the converter boxes didn't work very well (at least ours didn't) which really turned watching TV from a mindless relaxation into a frustrating pain in the butt.
And then my mom offered to give us this piano.
Because of the living space in our home, we didn't have room for both. We had to choose between the beautiful antique piano, or the seldom-used TV that sends my kid into epileptic fits an average of 3 times per Sesame Street episode when the signal disappears.
So my kids are learning to play the piano, and it turns out that ditching our TV is one of the best things we ever randomly did.
It means that for the formative years of their lives, the main influences on my kids are me, Phillip, and their leaders at church. And we're all teaching them the same thing, which isn't always what they'd be learning from the Disney Channel.
As a culture we have no idea how deeply pop culture can influence our kids. Through advertising, Saturday morning cartoons, and even educational programming, they're being exposed to a ton of subtle messages, such as:
- Brothers and sisters don't get along.
- Parents are clueless.
- It's funny to be sassy and sarcastic. Name-calling can also be funny.
- Friends are everything.
- Girls should spend a lot of time thinking and talking about boys.
- Don't even get me started on what they'll learn about what beauty is and how girls should dress.
Recently in the pediatrician's waiting room, a tween sitcom on ABC Family was playing on the big screen. The family in the show had secret superpowers, and the brother had just used his powers to pour chocolate and cheese in his sister's hair.
My daughter, not having been taught that siblings are natural enemies, turned to me genuinely confused and asked, "Why would he pour chocolate and cheese in her hair??" The writers of the show didn't address the boy's motives, taking it for granted that pranking sisters is just what brothers do.
Since then, I've noticed that most kids' TV shows I see have a main character with an annoying younger sibling or a mean older sibling.
The media expects siblings to fight. The tricky thing about expectations is that children usually meet whatever expectation you have of them. Is it too far-fetched an idea that media consumption might fan the flames of sibling rivalry?
Another thing I've noticed is how TV portrays parents as more peripheral than they are — or should be, anyway — to a kid's life. Kids' shows usually revolve around a child character who interacts a lot with her friends and only a little with her parents.
When they're little, kids naturally see their parents as sources of authority and help. They look to their parents for a sense of stability, and I'm convinced they need that for most of the 18 years they spend at home.
For as long as possible, I want my kids to see Phillip and I as the main players in their lives, the people they can look to for cues about how to act and be in the world. The media can sow seeds of doubt by suggesting that we're old-fashioned, clueless, or don't "get it." Maybe that's all true, but we're still the best they've got.
Nobody would mistake us for an Amish family or anything. My kids know all the lyrics to "What Does the Fox Say?" and will dance Gagnam Style if you ask them to. I realize that if they don't get exposed to pop culture at all, they'll have a hard time relating to others and making friends.
When there's a big to-do about a viral video we'll check it out. When kids at school are talking about a certain cartoon, we'll watch a few episodes on YouTube. But I like to think of those exposures as educational field trips we occasionally take, not a regular part of the kids' everyday lives.