Tuesday, October 14, 2014

I'm Glad We Killed Our TV

We don't have a TV, a fact which my oldest wears like a badge of honor. 

During get-to-know-you games where you have to give 3 interesting facts about yourself, she will usually throw out the no-TV one 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.

How We Randomly Got Rid Of Our TV

If you think it was a deliberate decision 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 (e.g: 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 transformed watching TV from a mindless relaxation into a frustrating pain in the butt.

And then my mom offered to give us this piano.

Beautiful antique upright from 1906.

Because of the living space in our home, we didn't have room for both. We had to choose between the beautiful antique piano and the seldom-used TV that sent my kid into epileptic fits whenever the signal disappeared in the middle of Sesame Street.

So my kids learned to play the piano, and it turns out that ditching our TV is one of the best things we ever randomly did.

Why Kids' TV is Sometimes the Actual Worst

Recently in the pediatrician's waiting room, a tween sitcom on ABC Family was playing on the big screen. Needless to say, my kids had never seen it or anything like it before, so their reaction was really interesting. 

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. As far as I could tell there was no motive, no reason for the meanness. Pranking sisters is just what brothers do, and this boy was just following the script.

My daughter, not having been taught that siblings are natural enemies, turned to me genuinely confused and exclaimed "Why would he pour chocolate and cheese in her hair??" 

As a culture we have no idea how deeply pop culture influences our kids. Through advertising, Saturday morning cartoons, and even educational programming, they're being exposed to a ton of subtle messages that aren't at all what I want them to learn about what it means to be a family, like:
  • Brothers and sisters don't get along.
  • Parents are clueless.
  • It's funny to be sassy and sarcastic. Name-calling can be funny.
  • Friends are everything.
  • Girls should spend a lot of time thinking and talking about boys. 
  • You have to look and act a certain way to be pretty, and being pretty is super-important.
I've spent a lot of time and effort thinking about how to build a strong family unit, and even though getting rid of our TV wasn't a deliberate part of that strategy, I think it just might be one of the most important steps I could ever take toward that goal.

Forget the normal concerns about screen time. The reason I love not having a TV is that the media doesn’t have as much of a say in how my kids think they should get along with their siblings and parents. I think everyone should reconsider the role television plays in reaching their family goals – and if you don’t get rid of it altogether, you can at least minimize the harmful impact of kids’ TV on your family relationships with these tips. #parenting #kids #familyrelationships #family #media #siblings #familygoals #unremarkablefiles #tv

This All Sounds Bad, But What If I Like My TV?

Even if you don't ditch your TV altogether, you can still be very selective about what your kids are allowed to watch.

Avoid books and television that normalize siblings who are habitually mean to each other. Most media expects brothers and sisters to fight, and the thing about expectations is that children will meet them, whatever they are.

Don't watch movies and shows that focus on a child main character who interacts a lot with her friends and very little with her parents. Parents shouldn't be made to look peripheral to a young kid's life  they need us as the main source of guidance and direction in their lives.

What About Socialization and Fitting In?

When there's a viral video or a really popular cartoon, I usually don't have a problem with checking it out. I'm not completely anti-television, and I realize that all the bad messages above can and are found in many kids' books as well.

I just like to think of those exposures as educational field trips we occasionally take, instead of a regular part of the kids' everyday lives.

When it comes to their everyday lives, I'm completely happy to throw out the TV and let my kids believe it's normal to be close to their parents and be friends with their siblings. Because it is.

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Anonymous said...

Bravo to you for taking the piano over the TV. Much better choice and I like the way you balance "real life" without letting it become their obsession.

Lydia Faulkner said...

Kudos to you Jenny for being brave.....no matter how it came about !!!

Rachel said...

I think that sounds like a really smart idea. I was raised with fairly limited TV use--when we were really little it was Mr. Rogers and Reading Rainbow on broadcast TV for the half hour-hour that my mom was preparing dinner before Dad got home from work. Those were pretty cool shows.
When I was older, we lived in a rented house that had cable for a year or two and our show became Gilligan's Island. Mom loved this, because we would finish all schoolwork, tackle all chores and get the house in perfect spotless condition by 3 p.m. if it meant we'd be allowed to watch Gilligan's Island. My siblings and I would write plays based on Gilligan's Island (at the time I didn't know what "fan fiction" was, but we were most definitely fans).
Now with my family in Malaysia, they have a TV set, but most broadcast channels aren't in English and mostly consist of news, so if they watch TV, they're watching a DVD movie, of which my parents have many.
Angel and I don't have a TV either, at our apartment. Again, most broadcast TV here would be in Chinese anyway, so it would be more educational than relaxing.
I really enjoy movies, I have a bunch of favorites--my parents started introducing us to classic black-and-white films in childhood, and I have a lot of good memories of family movie nights with snacks and various people working on puzzles and crafts because we can't just sit still without our hands doing something....so I can't imagine doing away with a TV/DVD player altogether or forever, but I definitely see the value in not making TV a primary player in a childhood. Even in the 90s, kids on TV behaved so badly that Mom would often stop a movie to ask us kids what rules they were breaking and how the kids could behave better and not cause themselves so much trouble. haha!

kerrynb81 said...

We barely watch tv, preferring on demand programs like Netflix, but I am concerned at the amount of time my 1 year old spends in front of a screen. An episode (or 3) of Thomas the Tank engine while I get ready in the morning (or, joy of joys go to the bathroom by myself!) doesn't seem like much, but it adds up, especially when considering he has special time with Grammy (ie. Playing kids games on her kindle) and beer and chips time with Grampa while watching baseball (please note - no need to contact child services as my child does not actually drink any beer! :). We live with my parents in law so my son spends probably an hour a day (gulp) in front of a screen. I feel I need to apologise for this, and feel quite guilty about it, but I know many other mum's and dad's use screen time for their sanity too and I certainly wouldn't judge them! Just myself apparently!

Jenny Evans said...

Since writing this, my preschooler has discovered that she can watch kids' shows whenever she wants on the iPad (Amazon Prime) and now it's a constant conversation. If she gets a little screen time, she becomes obsessed, and frankly it makes me want to throw the tablet out the same way we got rid of the TV!!

PurpleSlob InRecovery said...

I quit TV about 18 months ago. BEST decision ever!!

Unknown said...

We had no tv while our oldest children were in elementary school. The tv broke and we decided to not replace it. Our kids were the best readers in the school. They loved to play board games with each other and their friends. They planned and carried out games with the whole neighborhood. My son said there were not enough hours in the day to do all he wanted to do. But when I went back to college, my mother watched the kids, and brought over a tv the first week. Then there seemed to be time for several hours of tv.