This month we mark eight years in our current house, and never in that time have we owned a TV. It wasn’t a sudden decision, we’d been weaning ourselves and the kids back in our previous living quarters and moving seemed like the perfect time to make a fresh start. I know there’s all sorts of studies out there regarding kids and TV, but they didn’t play a huge role in our decision. We went with a gut feeling and just kept on going.
Now that we’re many years our from our initial experiment, I can say it’s been a good move for our family, but certainly as our children have aged and technology has advanced, we’ve allowed screens, and TV shows back into our lives. I think it’s always good to take stock of the ‘whys’ in a family to make sure bad practices aren’t continuing out of habit. I thought I would share some of what I’ve learned and noticed after we gave up TV, in case anyone else is considering it.
First and foremost, I’m not judging you!!! Most people’s initial reactions are either, we’re crazy, or they spend twenty minutes explaining why they still have TVs in their homes. I don’t know why this is. Just because we don’t have a TV doesn’t mean I think families with TVs are awful. I usually reassure people that my children eat lots of artificial colors, eschew wooden toys, ride bikes without helmets and still spend at least an hour a day on their tablets. Clearly I’m not vying for the title of world’s best, crunchy, hippy, attachment, natural, [insert trendy adjective here] mom. So please, calm down, then go watch Sister Wives. It’s totally okay.
Now some positive things I’ve noticed (or why we still don’t have a TV.)
1. My default response to the exhaustion at the end of a long day is no longer to collapse on the couch and turn on the TV. If we do want to watch something as a family, we set aside a special time for it and we pick out very specific movies or shows which we view on our computer via Hulu, Amazon or DVD. We don’t mindlessly sit and flip. And personally, I’ve discovered that when I have any free time, I have other things I’d rather do; write, read or even surf the web. So, sometimes even though we’re TV free, I’m still in front of a glowing monitor, I just prefer other activities, which I might never discovered, or made time for, with a TV still in our home. (If you know that your favorite thing to do is watch a certain show, that’s great! I just learned following shows wasn’t for me.)
2. We’re not bombarded with negative stimuli. Back when we had a TV and a major disaster struck, I was glued to the news. I would become very emotionally involved. Nowadays, I’m still on top of the news, and I do run the risk of occasionally becoming too worked up over something on social media, but, it’s much easier to shut down the constant barrage of negativity. My kids are also knowledgable of world events without watching gruesome videos or hearing graphic depictions on TV (most of which are sensationalized to increase ratings). We talk about world events, pray as a family and if they’re interested we share news stories and pictures with them from reputable online sources.
3. Less exposure to mainstream / secular cultural values. I find it’s much easier to keep materialism, vanity, greed and envy in check when I’m not bombarded with commercials. And I know my kids never know what toys they NEED until they happen to watch TV at someone else’s house. In addition, so many shows perpetuate negative stereotypes or normalize sinful behaviors, it’s easier to just select certain shows or movies to watch in advance, rather than take our chances on what happens to be in the prime time line up. No TV means more mindful viewing overall in our home.
Negatives (though none of these really upset me all that much).
1. All that being said, I do sometimes feel left out when everyone is buzzing about a certain show. I’m sure I’d really like Downton Abbey or whatever else people are watching, but once we gave up the TV I realized I just didn’t care enough about TV shows to invest my time into them, even if that made me an outsider. (I also don’t get most Dr. Who references which makes me very unpopular at parties.)
2. I miss Sunday football games. Since giving up TV, I don’t really follow my favorite team all that much. My husband was a huge ESPN fan; Sports Center was always on, especially during football season. Watching Sunday games together was a part of our relationship from the beginning. So, this has been difficult, however, we’ve done many things through the years to lessen our sorrow.
- Go to a restaurant and watch an important game.
- Get the NFL Live audio pass and listen to games instead.
- Go to a friend’s house to socialize and watch a game.
- Catch up on stats, highlights, etc. online.
- Watch playoff games and the Super Bowl online. (a fairly recent development)
Honestly, our new life sans TV is still the best, even in this regard. We both had to admit that, in the past, our game day behavior was, ahem, less than stellar. Our older kids might even remember Mama or Papa yelling loudly at the screen or being unapproachable when their team wasn’t doing well. We don’t get nearly as fired up just listening to a game and we’re both less likely to curse and throw things when we’re out in public.
3. TVs are really distracting when we go out, for Tony and I, and the kids. If we’re at a restaurant with TVs and we’re not there for a game, we still get sucked in by whatever is on. If we’re at a hotel or someone’s house, the kids always want to watch TV and flip channels endlessly. The novelty never seems to wear off. Doesn’t matter what other opportunities we may have, they’re content to sit and channel surf.
4. It was certainly MUCH easier to limit screen time when the kids were younger. However, as they aged, they wanted time on the computer, then more time, then they wanted to see particular cartoons or movies their friends were talking about. They used visits with family members to cram as much TV into their heads as they possibly could. So, we introduced screens with limits. We’d gotten to the point where we had to trust the kids to be mindful with their own viewing habits and hope our influence would guide them. I can see it will be an ongoing process as we help them overcome the sometimes overwhelming urge to veg out with screens, so they can hopefully learn where their God-given talents lie.
So that’s what I’ve learned. I’m interested to hear from any other TV free families, or hear the benefits to unlimited TV viewing. (We can have a friendly debate here, it’s not Facebook.) Feel free to ask any questions, and please, don’t feel the need to defend your 3820 inch flat screen.