Outside the Box: Living TV Free

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A few months before our son was born, my husband and I made the decision to get rid of our TV. Neither one of us considered ourselves addicted to TV the way some people are, but when it was there, it was on.   My husband has what I call his ‘TV face’- jaw slack, eyes glazed- and I have been known to eat mindlessly in front of the screen, not paying attention to what I’m putting in my body, either nutritionally or from an informational point of view. Furthermore, both of us felt as though our childhood relationships with our fathers had been seriously affected by having a TV in the house.  I still have a copy of a story I wrote in Year One about how my dad loved watching TV more than me.  Today I know that’s not true but, at times, it sure did feel that way to me.

I didn’t want to be one of those mums that plonked my baby in front of the TV, even if the programming was ‘educational.’  I didn’t want Elliot to overhear words and see images that were meant for an audience far beyond his years. Mostly, we wanted to shield our son from the onslaught of ‘buy, buy, buy’ messages in advertising as long as we could.  My instincts were supported by ‘the experts’- the American Pediatrics Association, one of the leading research bodies in the field of TV and children, recommends no TV for children under two, linking childhood viewing to increased rates of obesity, ADHD, and a host of other health problems.

Hesitant to part with it completely, the TV went into the closet, leaving a big, gaping hole in our entertainment centre. The first week it was gone we ate dinner by the light of a kerosene lantern and actually talked about our days.   By the end of the month, I’d stopped wondering about what was happening in the lives of the fictional characters in my favourite shows and developed a renewed interest in the lives of the real people around me.  After two months, I moved my meditation space to where the TV used to be and zoned out in a different way.

We are not without technology.  We have a laptop where we watch movies and shows on DVD occasionally, when Elliot is napping or has gone to bed.  I Facebook, e-mail , read several blogs on a regular basis, and skim the news headlines daily so that we are not completely out of touch. The reality of it is, however, that very little of it actually affects me and, in most cases, ignorance truly is bliss.

Taking away the TV has created space and time in our life to focus on being a family.  I spend more time with Elliot singing, reading and playing.  The library is an oft visited location. There is quiet time in our days, something I find so important for renewal.

What has surprised us is the reaction from others when they find out our TV is gone.  Some are supportive, but most look at us with complete and utter shock.  Some people have even gone so far as to question my parenting, insisting that babies need to be exposed to TV to help with their ‘early learning.’ A headshake followed by the utterance of ‘Dirty hippies!’ is not uncommon. These same friends then turn around and complain about the lack of time in their life and how they never seem to have the energy for what really matters.

As a coach, I work with a lot of clients who are striving to create balance in their lives.  They are ‘time poor’ and insist that there is not another minute in their day that can be diverted to their goals.  The first question I ask is whether or not they have a TV and, if so, how often it is on (two plus hours per day is a pretty standard response).    This is not a judgment.  People have the right to have a TV in their home and to watch it as much as they wish.  But people need to get real about the amount of time it sucks up and the impact it has on families.   A woman I know recently shared that at one point she lived in a large house with four bedrooms, a lounge room and a study.  Each room had its own TV and the members of the family were usually in their separate rooms watching their favourite programs.  At the time, she felt like they were really living the ‘Aussie dream’ to be able to afford such extravagance.  Today she is grieving for those irretrievable hours, and regretting a failed marriage and distant relationships with her now adult children.  This may be an extreme example but, as she says, she will always be left wondering what would have happened if they had just turned the damn things off.

If any of this sounds familiar or strikes a chord, try turning it off for a week in your home. See how your life changes. And if you want to find this ‘dirty hippie’ and have a chat about it, I’ll be at the library.

The Plug In Drug: Television, Computers and Family Life

Categories: Child development

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