A week ago I finally worked up the nerve to take a huge plunge.
I turned off the TV.
It’s so easy these days to have it on all the time. Instant streaming through Netflix makes television available at my kids’ finger tips.
Unlike when we were kids…remember when there was only one (maybe two) channels with children’s programming? We had PBS and Nick. Both channels had children’s shows, but not 24/7. We didn’t have the ability to fast forward, rewind, pause, or DVR. We could beg our parents to set the VCR and hope we could find a tape to record it on, and then hope it was set right and actually recorded, but that didn’t happen too often. Today kids just have to push a button and they have a vast amount of programming available at any time. Endless amounts of TV shows and movies. It’s crazy when you stop and think about it.
And it’s easy. It’s very easy as a parent to let them just watch TV. It escalates so quickly, too. I mean, it snowballs…until one day you wake up and realize your child’s life centers on staring at that big glowing screen.
So last week I looked outside, and I saw sun. I looked at my four year old and I saw a pale face with circles under her eyes staring up at a huge, obnoxious yellow talking sponge on a screen, and I took a deep breath. Then I stood up and hit the power button.
What followed was rather frightening. There was three full days of distressed wailing, crying, gnashing of teeth, mourning, and tantruming. The Glowing Screen has a powerfully addictive grip on preschool brain matter.
Once the withdraw symptoms passed, it has been smooth sailing. Instead of whining, there is more peace and happiness. We do art. She finishes eating and then she goes outside to play, even when it’s 45 degrees and cloudy. My house is strewn with toys that were ignored before. There has been lots of laughter, and big messes from hours of imaginary playtime. Every evening, instead of dragging a whining child away from the TV or a video game and yelling to get her attention, I simply ask her to help me clean up. You know what happens? She asks if she can leave out the few things she’s currently playing with. I say yes. She puts them on the couch. Then she quickly and quietly cleans up everything else with me! OMG! Not just toys, but dirty clothes and dishes and clutter. Did you know the TV was making her unwilling to help clean up after herself? I think she couldn’t pull herself away, it was too hard.
What else are we doing without television in our daily lives?
We’re studying whales. We got a mountain of whale books from the library, we’re making flash cards of the different types of whales, we’re making a lap book of whale information. We’re learning to write the letters in the word WHALE perfectly, and noting the letter sounds. We’re playing an adding and subtracting math game where a whale (designed by Rosie) swims along and eats little fish or spits some out. Rosie absolutely loves it.
In the mornings instead of lounging around watching TV, Rosie now gets up and dresses herself, washes her face, brushes her teeth, and then wakes us up way too early because she wants to help cook an egg for her breakfast and then do homeschool.
Why didn’t I turn off that TV sooner?
I guess I just didn’t realize how monopolizing it was, and the effect it had on Rosie’s behavior and her daily routines.
The TV really is the center of American life. Look at our living rooms–most of them are arranged around a television, with seating facing a TV. If we had a bigger house I would put the TV in a side room all by itself and have couches and chairs in the living room set up for conversation instead of mindless TV viewing.
I realize there’s another reason I didn’t turn off the TV sooner. It’s one that’s harder to admit. I miss the TV. Not because I liked watching it all day, not at all. I miss the moments it bought me. It’s so distracting! I could sit down and waste time on the internet while my kids stared at the TV. I could have silence instead of constant four year old chatter. The pressure was off of me–I didn’t have to be the one entertaining them constantly, the TV would do it. Turning it off was a big adjustment for me because I was left with a huge gap to fill. It was honestly a little scary, which is why it took me so long to work up the courage to do it.
We still have cable and Netflix. I’m not becoming anti-TV. I think everything in moderation is fine! The issue is that children don’t have the maturity to self regulate their screen time when they are bombarded with endless viewing choices. I realize that now. I don’t want television viewing to become a coveted thing. I don’t want Rosie to leave my care and freak out over TV because it’s been put up on a pedestal as something rare and amazing she hardly gets to experience.
Every night when we get ready for bed Rosie can watch TV. That’s half an hour or sometimes an hour of viewing, which is fine by me. That’s what TV should be for, to relax for a little while every now and then. And I’m sure we’ll still watch movies together some days. We’ll still watch educational things too. But the television no longer holds power over my children. I can’t even tell you the change that has happened around here since I turned that thing off! I’m so glad I worked up the nerve to do it.