The following is by contributor Jaimie of Two Chicks and a Hen.
When Kara suggested I write about our experience as a TV-free household, I was hesitant. TV time for kids is one of those hot-button issues that can divide mothers or, at the very least, induce guilt in all of us–those with and without TVs. But I’m not here to tell you that you should throw out your TV. I’m not even here to tell you why we don’t have one; you’ve heard all the reasons before and, like me, you’ve made the choice you feel is best for your family.
Five Lessons from a TV-Free Household
1. I’ve found that it’s easier to have my children watch no TV at all than it is is to allow TV sometimes. I know the conventional wisdom says “everything in moderation,” and that some people have success limiting TV to 1/2 hour a day, or only on the weekends, or some other system. I tried something similar and found it very challenging. For the first few years of their lives, I didn’t show my children anything on screens, ever.
Then, from late winter of 2011 to late winter of 2012, I allowed my children one half-hour show per week, usually an episode of Little Bear or something similar on Netflix. While my girls certainly enjoyed this 1/2 hour, I did not find it to be worth the struggles that ensued. The begging I endured for “just one more show, for special!” and the complaints of “but we didn’t watch a show today!” (even though a show was only allowed once a week) were too much for me.
Now that we’ve returned to a truly TV-free life, my children never beg for shows. As an activity, it simply doesn’t exist in our home. I mention this because I know many people who have had enormous struggles trying to cut down on TV time. I imagine it could be very difficult to go from allowing a lot of TV to allowing very little. I honestly feel that it’s been much easier for me because I happened to have started in the opposite direction. But if you are someone who really, genuinely wants to cut down on the screen time and you’re having trouble, I humbly suggest that you consider the possibility of trying total elimination. You may find it easier.
2. My kids sometimes have that particular combination of boredom and crabbiness that makes TV sound incredibly appealing…and it’s OK. Here’s an admission: There are moments, probably at least once a month, when my kids are driving me a little crazy, and I think about how nice it would be to just turn on a show to calm them down and/or entertain them. I’m sure you know the feeling.
In the moment, it is very, very tempting–so much so that I have little mental negotiations with myself about the possibility of doing it. But what I have realized through these experiences is that a little creativity goes a long way. When I have my senses about me enough (read: I’ve had enough coffee), I can help them snap out of their malaise enough to get us back on track to having a good day.
What I’ve learned about my kids is that they themselves have it in them to make it through these bad moments without a distraction like TV, and when they don’t, it usually means they’re hungry, tired, or both.
3. Eliminating TV at home doesn’t mean I’m fully able to keep my very small children away from some of the things that concern me about TV–largely, advertising and violence. These things still seep in, whether from the products their (very sweet) classmates bring to school, or the shows my kids watch when they aren’t with me, or the syndicated character-laden books that fill the libraries; the advertising, in particular is really pervasive. And this means that I have thoughtful conversations with my kids about these issues when they arise.
Getting rid of TV hasn’t rid my children’s world of these things. It has, however, made a statement to them about my beliefs and values. And while I do prefer to keep advertising and violent media away from my kids right now, as they get older it will become more and more important to be aware of such things as they learn to navigate the world.
4. When I’m busy and can’t hang out with them, there is always something for them to do, and when forced, my children can entertain themselves. This isn’t always the easy route to take, believe me. While my kids are very creative and enjoy a wide variety of activities, that doesn’t mean that they don’t sometimes lay on the couch (or lay on the floor, or hang on my leg) and tell me they’re bored.
My proclamation that being bored is not an acceptable excuse for needing to be entertained and my insistence that there is always something to do are not necessarily met with joyful responses, but I’ve found that persistence pays off. Laying on the floor complaining gets boring after a few minutes, and on the rare occasion that it doesn’t, going outside always snaps them out of it.
5. Finally, a much sillier lesson: not having a TV doesn’t prevent me from watching something when I feel like it. I don’t feel deprived not owning a TV, in part because I don’t usually love watching it, but also because (yay for living in 2012!) anything I want to watch is available online somewhere. It’s nice, really, because not having that big black box sitting out in public view means my kids don’t walk by, see it, and ask for TV. And it means that our small space is not made even smaller.
For those interested: I don’t know what my long-term plan is. A couple of months ago, I introduced a special once-a-month movie night with my older daughter (who turns six next week), and when my little one gets older, she’ll join in with us. It’s likely that as the years go by, I will re-introduce the possibility of a television show or two, or a free-reign day, or TV on the weekends.
It’s also possible that I won’t; I really can’t predict how I’ll feel about it. But right now, my children are very young, and in our household, this is what I’ve found to work best.
Kara, here: Is your household TV-Free? Have you considered making that switch? We’re not a TV-Free household, but I do consider it from time to time. TV-Free or not, can you relate to these lessons? As Jaimie writes, everyone makes the choices they feel best. It is certainly okay to disagree, but as always, I hope I can count on Simple Kids readers to keep their comments respectful and to explore our differences in a non-judgmental manner.