Our experience with TV Free Week: what I learned about my kids and about myself

The following post is by editor Kara Fleck.

A few weeks ago our family joined in with Screen Free Week and we turned off the television and limited other screens for the week (for example, my iphone was used just as a phone).  I told you that I wanted to let my thoughts about that week percolate a bit before I shared with you.

Today I’m ready to share with you how the week went and what I think will happen in our family from here on out.  I also want to share what I learned about my kids and about myself that week (hint: it might come as a surprise who really had the screen habit.)

We are normally a family that finds it has to set limits on TV, for one thing because I have discovered that I much prefer music over the television as a background noise.  Aside from a few PBS Kids shows and the occasional movie, I’m a bit leery about the so-called “quality” of children’s programming these days, so we just leave the  television set off more often than not.

However, we do watch some PBS and sports on a regular basis.  My husband and I try to be mindful in our choices, not just “zoning out” in front of the TV, and we watch together as a family most of the time so that we see what the children see and there are no surprises.  We also set a time limit on the amount of television allowed.

My discovery: it wasn’t the kids, it was me.

Although, I have to admit that during a busy season of life this year, when I was doing much of the solo parenting some bad habits regarding the television developed.  Bad habits that were mostly mine. 

Now, I’m all about allowing myself a little grace.  This was the first time I’ve ever faced the month of April (known as the dreaded Tax Season in our house) with four kids, three of them ages five and under.  I have a baby who keeps my hands pretty full and occasionally makes my nights long.  I’m cutting back on caffeine and, therefore, am not as coffee-fueled as normal.

Have I made enough excuses?  Are you sensing the desperation? Can you see why I was reaching for something mindless and easy?

A bad habit develops quickly.

I suppose that is my confession regarding TV Free week:  I didn’t see how allowing “just a little” mindless TV viewing had become a routine filled with bad habits.  None of them terrible on their own necessarily, but when combined together they were starting to set a precedent that I certainly didn’t want for my family or for myself.

I was snapping on the set in the mornings, before they even asked for it to be turned on. And, I was zoning out on the television in the evenings. Neither one of those things are the habits I wanted to become a part of our home life.

But, what surprised me the most about those habits was how easily they took over, even when I thought my values regarding television were pretty solid and set. It was humbling to be knocked off of my high horse a bit.

Just like Jaimie wrote a few weeks ago, I was using the TV to make things easier on myself – only the reality was that it was making things more difficult.  In our house, television is one of those things that, left unchecked, will take a mile when you give it an inch during a busy season of life.  In fact, that busyness makes it easier for TV to become more of an escape and a time suck for me. 

As a result of our extra television watching, I was finding myself more stressed out (news stories tend to do that to me and there were some pretty tragic ones during that time period), the kids were starting to argue over whose turn it was to pick a show or movie and, I cringe writing this, I would find myself zoning out in front of the TV long after the children went to bed while waiting for my husband to come home – time that used to be filled with reading, journaling, or knitting.

It didn’t take long until a bad habit had become our new routine. A routine that wasn’t serving us very well.

In short, TV Free Week couldn’t have come at a better time for my kids and for myself.  We needed to fall back into our normal (or what passes for normal around here) rhythm and not one governed by the TV Guide.

We needed to hit the “rewind” button and that button, for us, came in the form of our television set’s power switch.

As easy as walking outside …

In our case, stepping outside our backdoor or picking up a book were a part of the “magic” cure for too much television.  It was almost as easy as pushing that remote button, but many many times more rewarding in both big and little ways.

How did the kids react?  Actually, they did really well.  Aside from the occasional wistful, “gee, I wonder what is happening on Electric Company today…” they all seemed to accept that we weren’t turning the TV on.

There was a big of moaning and groaning on day one, but it must be said that that particular child seems to be going through a moaning and groaning phase and is prone to complaining these days anyway.

Over all, though, the kids didn’t seem to mind.  They found other ways to entertain themselves and so did I.  In fact, most days I didn’t mention television and they didn’t either.

It was wonderful!

Wonderful, in part, because saying “no” to the TV means saying “yes” to making room for moments like these in our daily life:

What the future holds.

Do I think we’ll ever become an entirely TV free family?  No, probably not.  We enjoy IndyCar and football and movies far too much.  I like having Harry Potter and Mary Poppins around on rainy days.  Big Bird, Curious George, and the Electric Company will remain favorites in this house, too.

But, I do know that setting limits on the television, making sure the viewing we allow is mindful (no “zoning out”), watching together as a family, and giving ourselves breaks from the screen are all good things for this family.

Less television means more of the other things we enjoy doing together as a family, things which mean a great deal to me as a parent.

Are we a TV-free family?

No, but once a year we play one in real life. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

And, that is just fine with me.

Did you participate in TV Free week? Why or why not? What have you learned about your family’s viewing habits, or your own?

About Kara

Kara Fleck is the editor of Simple Kids. She is a small town mama, writer, knitter, bookworm, and hooligan. Kara lives in Indiana with her husband Christopher and their four children Jillian, Max, Lucy, and Amelia. You can find more of her writing at KElizabethFleck.com.

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  1. We are not tv free. We don’t have cable and only recently got internet (for netflix) access. We lived with family for several months who had 100s of channels and though my son’s watching was limited to max and ruby and jake and the neverland pirates I was appalled and amazed how much he wanted every toy he saw advertised and how I had to explain they didn’t always do what the ads showed or claimed. We do have dvds and get movies from the library. I don’t limit it as much as I should but our life doesn’t lend itself to excessive amounts – long commutes and dog walking. Luckily our apt is right in front of the complex play ground so that encourages him to go out and I find usually after 20 min he goes away from tv to play in or outside and I just turn it off. I rarely watch any adult shows. Id rather read. I rented war horse a few months ago. I was without a tv for about 8 years, the time and expense are not worth it to me. I’ve never seen a show that I thought “this was the best thing ever and my life is so improved by this”

  2. Thank you for such an honest post, Kara.

    We are not TV-free (we have been at various times in the past) but we do keep the TV off Monday-Friday (for the kids — my husband and I have a few shows we watch after they go to bed).

    The thing that is creeping into our world is “computer time.” Both of my kids get to use the computer to play learning games at school and they are really lobbying for computer time at home.

    My standard answer has been not during the school week, only a little on the weekends, but I know this is an issue that is not going away and that we are going to have to come to some family agreement on.

    So as far as screen-free week…we pretty much did what we always do. No screens at home during the week and then some limited access on the weekends. I talked a little bit about it with my kids but it really was just a pretty normal week.

    Like you, I see the larger problem in my husband and I. Now that we can do just about everything on our phones it’s really challenging to be truly unplugged and screen free.

    Thanks for starting this conversation.

    Erin Goodman´s latest post: First Steps on the Path :: Visiting Vermont

  3. We don’t have a TV but do watch some shows on the internet. We didn’t participate in screen free week because we were particularly busy that week and I admit I wanted the option of turning on a show so I could get something done…

    It can be easy for me to justify our screen habits by stating that they’re so much “better” than the average American’s screen habits. But that’s just poor thinking on my part. I don’t want our family’s decisions and habits to be based on statistics and comparisons but on what’s best for our family.
    Steph´s latest post: Thoughts on the Pervasiveness of Grace

  4. What an honest post. Thanks, Kara! I am grateful I don’t have a tv right now because I don’t think I trust myself. 🙂 We don’t plan on being tv-free forever, though we are perfectly happy with it right now. We occasionally watch a few things on the computer but it is a special treat every few weeks so it is a big deal. 🙂
    Johanna @ My Home Tableau´s latest post: Reasons to instill good habits in your children.

  5. I have found the same as you in the past. I have been the cause of too much TV watching in the house, because I was the one putting it on at certain times out of habit (and yes, the first time I found myself doing that was just after my 2nd son was born).
    And I’ve found that how much computer time I am having influences how much time my sons spend on the computer. If they see me on the computer, they ask to go on the computer.
    I suppose it is another example of how, we, the parents, set the tone for the house.
    Catherine´s latest post: on books and reading

  6. Kimberly says:

    We are not a tv-free family, and I doubt we ever will be – which is actually great with me. Here’s why: we love sports. Particularly baseball, but we enjoy basketball and football as well. This is something all 4 of us enjoy doing together. Our boys play sports, collect baseball cards and read books about the game. We talk about the different players – their stats, where they’re from, their rookie year, etc. There is lots of opportunities to discuss aspects of the game and also life outside the game – choices and decisions players have made. We try to attend as many live games as we can as well.

    My husband and I also have shows that we enjoy watching together. We have been working on not having the tv on for “no reason” and have made big
    strides in that area for which I am grateful, and we plan to continue to curtail other tv-watching. But this sports-lovin’ mama is lovin’ baseball season right now! 🙂

  7. We have been a tv-free family for 8 years (and our kids have been a part of it these past four years). We do have computers and use Netflix daily— but it’s an intentional show we pick out together and there are no commercials (which is my biggest concern with TV.)

    Being tv-free saves us lots of money and also gets us outside much more. We actually just got bikes and a bike trailer and do long rides to places (grocery store, Target, park, etc) and it helps stretch the day longer. I get exercise, they get to see new scenery and we run our errands. Life without a tv is pretty sweet in my world.

    We have been a tv-free family for 8 years (and our kids have been a part of it these past four years). We do have computers and use Netflix daily— but it’s an intentional show we pick out together and there are no commercials (which is my biggest concern with TV.)

    Being tv-free saves us lots of money and also gets us outside much more. We actually just got bikes and a bike trailer and do long rides to places (grocery store, Target, park, etc) and it helps stretch the day longer. I get exercise, they get to see new scenery and we run our errands. Life without a tv is pretty sweet in my world.

    Here is an article I wrote last year about it in case anyone is interested in joining us: http://familysponge.com/parenting/tv/
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  8. 🙂 Kimberly, your vote for the TV made me smile! I agree – we would not eliminate the television at our house, because it is a bonding time for us. My hubby is an entertainment fanatic, and loves movies and television shows that are informative. He and the boys watch the how-to shows and love the together time that gives them. 🙂 He and I watch grown-up shows or movies in the evenings, and that’s a good “down-time” activity for us after a long day at work and such. And the kids are allowed a few choice shows in the afternoons or Saturday mornings that they love, and we approve of! 🙂 But we all make time to play outside, go places, and enjoy time away from the screen as well.

    The comment on computer time is so true – our kids are getting more technology in the classroom and in life generally; it’s hard to keep them away from it entirely and I don’t know if we should. That will lead to some tough discussions on what is “needed” in life and how connected we should be electronically…it’s a big subject, especially when daddy loves his tablets so much! 🙂 But it’s relevant to us all; no one lives entirely off the grid.

    Great topic and post! Thank you for putting your thoughts on this one out there!

  9. Our house is TV free. My hubby and myself made that decision because the kids weren’t picking up books to read for enjoyment and their creative play was limited by their obsession with their favourite shows. My oldest boy got into the car last week and said “Can’t wait to get home as I’ve started a new book called Storm Boy”. This is coming from a 8yr kid who only 6 months ago was struggling with comprehension. My 4 kids play more outside now and are exploring their surrounds and wanting that adventure for themselves instead of only seeing it on telly. It has now been 8 months and the positives outweigh the doubts continually for me. We are a family growing more towards a God focus culture than the world culture we get from the telly.

  10. We don’t have a TV. Well, we tried getting cable hooked up, but after three failed attempts and Time Warner failing to come by all those times, we thought maybe it’s a sign that we shouldn’t have a TV. I’m so glad we don’t. Yeah, it sucks not to be able to watch the one or two shows we enjoy that we have to watch online instead. Or when we have to go to someone’s house to watch the Stanley Cup. But those shows are so few compared to the time we get to hang out and do other things. I seriously don’t know where my time would go if I had a TV on.
    Sleeping Should Be Easy´s latest post: Weekend links and our spring time carrots

  11. I really like this post. I like those two simple alternatives: taking a walk or reading a book. There’s this initial resistance when you first say, “I should really read (or write in my journal, or take a walk) instead”, but within 10 minutes or so that is overcome and you enjoy what you’re doing SO much more. The last two nights I got my husband to agree not to turn on the TV, and we were amazed with how long and wonderful the evening was.
    Rachel´s latest post: Not giving in


  1. […] Screen Free Week for a Family by Kara at Simple Kids. I was using the TV to make things easier on myself – only the reality was that it was making things more difficult. Our son usually watches some television in the late afternoon when I am making dinner. It’s becoming more of an issue and he’ll chase us down with the remote control asking for tee-vee. Some nice lessons here from a family’s screen free week. […]

  2. […] Our Experience with TV Free Week:  What I Learned About My Kids and Myself […]