Baby Steps

12 May

For many years I was in a very bad relationship, from which the only “escape” was television.  I would lay on the couch for hours at a time, sometimes the entire day, watching mind-numbing dribble in hopes of shutting him – and my conscience – out.  When I finally escaped for real, it was to a small apartment without cable.  Not having cable didn’t matter, because all my possessions were in two suitcases and three boxes, and one of the things I left behind was the television.  I quit TV cold turkey, started a blog, read books my ex had forbidden (yeah, that bad...), and threw myself into growing my business.  Suddenly, I had so much free time and felt so productive!  Yet, I felt odd around my friends, like an outcast, because I was no longer up-to-date on the latest shows.

When my fiance and I had our first date four years ago, it turned out that right away we had something in common.  Neither of us owned a TV, and to this day we are among the 1% of Americans who don’t have a boob tube in their home.  Before you peg us as “holier than thou” people who brag about their superiority and heightened intellect because they don’t watch TV, let me tell you that we love The Daily Show and Lost. But because we get the programs on iTunes, we can watch them commercial-free and we know that when the 20-minute Daily Show is over, so is our screen time for the day.

The real reason I don’t ever want to own a TV is because I have no will power.  Seriously.  Here’s an example: About a year ago, with my fiance out of town, I house sat for a couple who had one of those monster TVs with ten million cable channels.  The day was gorgeous, I needed to walk the dogs, and yet there I was, glued to the boob tube, flipping through the channels.  There was nothing good to watch, but my brain kept hoping that the next channel would feature the world’s most entertaining and absorbing show ever.  It didn’t, so I wasted 10 hours of a perfectly good Saturday watching a Supernanny marathon and shaking my fists at her ineptitude and behaviorist nonsense.

What does all this have to do with children (who, after all, are the focus of this blog)?  Well, I have 24 students, and only two of them don’t watch TV.  Want to know why?  Because they don’t have a TV at home.  Trying to keep your kids (or yourself) from watching the TV when it’s sitting in the middle of your living room is like trying to diet when a moist, velvety chocolate cake is sitting on your kitchen counter next to a tall glass of milk.  Could you resist?  I know I couldn’t.  I would even chug the glass of milk, knowing full well I’m allergic to dairy products.  That’s exactly how TV is.  You consume it, and you let your kids consume it, even though you know it is not healthy for you or them.

At least you – as an adult – have a little more control over how much damage you do to your brain by watching television.  Your child has zero control.  Zero.  Her brain is attracted to novel stimuli by default; it’s nature’s way of ensuring that she explores and learns from the world around her.  Sadly, TV editors are all too aware of this phenomenon and take advantage of your child’s unconscious needs by changing shots or scenes every couple of seconds (even those dratted educational videos do that).  Your child isn’t enjoying that show, she’s hypnotized by it.  This has dire repercussions now and in the future. (Fellow teachers, feel free to share your experiences with over-exposed children in the comments).

This brave and honest dad tried to turn of his family’s TV for a week, with mixed results.  I love this man’s honesty and humor, but what I admire most are his courage and determination in the face of something as addictive as TV.

Could you unplug for one week? Why or why not?

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8 Responses to “Baby Steps”

  1. Cyrus May 12, 2010 at 4:31 am #

    Wow, I grew up without TV and I am thankful of that, Waldorf parents who were also not holier than thou, just really smart. Now I have a feeling I am at a similar place to you a couple years ago. I know I watch too much TV but the mindlessness of it appeals to me in some strange way. My 2 year old is hypnotized by TV and we only let her watch it on very rare occasion. I think this is too much but my wife isnt so sure. How can I find a happy agreement and make sure I don’t end up hooking my kiddo on TV the way I am mostly hooked? My friends thought it was weird that I didnt have TV. Do you see any downside for kids who dont watch from peer pressure? I would hate for my child’s childhood to be absorbed/squandered into the void of “campfire” meditative entertainment of the proletariat.

  2. Annicles May 12, 2010 at 11:16 am #

    We have a TV. Just the one! It is realively small and lives in a cupboard. The rules on it are simple – no TV during the week. At the weekend the kids are allowed to get up and watch for half an hour before my husband and I surface and there are a couple of programmes we all love and switch on specifically to watch. We couldn’t possible miss Dr Who!!
    The only time the TV goes on during the week (for me or the kids) is when, like last night, something amazing happens. We watched the Prime Minister resign and the new one take office. it all happens incredibly quickly here in the UK and it was all done and dusted with an hour and a half. Democracy in action – who could resisit? Certainly not my 8 and 9 year olds who have been following the election and fully understood the implications of what was happenning!

    • sands May 12, 2010 at 2:36 pm #

      A post after my own heart!! We do have a TV but our 5 year old knows she can watch it for 30 minutes on Saturday, which ever time she chooses. Until now there hasn’t been a day when we had to struggle to ask her to turn it off. once 30 minutes get over, she turns it off and comes back to her other things. We watch it on Saturday night when she sleeps, its “our” movie night 🙂
      But really some people’s lives are engrossed too much in TV, these days its hard to celebrate a birthday without endorsing a cartoon character from TV!

  3. Brandi (Real Life Montessori) May 12, 2010 at 11:46 pm #

    This is one Montessori thing I am just not so good at! We have a tv, but no cable and rarely turn on broadcast tv. I’ve thought about ditching the tv since I only watch tv shows on the internet. My daughter watches a lot of videos though and we rely on them too much to calm down before bedtime. It’s so easy to get used to the “company” of having the tv on all day. Sigh… 🙂

    • Cynthia May 13, 2010 at 12:07 am #

      Excellent post. I hope lots and lots of people read it.

      We have a TV. In fact we have several. When the boys were small, we only had one tiny one and our rules were very much like Annicles’. However when the boys got older (mid-teens), they saved all their money and bought…their own TVs. There was lots of arguing about the purchases, a bunch of compromises were made, and some rules were set and broken and reset. They both watch too much TV but don’t watch as much as many other children. They do, however, spend a lot of time outside and I really think that is because of their early years without the TV. The foundation was set early on.

      I preach moderation to the parents in our school and I think that is the way to go………if one finds it too hard to ditch the TV altogether. : )

  4. jojoebi May 13, 2010 at 4:43 am #

    Interesting post!
    We didn’t have a TV when I was little but then my aunt and uncle came to live with us and they bought theirs with them, although back then there were only 3 channels and broadcasting finished at 11pm – can you imagine!!
    We do have a TV, it is one of the old ones, not a massive flat screen and for the first couple of years my son never watched it. I only started to allow him to watch because of the language, (we live in Japan, English is the language used at home), he was having problems fitting in with other kids at the park, he didn’t know the songs or characters and I couldn’t teach him. So he would watch limited TV in the morning and only NHK which has no ads. Now he is almost 5 and rarely asks to watch it, we sometimes have movie dates and he does like the animal/discovery shows. One of the reasons that I am so strict is because at uni I did a paper on kids TV and the effects on children, it was not long after the James Bulger case so there was a lot of research going on, so I am very anti those stupid fighting programs and the such like.
    Once little one is in bed I have the TV on, hubby is often home late and it is my bit of English time in what is normally a Japanese day, it is my zone out, crafting and relaxing time and well, I am just slightly addicted to CSI :o)

  5. Montessoribeginnings May 14, 2010 at 7:14 am #

    Ahh the never ending debate in our house. My husband and I have been battling over this almost since the day our daughter was born. He won’t read any info about the effect of tv on children or listen. He will take the easy way out every time. I finally broke down and bought a bunch of wildlife videos and a Fred Penner concert that he can stick on if need be.
    As for the rest of us adults we are totally sucked in to way too many shows. Although that’s all going to change in the next couple of weeks because they’r’e all ending for the season. Just in time to get out and enjoy the nice weather.

  6. Marcy May 18, 2010 at 3:40 am #

    We have a tv, but I rarely watch it (internet is already way too big a time-suck for me, I don’t need to add tv-watching to it!! Though hubby and I do often watch The Daily Show online at night). Hubby does love to watch sports, so we had cable for football season then canceled it. I know at some point I’ll have to set firm rules about TV watching… and luckily it’s something both of us feel strongly about and are on the same page. But our son does love a few particular shows (we found these Mighty Machine videos that show real-life trucks, cars, etc and what they do– no commercials, long shots, no silly cartoons or violence, so at least i feel a little better about that). He also LOVES the muppets, lol. And I do rely on those videos a bit too often, especially now that I’m pregnant and so tired.

    I have strong aversions to most kid’s shows today, though. And I do remember there being a period of time where he was watching 1-2hrs of TV every day, and noticed a definite drop in the amt of time he spent playing by himself (needed much more external entertainment). So I’m trying to work on balancing that. It’s tough… especially on those mornings when all I want to do is check my email in peace and TV provides the only way to do so. But, no one said good or responsible parenting was easy… *sigh*

    (I’m with you, BTW, on feeling left out b/c I never know what’s going on in popular shows and sitcoms)

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