Can My Family Live Without TV?

by Leslie Morgan Steiner


My most treasured childhood memories revolve around a room with a tiny, wobbly laminated table on which my three siblings and I used to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in front of our old black and white television set. The room had a purple and red shag rug. Our favorite shows were the Flintstones, I Love Lucy, The Electric Company, The New Zoo Review, and Road Runner. Our Siamese cat slept on top of the warm, humming tv set. We called the place – of course -- The TV Room.


My childhood was also filled with books, pets, outdoor adventures, lots of bike riding, and Kick the Can escapades with the neighborhood gang of kids. Despite watching so much television, my brain did not turn to mush and my psyche stayed nonviolent. I got good grades, went to challenging schools, and never spent time in a juvenile detention facility.


So as a mom I reverted to my childhood and let my three kids watch unlimited television. I said often “A little tv never hurt anyone,” thinking of my siblings and our Ivy League degrees and absence of felony convictions on our resumes. In the early years of parenthood, tv was a godsend, more important to daily peace than a babysitter or a good night’s sleep. Thirty minutes of Sesame Street allowed me to make dinner, take a shower, or talk to my best friends for more than three minutes. From watching tv, my kids learned essentially skills like reciting the alphabet, the “everybody clean up” song, Spanish and sign language. When judgmental child-rearing experts accused parents of using tv as a babysitter, I bowed my head and made a little prayer sign with my hands. My only rule was no violent shows -- cartoon, fantasy or reality. My husband agreed and indulged his male-techno-mania until we had a television in nearly every room of our house.


But like a mist rolling in from the ocean I started to have a creeping sensation that we’d lost balance in our home. The kids’ taste in television changed as they grew up. Their techno skills increased. Many nights, our 13-year-old son hunkered down in the basement watching sports, while a level above our 11-year-old daughter perched on a kitchen stool devouring Project Runway on Tivo, and upstairs our 8-year-old daughter jumped on our bed in front of The Suite Life. The kids turned surly if I interrupted a show. Then they turned surly all the time. They started doing homework in front of the tv. Watching televison became the main activity when friends came over. Zach, Cody, Heidi Klum and the hosts of Sports Nation became more familiar than the faces of my relatives. It became rare for all five of us to be in one room at one time for any period of time – unless it was in the car, which began to feel like a moving jail cell rather than a family experience. My husband suggested we get a tv in the car to stop the bickering.


Then I remembered that in my tv-idyllic childhood memories, the country had only three television stations. My family had one television, black and white, fuzzy reception. We had no Internet. No VCR or DVD player. No Tivo. We spent every summer at our rural New Hampshire farmhouse without indoor plumbing much less a functioning television set.



I really enjoyed this article. We want to give our children free choice and confidence but we forget how disfunctional having a TV in your room and life can be. I don't have a tv but most of my friends do and I watch their children stare glazed eyed and motionless at it. Another thing I observe is how if you have a Tv in the house how young children call on it to entertain them; if there is anything upsetting or they are tired, they want to sit in front of the tv and look and seem vacant. When the children were young they didn't entertain themselves very well - now they are 2.5 and 4 and they play so well while I am busy its lovely to watch. Its so imaginative and is beautiful to see the choices of role play - they will role play watching tv with a small box as tv. There is new research which shows how just 9 minutes of watching cartoons impacts on a child's executive functioning. I'm not a scientist but I know that a child's mind is a growing thing and frontal lobes especially (where executive functioning mostly comes from) don't fully develop until we are 20. Executive functions are related to control - of impulses and attention. It's so interesting how addicted we can become to something so unimportant. Sqwelty is so right about peer stuff but I just can't accept this and go along with it. We just need to see the light. Get over telly - most of it is superficial and life wasting! Go see a play with friends, listen to the radio, make a beautiful rug, read a book or play the piano. All that free time! I seem a bit extreme but in 20 years I reckon tv will be a special treat only and if you watch tv in the day you will be viewed with pity - that poor tv addict wasting away.....


TV really seems to be a sticky subject these days. There are so many misconceptions and ideas about how TV affects young minds. We have TV rules in our house for our 4 year old. TV is a privilege and not a right and the first thing to go when any behavior issues arise. TV is an activity that you do like any other activity and you should play and read as much as you watch TV. No violent TV is ever allowed and the baby polices this one with an iron "I'm scared of daddy TV" monologue. And, we are a one TV house. I really miss falling asleep to TV or sick days in bed with TV on as I doze; but, you have to set an example, right? With all these rules, I am adamant about several things. TV does NOT make you stupid. You make "you" stupid. Choose your shows wisely. There are many educational shows out there that can really expand one's mind and expose children to new ideas. Whether we like it or not, video media is an integral part of education today and not everything shown in visual media is junk. I HATE cooking and cooking shows. I found out my son LOVES both when we "compromised" one night and he picked a cooking show. This show brought on the purchase of a toy stove and foods for my son who makes me potato chip tea almost every night and we have a new interest- finding new receipes from the shows and cooking them together. So, use TV smartly and you'll find yourself and your children playing and doing other things you may not have done otherwise. I grew up in a "nothing but PBS" home as did my husband. I do love educational TV but I really try to warn parents against this sort of hysteria. TV is part of popular culture and no person is well-rounded if they cannot participate in popular culture. There should be controls and limits for children and adults alike when it comes to TV; but, there is a damaging effect when your child is the only one at lunch that can't talk about last night's episode of pokemon with their friends or, in my case, Seinfeld. Part of being a child today is participating in whatever plasticy-googly eyed mania is being sold to them- as distasteful as SpongeBob is to me, my son and his friends have a common generational love and bond for that ridiculous show. He's forming a group identity outside of what I relate to and this will be necessary as he grows into his generation. I don't want him on the outside looking in. His love for Spongebob and Phineas and Ferb will fade as he grows; but, he will have the same TV memories that Leslie shared about her and dad, root beer, popcorn, and the latest and greatest SpongeBob movie on TV. Maybe he will forget that we were reading while he and the cat watched their show!


I wish more parents threw out the TV. We did when our son was a couple of months old. The last thing I saw, the only thing we kept the TV for, was the inauguration of Obama, then out the TV went. My son is a calm and focused kid who loves to read. I admit that living without a TV was hard at first, I loved watching Larry King at night, but I really do believe TV-watching makes you stupid. Children aren't supposed to learn from TV they're supposed to learn from their parents. Having a child is a sacrifice in many ways, you have to change, you're not meant to have us much time for your friends anymore. You're meant to be with your child. Don't put your child in front of the TV, that's an easy, lazy way out.

momma doesnt li...

Im glad im not the only one. i have a toddler husband and newborn but i dont have cable or satilite. I have netfllix if there is something i must watch but it isnt worth th extra bill and time fighting over what to watch. everyone i know thinks im crazy and my parents send my siblings to my house when they are grounded because they cant sneak into my electronics. I have no shortage of things that have to be done and really dont notice that there is no TV.


wow! that's pretty cool. Interesting observation about the built-in controls on tv in your childhood. I agree, definitely very different now!