A Yabba Dabba Doo Time.

Under a crushing book deadline, I’ve noticed I’ve gotten a wee bit lax about a few things. Along with the multiplying dust bunnies in every corner, too many take-out dinners, and the piling up of unpaid bills and unread magazines, there’s been a slight relaxation of our family “screen time” rules. I can’t entirely blame this on my book deadline. My eleven-year-old son is a master twister and bender of rules; in fact rules for regular people don’t really apply to him. The “You get one hour a day of Runescape” is usually met with a “uh-huh.” As in, “Right, Mom. Just as soon as I’m finished with this game.” Lately, I’ve been finding him lying on the sofa, watching “The Simpsons.”


Me: “Since when are you allowed to watch TV on school days? We don’t watch TV on school days!”


Atticus: “What?!”


He is shocked, shocked to find out that television is not allowed on school days. And he’ll be doing something about it, immediately. Just as soon as he finishes this show.


When my 17 year-old son was younger, he was shockingly compliant. If I said no he couldn’t do something, he would good-naturedly stop doing it. If I saw him heading towards an electrical outlet with an outstretched fork and I yelled “NO!” he would stop and put down the fork. Completely understood the deal. “Sure, Mom! Whatever you say!” I guess we got kind of spoiled. If my youngest son were heading towards an outlet with a fork and I yelled “NO!” he’d look at me with a kind of an amused, quizzical look on his face, and keep going. He’d poke at the electrical outlet a little, maybe look at me and say, “You don’t want me to do this?” Poke, poke. “How about this?” Then he’d grin at me and jam the fork into the outlet. Thankfully he was smart enough to not do that, but still.


Of course, six years ago when my oldest son was eleven – computers were not given out like candy at Christmas. Children didn’t come home from school and start I – Chatting with their friends. Most kids didn’t have their own cell phones, and in our house, we just didn’t watch a lot of TV. When our oldest son was little, because we hardly ever watched TV, he just never figured out that it was an entertainment option. And it wasn’t an entertainment option. The television was occasionally used on the weekends, to watch movies, and for his dad to watch his sports. Oh, and if there was a hurricane, or a bombing, or a flood, then we’d watch occasional news updates. That was pretty much it.


due to the god-awful economy and my partner being laid off from work for almost a whole year now, we could no longer afford the $100/mnth for cable. i cant even begin to tell you what that first day was like - i mean, seriously, it was apocalyptic. it really was. my kids were freaking out, I was freaking out...i mean, omg!!! what are we going to do now?? how am i going to get dinner ready?? how am i going to take a shower??? how am i going to do anything around the house without the tv to distract my kids for the needed 15-30mins??? i was instantly completely freaked out, not only because of the no-tv-as-a-babysitter situation, but because i was also raised in a home-like the author- where TV watching was totally frowned upon, unless it was on PBS or NPT. i LOVED 'Marty Stouffer's Wild America'.... 'Painting with Bob Ross' was actually watched in my home, like, we REALLY watched it. I LOVED THAT SHOW. painting happy little trees and happy little rivers everywhere, it was wonderful. he was so calm and relaxing. 'Mr. Rogers' was, honest-to-god, my favorite tv show when i was little. i LOVED Mr. Rogers and i still do, to this very day. but, i digress a little. my point is that i was raised in a house where if my parents came in the living room and saw us sitting there watching tv, they would look at us and say, "Go outside and find something to do." ...and we would... to this very dad, my dad STILL does not have cable tv in his house. so, how in the world had i let myself and my children become so clearly tv-dependant?? how had this happened?? it honestly embarressed me on a deep, down personal level that i had let my children's tv watching habits get so bad. i know it's not right, i know that SpongeBob is the equivalent of junkfood for their brain, but yet i still let them watch it- over and over and over again.
so anyway, when the cable got shut off, it was sort of a blessing in disguise... we have a ton a movies that my kids can watch but you know what?? kids don't want to sit down and watch a 2hr movie all the time...they might sit down and watch about 25minutes of it, but then they get up and end up doing something else (woohoo!!! it's working!!) so then i slyly slide into the living room and turn off the tv. and no one notices anymore. no one cries or whines or complains. the kids are doing other things!!! its amazing! to be honest, it didn't come naturally at first, we had to go out and buy some supplies-some favorites from my own personal tv-free childhood- we bought them Jenga! (which they loved) we bought them a Spirograph Delux kit (which i loved as a kid and still love) we bought them BattleShip ....and several other various kid-friendly-classic-type games and projects. my 5yr old daughter is SUPER into coloring now, and we got her a few bead and necklace kits and she is good to go for a few hours, and very proud of herself when she done - something that never happened after watching SpongeBob or Phinneas and Pherb for an hour! my son, who is 7, is a little bit trickier... he wants to play video games INSTEAD of watching tv, but if i give him my iPhone he's happy to play some of the apps on that, and i pretty much download and let him pick out the ones that are more like puzzles, or actually take some sort of brain power to do. and he loves it, he really does. he'll play them for 20-30mins and then he sets it down. for the most part. he also colors a lot more now too, and i can't tell you how many pictures that have been colored "for mommy" in the last few months. my fridge is covered. and i mean COVERED! but the sense of pride they get from writing their names on those little pictures and then ripping them out of the books and handing them to me with that cute, sheepish little smile is unbelievable. they love giving me picture after picture, and i love telling them time after time, "OHMYGOSH!!! i love it!! Thank you, Riley!!(or Rowan!!) wow, it looks like you worked really hard on this, i LOVE it. thank you so much!" i mean, seriously, it really makes their day. it's really sweet.
and as for dinner, yeah...well... it's still difficult to cook dinner in peace sometimes without having the tv to help them zone out for an hour or whatever, but i can say i just have them "help" me cook more often now, and they like doing that too. it might now always make things simpler or easier for me, but i know that in the grand scheme of things this is actually really good for them, they'll hopefully grow up to remember making dinners with mommy in the kitchen
and blah blah blah.
the biggest problem, for me personally, was missing out on my own shows - my own guilty pleasures that i partook in after i would get my kids in bed... how am i going to miss the 2nd season of 'BoardWalk Empire'??? omg. how was i going to get to finish the last few episodes of 'Game of Thrones'?? how was i ever going not spend my Tuesday nights watching secretly crushing on Timothy Olyphant in 'Justified'?? and all the other countless History Channel or Discovery Channel and BBC and Nat Geo shows that i love?? how was i going to survive?? well, its been 7 months since the cable was shut off and i can tell you that personally, i read A LOT more now. i probably go through 1-2 books a month, which is great for me because i LOVE to read but had noticed in the last few years that i honestly just wasn't reading very much. and now, i know why! i was filling my reading time aka bedtime with TV. and although i love my TV shows, i love my books too. so now i just download whatever tv shows i want to watch, or i just watch them a season late and get them on DVD and have little marathons. or, i can go online sometimes after the kids are in bed and watch(some of them) on that particular networks website. or on HULU. ...the point is, i make do. and i actually am really ok with it.

so, for now, i've got the tv thing under control... but i am still really not looking forward to the whole cell phone and internet thing. my kids are 5&7 right now, so they're still pretty under my thumb, but i know the 10yr olds in my neighborhood ALL have cell phones. ALL OF THEM. i dont even know how to approach that subject or what i even really think about it, besides the fact that i think it's crazy.


we periodically try to enforce a "1 hour a day" TV rule with our almost 5 year old son (also Atticus!), but sometimes pbskids is an amazingly safe and educational babysitter when we really need to get stuff done. i have no idea how we'll handle the eventual struggle to restrict cell phone, internet, and video game use...


We have just established the "no TV on school days" rule since my son becomes the TV when he watches a show and not enough focus was spent on homework. Since I am a step mom, I came into some rules that were already established, so I do what I can to monitor and manage the TV time. Thanks for the great article!