Monday, June 14, 2010

Turning Off the Television

We recently gave away our TIVO.  The next step is to cancel cable. 

Mr. F. and I recently watched “No Impact Man”--a documentary following one family’s decision to have no net impact on the environment for a year while living in Manhattan.  His project built in stages: starting with the somewhat easy: local eating and self-propelled transportation and culminating in the most difficult stage: no electricity. 

The documentary is really interesting and has made me think more critically about my consumerism.  However, one particular part of the movie made a significant impression on me.  There is a scene where Colin (No Impact Man) is responding to a New York Times Article about his project.  It was titled, “The Year Without Toilet Paper.”  Colin replies by questioning why they had to focus on that.  Why couldn’t they call it “The year I lost 20 pounds without going to the gym” or “The year my wife reversed her pre-diabetic condition” or “The year we turned off the TV and became better parents.”  It was the last bit that has played in my head over and over again since watching it.  As a result of not having a television and electricity, they became very creative in how they spent their time together.  They worked on their garden, they caught fireflies, they played games together, etc.  They were a much closer family as a result of not having television and electricity.

A couple of weeks ago at church one of the youth leaders gave a lesson on family traditions.  As part of the lesson she mentioned that she never let her kids “check out” of the family.  She wouldn’t let them wear earphones, watch TV by themselves or anything else that prevented them from interacting with the rest of the family.  While she admitted that it was rather extreme, she said that the family grew close as a result.

These two scenarios were very much in my mind when I started noticing that Baby F.’s awareness of the television.  He knows when it is on and is aware of the fact that it catches his parents attention and keeps it there for lengths of time.  This makes me kind of sad.  I don’t want my kid to have to fight with the television for my attention.  I don’t want him to miss out on parental interaction because I am watching a stupid and unimportant show.  I realized that not only was television sending unspoken and not necessarily true messages to my son about what his parents valued (i.e. we must really value watching TV since that is how we spend our time), but it was also sucking up time here and there that could be spent doing other things--things that I actually enjoy such as reading, writing, talking to my husband, hobbies, etc.   I decided that 1) I don’t want to check out of my family 2) I don’t want my kids to check out and 3) I want to spend my time on things that I enjoy doing.  Watching silly sitcoms because I am bored or I need “some down time” doesn’t really bring me a lot of enjoyment, yet I was doing quite a bit of it. 

So yes.  We are getting rid of cable.  Granted, we are not to the point of giving up television entirely.  There are a couple of shows I really do enjoy watching (Glee, The Office), and I really enjoy watching movies on the weekend.  But it will cut down on a lot of the aimless channel searching and boredom show watching.  I hope this will allow me to be a better parent and also more time to spend on things I actually enjoy doing.

I would be interesting in hearing your thoughts on the matter.  What role do you think television should have in the home?  Did you have one growing up?  Did you watch it a lot?  Was a limit set on how much television you could watch?  If you have kids, what attitude do you have towards their television time?


Rebecca said...

no TV! Just movies. I'm totally with you.

Anonymous said...

We gave up cable years ago and realized quickly that there really is very little we really want to watch on TV. Now when something comes along that catches our interest we get it via netflix or online, commercial free and can enjoy it when we want to watch (which is usually after the girls are off to bed anyway). We have found that our viewing time is drastically less than before and don't miss it one bit. Our kids do ask on occasion for cable but we remind them that usually if there is something they really want to see we can add it to the netflix list and they are OK with that. However you decide to proceed best of luck. I will say that there are times I feel like a fish out of water in greater society with the choices we have made for our family.


yola said...

Television is an easy escape, but one we escape to far too easily. I don't think you'll miss cable very much, as there are easy and free alternatives like the internet or the library or public television. And I still hold dear my memories of watching movies or shows with my family growing up (hello Cosby Show on Thursday nights) and with you in college, so I don't think watching the telly is necessarily a bad thing. Just don't do too much of it. I think the key to living a well rounded life is to do things in moderation and to be varied in what you try and experience. Watching tv or movies can be a special treat rather than something you can't miss, and doesn't have to be something to be ashamed of.

MBC said...

We had a TV growing up but no cable, and now Steve and I have chosen not to have a TV at all. I still watch a few shows on the Internet but not nearly as many as I do when I live in a house with TV.

I think I'm about to start a campaign to decrease the time we spend on the Internet. That suggestion might be met with a bit of resistance.

Janssen said...

I grew up in a almost completely TV-free house. We never EVER watched television and we didn't watch all that many movies either (until I was about ten, we only owned a single children's movie).

Bart has campaigned for cable in the past, but I've always resisted on a financial basis. Plus, I just hate having the TV going - the sound gives me a headache and makes me grumpy.

I plan to let our children watch very very little television and very very few movies. I was a nanny for a while and those kids were such TV/movie addicts that it made me a little ill.

Stacey Smith said...

Hi. Just came across your blog via "Next Blog." Yay.

I am a television addict, but I must say that with all of the shows now over for the summer, I feel like I can breathe. I have determined to not watch again in the fall. Wait. That's not exactly true. I am determined to not watch when it is scheduled. With just about all shows available online, I can watch an entire season at a time more suitable to family life. I do worry that I won't know how to have "fun" with my family, but isn't the point that I figure it out?

Nice blog.

Melanie said...

I refuse to ever have a gigantic flatscreen idol as the center of my living room. I grew up in a house where we watched TV frequently but not incessantly. Since living on my own I have never had cable, mostly for financial reasons, but also because TV is such a time sucker. I do, however, own a television and a DVD player to watch movies. I'll also admit that when I go to my mom's house for Christmas I love to spend hours vegging in front of the TV flipping between the Food Network and HGTV - but that's just a for a day or two once a year.

I would really, really like to not have TV in my house while raising children. I hope I can find a husband that will agree to that. Not only is it a poor use of time, but the content (for adults anyway) is just getting worse and worse.

J said...

When I was growing up, we occasionally had television, but most of my growing up years we only had videos. This was a Good Thing. I think it reduced my consumer mentality and increased my culture. I was not addicted to the latest sitcom, but I loved musicals and old classics. There were times that I would be glued to the TV whenever it was on at a friend's home because it was a novelty, but I rarely wanted to have television in my home.

When I got married, I was somehow able to convince my husband to try not having TV. At first he would sometimes kind of grumble because we weren't up on the latest news right away (i.e. we didn't hear about the Columbine shooting until later that night when we were at work.) However, I managed to pacify him by reminding him that if there was anything big enough, we would find out about it soon enough. And if it was really big, we could watch it at a neighbor's home (our neighbor actually let us come watch some 9/11 coverage - but at least we didn't feel like we had to watch all day).

We had a television, and would watch movies via VCR or DVD player, but over the last eight or so years we first moved our TV out of the main room (not as tempting to watch when it is not always in view), then to the garage, and then finally gave it away. We currently watch movies and sometimes even watch TV shows on our computer, but not too often. We will usually watch one movie on Friday nights with the kids, and sometimes watch some with just us two.

My husband has gone from grudgingly foregoing television to embracing the television-less life. We have a hard time when we go places where the TV is always on. Conversation usually is somewhat lacking and I personally start feeling really blah. Also, a show that would take 90 minutes on DVD takes three times as long because of all of the commercials! Aargh! What a timewaster! I will admit to occasionally using movies as a babysitter, but really it is quite rare - however, our kids did watch movies for about 2 weeks straight when we were fixing up our rental unit.;)

J said...

Another thought: so, when my toddlers (1&2) were having their check ups, the nurse asked how many hours A DAY they watched TV. Really? Maybe an hour a week (because we we watch our Friday night family movie after they go to bed.) If they watch anything it is usually something educational like Signing Time or Letter Factory. And even that can be rare because it sickens me to see kids always having to be entertained by the TV. Books are good. Dancing to clasical music is good. Making ten billion little projects is (kind of! except what to do with them all?) good. Watching TV...not so much.

Washington Hills said...

I'm interested in seeing that documentary (Yes, on my TV, wink.). I do love documentaries. Lots to think about. I say if you hold on to one show - The Office is a good one! Let us know how it goes, Lady Susan!


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