Like most big changes we make in our lives, this one was made gradually. We didn't wake up one day and throw out the Tivo and haul our flatscreens to the curb. We just gradually watched less and less. Then, we were just using our giant dinosaur of a television to watch the occasional DVD and figured we could just as easily watch it on our computer. At that point, the only good reason I could think of for keeping it around was so that our kids wouldn't get mocked at school for being weird. I love my kids, and they may hate me for this, but I've decided I want them to be weird. In my nearly 10 years as a teacher, I've encounterd a lot of teenagers. And, believe me, normal is pretty scary. So, out went the TV. This left us kind of scratching our heads when it came to how to arrange the living room. What were we supposed to point the furniture at?
Now, that's not to say that we don't still watch a show on occasion. We do have a computer that we can pop a DVD into, or pull up the feed for the FC Dallas game, or watch a commercial-free PBS show via Netflix. But, ALL of our viewing is intentional. We never plop down on the couch with a remote and wonder what might be on. If we plop down, it's to watch a particular thing, and lately we really don't plop down very often. We stay pretty busy around here. And, we read a lot in the evenings, too.
Consider this quote by Barbara Kingsolver (have I mentioned that I love Barbara Kingsolver?):
"The advantages of raising kids without commercial TV seem obvious, and yet I know plenty of parents who express dismay as their children demand sugar-frosted sugar for breakfast, then expensive name-brand clothing, then the right to dress up as hookers not for Halloween but for school. Hello? Anyone who feels powerless against the screaming voice of materialistic youth culture should remember that power comes out of those two little holes in the wall. The plug is detachable. Human young are not born with the knowledge that wearing somebody's name in huge letters on a T-shirt is a thrilling privilege for which they should pay eighty dollars. It takes years of careful instruction to arrive at that piece of logic."
I do find that my kids are SUPER sensitive to advertising. And, I sometimes wonder whether that may be because they've not had a chance to become numb to it. I know that even when kids aren't actively "wanting" what the commercial is advertising, they're still receiving messages about what it means to be cool, what they need to be happy, or what success looks like. But, my kids haven't gotten a chance to reach the passive indoctrination phase. Once, when the kids were watching TV while at a relative's house, they came running into the room telling me how much I needed the wallet that they'd just seen advertised. "Mom, you can even run over it with your car, and it won't break!"
But the messages received from the ads are not my greatest concern. I worry that the content of the shows that are frequently on even during the daytime may desensitize my kiddos to violence, egocentrism, crude language, etc. In Jodo Picoult's novel 19 Minutes, a teen who's a serious player of violent video games shoots up his high school. The connection she's trying to make is obvious . . . and worrisome.
"'Nobody ever gets killed at our house,' begins a song by Charlie King, and it continues with a litany of other horrors-- 'no one gets shot at, run over, or stabbed, / nobody goes up in flames" -- that you'd surely agree you wouldn't want to see in your house, either, until you realize he's discussing what routinely happens on the screen that most people happily host in their living rooms. Maybe you have one in yours, and maybe you don't, but I'm with Charlie. People are very rarely getting killed at our house, and I'm trying to keep it that way."
Trying is definitely the key word. It is a constant battle, especially now, when it's nearly too hot outside to play during daylight hours . . . and the kids need some way to burn that pent up energy so they just start picking on each other relentlously. We've been heading to the pool a lot because they're happy there, and it's a way to burn some energy without getting too hot. But on days when we can't make it to the pool? It sure is tempting to let them turn on a Netflix show and just zone out (peacefully) for a few minutes . . . or hours. Shielding them from excessive TV and encouraging them to live actively rather than passively is a battle I'm determined to fight, though, for all of our sakes. I guess they might spend their adult lives on the sofa, mindlessly making up for lost time. But, I prefer to think they'll thank me one day. :)
Thoughts? Comments? Have you made similar efforts yourself? As always, I'd love to hear from you!