So you’re sure that you don’t want your kids to watch TV and you’re ready to take the plunge? Let’s talk about the nitty gritty…
Completely TV-free or the Occasional Show? Both can work. You need to decide what will be best for your family. If you opt for “the occasional show”, be specific. If you don’t have a clear-cut plan, it’s all too easy to fall back into more and more TV watching.
If your child watches TV daily, switching to a once-a-week movie night, may ease the transition. A regular viewing routine will force you to be thoughtful about what your child does watch (choose in advance or provide 2-3 good choices). The weekly movie may become a bonding family tradition that carries through adolescence. Some parents celebrate that such an approach avoids the “forbidden fruit” mentality. And older children, especially, won’t feel so “strange” amongst their TV-watching peers.
If you have young children, I encourage you to go completely TV-free. 3-year-olds don’t “bond” over watching a movie. Your time is much better spent reading or going on a walk as family. Your little one’s friends hopefully do not spend playdates gushing about favorite TV shows, so peer-pressure is not such an issue. Take the opportunity to completely free your child from the habit while it’s relatively painless!
Our kids only watch TV at home when one of them is given a haircut. Every few months, they watch 20 minutes or so while I snip away. They never ask for it otherwise, so that TV has become a moot issue. I expect that we will reintroduce our kids to TV watching at some point, but I’m not sure when. I can imagine enjoying a TV night with teenagers, as an opportunity to talk about social issues that we don’t come across day-to-day. I can also imagine using documentaries in our homeschooling efforts when the children are older and when we are unable to experience interests in person, which would always be preferred.
But my husband and I like TV!?! If you have been watching TV, it is inevitable that you enjoy it and don’t want to give it up. If having the TV in the house continues to cause friction, consider moving it to the master bedroom, where it won’t be in your child’s sight so often. Maybe, along with the change you are making for your children, you can make a point to develop other interests like crafting and reading that will ultimately be more meaningful and enjoyable than TV-watching.
Or, maybe not. The fact is that some pastimes are more appropriate for grown-ups than they are for children. Think riding a motorcycle, having a cocktail, or just staying up late! Kids are not mini-adults. They are at a different developmental point, and as such have different needs. It is not inappropriate to watch TV after the kids go to bed, while eliminating TV for your child. To do so is setting an example: this is OK in moderation and when you’re older. By saving TV watching for after the kids are in bed, you’re modeling self-control, while displaying your preference for spending time with your children.
In our house our kids go to bed at 7 pm. While Liam (3 years) goes right to sleep, Aria (5 years) may take 30 minutes or longer to fall asleep. Sometimes she’s quite aware that we’re watching TV, but she has only commented a handful of times about it. In the week before Christmas, I was doing lots of knitting to finish up some gifts. I knit while I watch TV, so I watched more TV than usual that week. When Aria made a comment, I explained that I had to get my knitting done and was glad to have time again for other activities like reading/sewing. It was very interesting to me that 1. she noticed 2. she thought it was unusual and 3. my explanation made sense to her. Kids are so very aware, aren’t they?
What about viewing in other homes? If your children are in the care of paid caregivers, there should be no compromise about a TV-free environment. But, what about other times when your child is away from home? Grandma’s house, at a neighbors, at a friends – there will always be opportunities for exposure.
If these exposures come up occasionally (perhaps once a month), some TV-free families decide to let it be. Again, this is an opportunity to avoid “forbidden fruit” desire. Be aware of what programs are watched. Consider bringing along preferred DVD’s if you know grandma plans to have TV time. However, if you find that your child loves going to Grace’s house mainly for the TV or that a playdate at Christopher’s is basically 2 hours in front of the tube, you’ll want to make some changes to reflect your values.
My children are in the care of grandparents 2 days a week. When we went TV-free, we asked our parents to support us by eliminating all screen time on those days. While initially unpopular (there were some shows that they loved to have the kids watch), this change was accepted and has worked out just fine.
How to Go TV-Free? You’re clear on the “why”, but be sure to get clear on the “what.” Know just how TV-free you plan to be. Get on the same page with your spouse and sit down together to tell the kids how life’s going to change. Be clear, confident and positive. Be brief. Share a clear plan and stick to it. Expect a transition, and be prepared to include them in your own tasks or point them towards avenues of play. A TV-free lifestyle frees up time… time to create, time to read, time to really live. If you pursue this with your whole heart, you’ll have success and you’ll be so glad you did! The payoff is not always quick, but it’s golden.