Friday, February 13, 2015

TV Watching

Over the past month or so, the kids have watched almost no tv.  The amount they were watching previously had been gradually creeping upwards and I'd noticed a corresponding decline in sibling harmony.  I imagine (perhaps wrongly) that this looks different in our house than in most others because we do zero video games in our house, and the kids have never really watched a lot of tv.  But like I said, I'd been noticing that the amount they'd been watching had been gradually increasing and I didn't like how the squabbling and in-fighting started almost the moment the tv was turned off.

So I decided to change course a bit - with a sigh (to be honest), because even a bit of tv watching gives me that bit of a break to get a job done or dinner started or a chance to return an email or three.  TV is a great babysitter, after all (insert ironic tone).  Anyway, I decided that we would take a one week hiatus from any and all tv watching...and then re-evaluate.

It wasn't hard for me to give it up for that week, to be honest; it didn't feel like a sacrifice.  It's been three years since I've watched live tv and it's usually one evening/week (sometimes two) that I'll watch something on netflix - after everyone's sleeping and after I've done whatever needs doing.  I missed netflix a bit one evening that week when I was particularly tired and just felt like crashing.  But on the other hand, it was great to have a couple of extra hours to do some research into a few things I'd been wanting for a while to find the time for.  Even those couple of hours gave me more capacity and the opportunity to complete a few things that had been sitting on the backburner for a while.  Also, I finished reading my monthly book club book earlier in the month that I otherwise might have.  So all in all, it was actually a lovely break for me.

The far harder thing for me was not having that small bit of extra time during the day to get my own stuff done.  Even a half hour tv show enables me to get dinner going, or to do those little chores that are hard to get done otherwise.  I really, really wanted to turn on the tv for them almost every day that week, especially when I heard cries of "I'm bored" or "what should we doooo?" during the first few days around the time when they usually watched.  It was hard on me those first few days to suggest that we play a game or do whatever else when I needed a break then, too.  So that was what felt like a sacrifice for me.

The kids struggled with it for the first couple of days, especially when one caught a bit of a cold and didn't feel much like doing anything.  But after day three, they just fell into a routine of not asking and we found other things to do.  On a couple of days we played an extra game together, on another day they were outside a bit more than usual, they painted on another afternoon, and on a few days I just read out loud a bit more than usual.

After the one week was done, I let the kids watch a 22-minute show (you know how a 30-minute show ends up being about 20-22 minutes on netflix because of the lack of commercials).  Later that week, I let them watch another 20-22 minute show.  And the following week, although I offered them the opportunity again, all three kids forgot about the tv and ended up wrestling in the family room instead!  I was amazed.

Last weekend, almost 4 weeks after our initial ban on tv, the kids watched tv for most of Saturday morning - mostly to give Geoff and me a chance to sit in the library with a coffee and just chat and catch up after a busy week.  That was great, and it felt like an appropriate use of tv.

And that's been about it over the past month.

The result?  I've noticed a definite and visible improvement in sibling relationships.  Even though we four spend a lot of time together anyway, almost 24/7 frankly, taking tv mostly out of the equation has reduced squabbling and increased harmony.  We're still dealing with lots of Lizzie issues at the moment, but what I noticed was that the boys have been a little better at tolerating some of her antics in the past month...and I don't think it's coincidental that this has happened at the same time that they've barely watched tv.

I've wondered periodically how much this could be true for society if we just turned the dang tv off.  My kids have never watched a lot of tv, but even removing most of that bit has made a tangible difference in our household and in our creativity about how to spend our time.  It's like our priorities have been re-jigged just a little again and, frankly, when one is stuck employing options that don't include tv, one tends to finish a lot more chapter books in read-aloud times!

For many years already, really since Geoff and I were married 20 years ago, I've thought that tv is one of the greatest evils on the planet.  In fact, early in our marriage (pre-kids) Geoff and I took the tv out of our home for over a year, and I loved it and was amazed by how much we got done and by how much more we explored things of interest to us and by how well even we got along.  Television is a huge time waster, a creativity zapper, and it's addictive - not to mention how easily values (and not always the ones we want our children to take on) are imparted through tv watching.  Even as I've allowed my kids to watch tv over the years, I've thought this.  I've allowed it because it makes my life a little easier and because deciding to watch no tv is a hard decision to make and keep...especially in the beginning.

It's not that everything about tv is so horrible, IMO...I enjoy watching, too, and there is some good programming to be had.  But it's just so insidious, in my opinion - the addiction of it is not good for any of us (children or adult) and the impact and influence of it sneaks under the skin and changes who we are as people.  I don't think that the small benefits of tv watching outweigh the huge cost I see as being attached to it.

Going forward over the next month or two, I plan to stick with a no-tv-policy during the week and maybe an opportunity on Saturday mornings.  Then I'll re-evaluate...I'm seriously considering ditching the thing altogether.

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