We took the plunge. Our T.V, silent and unplugged now sits in the shed, covered in an old blanket. It no longer stares back at us from the corner of the living room, spewing forth copious sounds and images. The silence is golden.
This is not the first time our T.V has been sent on sabbatical. Before we moved house last year, we lived without T.V for about 7 years. We still watched DVD’s and had plenty of digital computer therapy, but the calls of advertisers and cries of promoters where not heard in our house. When we moved back to the suburbs, our new house had an aerial, we got given a set top box and hey presto, we were plugged in again. For a while it was interesting, like being newly arrived aliens watching a new race of people sharing their lives through a box. But it didn’t take long for the old T.V formulaes to reappear – the over zealous salesmen in the carpet ads, the slick and abstract European car ads, the annoying, breathy and OH, SO DRAMATIC voice over people in the T.V station promos and of course, the cute, witty 10 yr old American sit com kid who delivers one liners like a 40 year old jewish comedian. Not much had changed in T.V land.
Of course there were a few gems in there and we got good at being selective about what we watched. Unfortunately, our kids didn’t. For them, whatever was on was it, and don’t let family outings, the lure of the beach or a friend come to visit get in the way of that screen.
The main reason for our T.V detox was our kids. Something happens to them when they spend too much time watching. It’s hard to pin point exactly what it is…. it’s as though they become so immersed in T.V story land, they get separated from themselves and when it’s turned off, have trouble remembering who they are again. My son gets a glazed and slightly desperate look on his face, throws uncharacteristic (and uncharismatic) tantrums and wanders around the house looking lost. It’s like he needs time to reintegrate back into his body and ‘real’ life. I’ve seen this glazed look, magnified a thousand times on the faces of serious gamers when they are having a break from a 7 hour gaming binge.
It seems our move to get rid of the T.V goes against the trend. A recent survey conducted by the Cancer Council and Heart Foundation reveals that the majority of students surveyed have at least three television sets in their homes and almost half of them have a TV in their bedroom. The report also says that one quarter of young Australians are overweight and obese, 85 per cent don’t do enough exercise and three quarters aren’t eating enough vegetables. Youch!
An excellent phone in conversation I heard on ABC Coast FM (www.abc.net.au/sunshine/?ref=nav) with Annie Gaffney (yes, we do have radio) had many parents discussing how to help their children get physical. Many societal issues where raised: time poor parents unable to drive their kids to soccer, poorly planned housing developments covered with McMansions and no backyards, the prevalence of junk food outlets and fast food advertising in children’s T.V, and the need for parents to set an example in terms of exercise and diet.
One factor in this discussion was the media habits of our digital native (and some of their parents). Many are living a stagnant, screen bound existence where their fingers do the clicking but their legs aren’t doing much walking. With 3 T.Vs’ in the house, one in the bedroom, plus the laptop computer, a wireless interent connection, an array of gaming devices, a mobile phone next to the bed and an Ipod in your ears, why would anyone need to go outside, let alone get up and exercise. No wonder we rate as one of the most obese nations in the world.
Our T.V detox is making us more active already. The beach, the pool, playing with friends on the playground are more alluring to the kids now that screen time is no longer an option. Even less physical activities like drawing, playing with lego and dolls draws on their creativity and actively engages them. Screen watching is a very passive experience and often leaves kids (and adults) thinking, “What can I possibly do now that is as exciting as that T.V show?”.
Getting rid of the T.V has brought a host of changes in the behaviour of our kids. It’s still early days, but already the level of connection between us all has improved, as has the behaviour and level of empathy between the kids. They play happily, together and alone, and haven’t asked for the telly once. Mia (4) plays for hours with her dolls and the new space left by the abscence of the T.V has found Asher (7) either drawing or sitting on his bed reading Captain Underpants out loud to himself. Is there a more beautiful thing than the silence that comes from children engaged in happy, productive activity?
Dinner time has changed too. Since the kids were born, our dinner routine was a messy flurry of spoons shoved in mouths, wiping pumpkin off chins and brief, often interrupted attempts at conversation. It hasn’t exactly been a time of zen like family connection. Now that the kids are a bit older, can feed themselves and aren’t pulling the table cloth, their plates, cups or brothers onto the floor, we’re putting a lot of focus on dinner being a special family ceremony. The kids set the table, we light candles and everyone sits on their special chair. We all take turns sharing the best and the worst parts of our day. Asher got given some children’s affirmation cards for his birthday, so we all choose one at the end of the meal. It’s all very warm and fuzzy and makes sharing a meal together feel special.
One of things about T.V is it’s ability to suck time. Now, without it, we have all this free time to do whatever we fancy in the time before bed. After dinner, we play Uno, Eye Spy and a lego game called Creationary around the table or we read, talk and the kids play. The vibe in the house is different too – without this screened box beckoning and shouting at us from the corner of the room, the room seems bigger, more peaceful and like a real ‘living’ room. We even go to bed earlier and read. Not having thousands of images flicking and ticking around in our brains trying to be processed means we can sleep much more peacefully….the difference is quite fundamental!
It all sounds very idyllic, so before you reach for the vomit bowl, realise that we still have our melt downs, shouting matches and “I’m bored” moments. It’s just that we felt that the T.V was depriving our family of connections and time that we will never get back. It was also causing more conflict than the quiet time it was creating.
The T.V may come back out for a visit in the holidays as a special treat and we will watch the occasional D.V.D or Youtube clip on the laptop, but we are glad that that T.V will no longer be the default relaxation device in our house. That’s what puzzles, books, music, games, outside and each other are for.