Life with a kid but without TV

…is possible. Surprisingly easy, even.

What is surprising is what it hasn’t done. My initial hope for this experiment was that Anna would immediately forget TV exists. But I still hear “Can I watch a movie, pleeeeeeeeeeease?” several times a week. It’s almost a reflex reaction — a flinch, as it were — to downtime.

It passes quickly, though, which doesn’t happen when we’re at my mom’s or a hotel or anywhere with a television in the corner.

It also hasn’t rendered her an apathetic consumer. Right now, I’m surprised that I was ever surprised by that. Exposure to anything, anywhere, fosters the ‘gimmes’ in our saturated, every-surface-a-billboard culture. She well knows how to ask for princess stuff by name but from there she gets less confident — she knows who SpongeBob is, I think, and probably Dora, but none of the supporting castmembers — and trust me, she isn’t a bit bothered by that (yet).

If I were to capture the no-TV life in one word, that word would be purposeful. We tried limiting our watching with basic cable on our sole TV and we wholeheartedly failed at moderation; limited to Hulu and Netflix and a laptop, we’re much better. There are still four or five TV shows that I watch regularly, and we’ll here and there devote a Friday night to a season of Weeds or Big Love on DVD.

To catch anything there must be some planning, even if it’s just remembering how long an episode is available on Hulu. We can’t TiVo. We don’t see live streaming news anymore, the kind that drones 24 hours a day from cable news stations. If it doesn’t come through the internet — and quite a few TV shows and news events don’t — then we don’t see it. We no longer watch stuff like the Oscars or Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade; maybe we could find them on the Internet, but it isn’t worth the effort.

We don’t read the newspaper more, though, and I would have predicted we would. We don’t even subscribe to the newspaper, and we’re old.

Allan and I were born during a time when the TV was the focal point of most people’s living rooms, and we came of age with 24-hour cable. We are not immune to the power of the TV; in fact we may need to do this because of its power. Especially right now, as parents of a little one (read: we spend most evenings on our own couch), we know we’d be watching Jerry Springer in no time. I am more than a little glad to not have to worry about what she might happen to see as we surf channels.

At last, the reflex to reach for the remote control has all but disappeared for all of us. I know it’s merely latent, not fully gone, because as soon as we arrive at my parents’ it roars back, and the temptation lasts long after we’ve returned home.

The biggest change, though, isn’t in what we don’t do anymore but in what we DO do. No longer does boredom = channel surfing; we’re primed now to look for something to read, to make, to play. I’ve noticed that Anna can play by herself for much longer stretches (some of which admittedly has to do with age) and for whatever reason is developing an amazing imagination. She asks to watch a movie, I say no, she’s off and running. Same thing day after day after day.

I’ll take it.

Published in: on April 6, 2011 at 5:25 PM  Comments (1)  

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  1. Sigh of relief! Breath of fresh air! Growing up, there were TEN televisions in our house, and two or three on at once. I felt ignored by my father, who would not hear me calling from feet away. I still loathe an unwatched television, playing to no audience, as background noise. We have one television in the basement. We do not have a TV in the kitchen or living room. It’s a purposeful decision to go watch it, and we filter out commercials. It’s hard to live TV-free, but I’d like to limit it. Thanks for this insightful and creatively written post!

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