We don’t own a television.
At least not one that works in the manner TVs are most commonly known to. We had one hooked up to a DVD player in order to watch movies now and again, or standout TV series like West Wing, Battlestar Gallactica, Firefly, Farscape, and Doctor Who. After the last move, we didn’t bother with it; the laptop and Amazon work just as well for the infrequent times we want to watch something.
And now with Liam, our desire to protect him from media, to minimize his screen time, is made much easier without a television around. An article from this summer’s Waldorf Parent/Child Education class suggested boredom was the catalyst for creativity. TV, movies, and video games, (screen entertainment) are often used to prevent boredom. And so, there goes the need for kids to get creative in their play, to be inventive and think up something to do. This is part of our reasoning in keeping Liam away from screens; we want him to develop his imagination. We want him to be able to entertain himself, and not rely on TV or video to do it.
When I was a teacher, and I revealed to my students each year that I didn’t own a television, they were shocked. I repeatedly got the question, “What do you do?”
“Read” was my most frequent answer (I am an English teacher), or “Grade your papers,” if I was feeling particularly snarky.
As Jim and I make our life together without a television the answer to that question, “What do you do?” has broadened. Now, on weekend days when, growing up, I might have been watching college football, or weekday nights, when I would have been taking in Prime Time, I find other ways to fill my time. I most definitely still read. But I also talk to my husband, care for my child, snuggle with the dog, pet the kitty, play cards, learn a martial art, bake, swing in the hammock, take a walk, write in my journal, talk on the phone, go for a hike, ride my bicycle, nap, clean house, email friends, do yard work, sew, work on a photo album for Liam, chat with the neighbors, even blog. Activities to keep me busy and productive or that let me relax and veg out seem to materialize. I rarely miss the easy, no-brainer, turn-on-the-TV option.
In a way it is ironic that we don’t have a television. I watched a lot of TV growing up (and I like to think I turned out okay). I had a whole line-up after school, and certain nights of the week I couldn’t miss. And I used to love commercials. As a kid I knew the jingles for so many ads, it’s kind of embarrassing now to think about. However, in contrast to some of the research and anecdotal evidence that screen time currently detracts from family time (see the insightful book, Wired Child, by Richard Freed), back in the 80s my family truly bonded over television. Perhaps because watching it was a shared experience. My sister, and I watched the same soap operas, so we could discuss the love triangles and family scandals. We were invested in those characters on Guiding Light, As the World Turns, and, to a lesser degree, The Young and the Restless. Additionally, I can remember having heartfelt discussions with my mom after watching episodes of Judging Amy. Watching football and basketball games of the local university team was also a family past time. Those players became more than just jersey numbers; their performances became part of our family discourse, and we shared in their successes and losses.
It is weird to think that Liam won’t have these same types of television experiences with us. But it’s exciting to think about what experiences we might share instead that will help to bond us together as a family.