Saturday, November 13, 2010

12 Steps to TV Freedom in Real Life Without Becoming a Sanctimonious Jerk

More on TV. I know. It's just so immediate for me right now that I can't stop talking about it!

I know there are many parents, probably many of you, dear readers, for whom this is not a problem. Either you watch and don't mind, or you just don't watch. Waldorf-ians have already pledged to eliminate TV (this is for the cheaters). Montessori schools often don't require such heroism, but they do whisper about us--we with our Disney princess sneakers and Lightnin' McQueen lunchpails. Well, this is not about appearances. This is about freedom.

I am here to tell you how to get free of your TV without putting a "kill your TV" sticker on anything you own, or telling anybody else that they can't let your kids watch the Wiggles at their house. We can be conscientous parents without being obnoxious--even a little bit. (That is, unless we decide to blog it all for everybody to see--but I'll accept the label of "passive agressive" from my immediate family--it beats the usual just plain "aggressive", and I might deserve it, anyway.)

1. Recognize the problem. If you wonder if your kids watch too much TV, they do.

2. Understand the limits of your control. If grandma wants to have movie night, or let them watch a fun show, who cares! They don't live at grandma's so they aren't going to become TV junkies by watching at her house. If your neighbor kid's mom doesn't mind them begging for TV as soons as they hit her front door, it's no skin off your back. This is between you, the kids, and the idiot box. If you try to involve persons of authority who do not share your enthusiasm, what you get is civil disobedience or worse, subterfuge.

2. Sign up for something they have to "go to". School is obvious, but if you aren't doing that yet, some other activity you have to show up for will also break up the day, and make it feel a little less daunting.

3. Don't put the TV and food in the same room. If your TV is in the living room, throw away your TV trays and don't eat there anymore. If you have a TV in the kitchen, get rid of it. Everybody knows the one about TV in the bedroom, so I don't even have to go there, do I?

4. Ban sippy cups inside the house. Nobody needs to have a drink while they build a block tower or read a book in a temperature controlled room. The only reason for a sippy cup in the house is to walk around with a drink in your hand, and the only reason to walk around at home (unless you're entertaining) with a drink in your hand is if you're cruising for a TV to watch while you have your drink. Baby teacups by the bathroom sink suffice at our house for thirsty kids in the playroom, and otherwise, they drink from a glass at the table.

5. Organize play areas, and display toys attractively. This is sort of key, as far as I'm concerned. If your kids walk into the living room and everything is put away in a drawer, and the TV is off, they will look around the clean room and not see anything they want to do. Likewise, if they look at a heap of jumbled toys in a corner, nothing will call to them, saying "come play with me!" If they walk into a room and there is no TV, and there are attractively displayed activities, it's as natural as breathing for a child to go and start to play with them. Why do you think they are always after your curio cabinet?

6. Turn some music on. It doesn't matter what it is. You will get different moods from singalong songs vs. Bach on the cello. Thrash metal will produce a different reaction than, say, Barry White songs, but use whatever you like. I find that music helps children move smoothly from activity to activity, providing nice little "buttons" for the in-between moments (sort of like NPR's musical segues) and, even if it doesn't promote very deep concentration, provides a nice rhythm for the mind to tap its toe to. It also provides passive sound, which I find to be a kind of "TV methadone" for hard-core junkies.

7. No pronouncements. Don't say, "we aren't watching TV in our house anymore" to your kids. It's enough, when they ask, to say "it's not time for TV right now." Take a one-minute-at-a-time approach. That way, if you give in once or twice, you haven't caved.

8. No arguments. You don't need a reason. If the kids pitch a fit, change the subject, or just go do something else. I have found that it is perfectly ok to let their anger at being denied TV just hang in the air until it goes away. It will go away--right before the magic starts!

9. Do your own thing. Let your kids see you reading a book, or knitting, or dusting. Let them "help" you work, or "help" you with a jigsaw puzzle, or just ignore them and let them do whatever they find to do. At our house, at least, they pretty much busied themselves around and were no more or less a pain in my ass than they had been when sitting in front of the TV, hollering for more juice or for me to change the channel.

10. Let yourself be a little absent. They can play with no guidance from you, but they won't do it if you get involved. I don't mean that we should never interject ourselves into our children's play--that's one of my favorite hobbies--but I recognize that my involvement changes the experience for them pretty dramatically.
11. Make your own rules. If you want to have "movie night" on fridays, great! if you want to let the babysitter use the TV, fine! If you want to make the babysitter bring her guitar and felting wool, and tell her not to turn on the set, more power to you! Find a level you can live with, and set about the task of living with it. It's all adjustable--you made up the rules anyway!
12. Keep quitting until you've quit. Ok, so everybody gets the flu, or you're 11 months pregnant and you can't move, so you cave. So what? It's never too late to rein it in, and it's never a hopeless task. Go for it!


magda said...

Thank you. This is very timely for me!

Coedith said...

This is funny because I have been thinking of a post defending our decision to get a TV for Christmas. We spent the last 9 or so years without any TV to speak of (which means it did happen occasionally) but then with internet tv and netflix...well we may not have a tv but we do have a laptop and have been watching so much that I began to wonder who I was fooling, so when grandma offered a tv for Christmas I jumped on it.

Marcy said...

Great post, shared it on twitter. =) We follow a lot of these already, or try to... have been giving in to the TV requests lots more lately, but hope to cut back again after the baby comes and we're somewhat back on our feet again.

Emily said...

I try to allow myself tv days - like today when I slept 3 hours last night and have thrush and other things and my son is teething and wimpy and clingy. I laid on the couch and let him nurse on me off and on for four hours. And watched an entire DVD of tv shows.

Luckily, these days are balanced with outside days and explore the house days.

I see nothing passive-aggressive about this post. It's simply your approach to TV in your own house. Go for it.

Renee said...

I am having such a hard time banning the sippy cups! And we don't watch TV! They've become a crutch for our nearly 2 year old, and he has started using them for longer and longer periods of time... Is cold turkey the way to go on that one? (dreading the tantrums!)

Testdriver said...

I know, Renee. It's a tough one.

Here is what we did with sippy cups. I just put a lot of little cups (tiny teacups from our ikea kids tea set) in strategic places (the playroom, the play area of the living room, the upstairs bath, the kitchen) and a little pitcher nearby and let them pour their own water (or seltzer-cut apple juice--high attraction factor, low stain factor)or get it from the sink. They love it!

We pretty much just use sippy cups in the car now, or at the park.

Nil Zed said...

Easiest way to go tvless: It broke and we couldn't afford to fix it or replace it. The girls were in 1st and3rd grade and we didn't have a tv for 7 years when they squires one abandoned for the garbage by neighbors who didn't manage to sell or give it away before movig. It was pretty useless though as we wouldn't pay for cable. A few years later when my parents were coming for my daughter's HS graduation and it was a world cup summer we caved. The thought of my dad for a week with no sports was unbearable to me.

We've had tv ever since. Except briefly when the oldest moved out and claimed the tv as her own, having been the one who found and struggled to carry it home. Later youngest daughter got a leftover set from a boyfriends family. ( they got a bigger flaster one for the family room and moved old to parents room and so om down through their household. She got the youngest childs old tv). Some weeks it's never on some days it's always on. We have a third child still a preschooler who is happy with or without. When this daughter moves out and takes it with her we will consider finally buying one or upgrading the computers to serve the purpose.

Renee said...

Sippy cups are GONE! It was rough, and actually I only just now saw your post about the tiny cups with pitchers... hopefully we'll get some small pitchers for Christmas instead of Fisher Price stuff (unless they've started making beautiful mini pitchers out of breakable or real/non-plastic materials). Do your kids just drink tap water from the sink, or do you have a filter? (I ask b/c we live in Houston in a 60+ yr. old neighborhood with old rusty pipes and lots of minerals in the water)

Testdriver said...


we live in philly, where the water tastes mostly like chlorine to me (I grew up in florida, so for me, the water is supposed to taste like sulphur, not chlorine!). We just let them take it out of the tap, and they seem not to mind it, but my mom has one of those hideously expensive tap filters... I guess you could put a brita container on your bathroom counter if you had room, which I definitely do not. Anyway, yes, we just drink tap water. It's just one of the things I decided not to fuss over, since I haven't heard much screaming about philly water quality lately.