TV or not to TV?

Posted under Practical Advice


Last month, I was interviewed by Katie Cincotta for ‘The Age’ about living in a TV-free household. Katie’s article was published this week. It seems a recent poll has found that 2% of households, that is 141,000 HOUSEHOLDS, have decided not to upgrade to digital tv when the switch is complete, so we’re definitely not alone. It seems more and more people are switching off too.

In the early days for me, no TV happened more out of circumstance than holding a philosophical position.  I just didn’t have the cash, not that I ever even thought about buying one.  Not ever. I’d come home from 2 years overseas travelling.  Travel was our TV.  We were living it, not watching it.

During those early years back in Australia raising my daughter, I remember only two events that made me hanker for a television.  The death of Princess Diana, and 9/11. My poor neighbours took pity on me and let me sit in their lounge to watch the Diana updates but it took me three days to see footage of the 9/11 events.  I then spent 2 days at my mum’s glued to the repeats of the event, trying to catch up.

Without a television, I was cast adrift from this global coming together of community.  These were the ONLY times I’ve ever regretted my choice.

I’ve since made a commitment to ‘join in’ these things.  For instance, when the royal wedding was on last year, I planned my week so that we were able to stay overnight at my parents and take part in a little celebrating too.  And I always watch the Oscars!   I love them.   Big news events too, such as the Queensland floods last year but luckily these days, with Facebook and internet news, it is pretty easy to stay in touch- if I choose to.

As an observer of television from a distance, I’ve come to loathe the way TV shows unfold.  I can’t bear to waste all that time, as I sit through 7 or 8 minutes of ‘program’ followed by ads and a big rehash of what I just watched 3 minutes ago. It seems that most of the program is about telling you what you will see, or what you just saw.  Not much good honest content at all.  It drives me nuts!   Yet, I don’t want to diss TV altogether.  More and more, television shows are becoming like mini-movies in their quality, writing, acting and all round performance.  (Offspring comes to mind.  Madmen too. Not that I’ve watched them but I know they are good because my friends tell me) But I love that you can now download them or pick up the series from your local video shop.  I’d much rather sit through the full show in one go, as my husband and I did with Underbelly (that was fantastic!) than be controlled by the anticipation of waiting for the show to return next week.  That’s just not fun.

Of course, it is all about balance, isn’t it.
I like to think I can be balanced about it, but I’m not sure I can ever be truly impartial.

On the same day the article was published, ABC Radio Newcastle phoned me up for an interview.  I found myself sharing the story of the children in my old kindergartens.

In this school, parents were encouraged to be mindful (though not dogmatic) about TV and screen use in general.  For this reason,  there was a broad range of Television exposure in the classes.  Some children had NO exposure whatsoever, others were allowed to watch TV in the afternoons or weekends (ABC 2, and children’s dvd’s were the most popular) and some children had free range.

For years, (not just one year) I was able to observe the children in play and without a doubt in the world, the children with NO television were those with the biggest, most unhindered imagination of the lot.  On the other hand, we had the children whose only play ability was to copy and imitate what they saw on television.  This meant lots of superhero play, fighting, gun battles, silly and/or stupid behaviour, name calling, aggression…  they played out the ‘extremes’ of their viewing menu. I’m sure most of these children also watched delightful and gentle children’s programs like Playschool, Sesame Street, Bob the Builder and Pingu but this was NOT the play they played out. The power/energy/destructive ability of shows like Ben 10 was no match for little old Pingu or Playschool.

This experience HAS changed my beliefs about television viewing and young children FOREVER.
In the past year, we’ve started allowing Ned to have a little bit of Bob the Builder dvd action or ABC 2 viewing when we visit Grandma’s.  Whereas before, I would have redirected him to an activity, he’s old enough now to know that the TV is there, and kids shows beckon.  I’m all for balance so a little indulgence at Grandma’s once a week or fortnight, I can cope with.  BUT the downside is the little tantrum that comes when we go to switch it off.  The tantrum/face pulling/grumpy bum happens EVERY time.  It makes me wonder why I bother really.  An hour or two of quiet time while I read the paper on a weekend is so NOT worth the grumpy bum retort.  But it actually serves to strengthen my resolve to keep MY home television/dvd-free.

You’ll have to forgive me my television soapbox rants once I start. I’m a really really nice, balanced and friendly person most of the time, or so I’m told. I just can’t bear to see wonderful people and talent go to waste through the brain drain of television watching.

So, the question is, if you don’t have a television, what do you do instead? (I’m not joking. I get asked this question a lot.)

For me, NO television means time for blogging, for photographing, for writing, for thank you notes and hand-written letters and art and crafting and music and books and design magazines and mood boards and chatting with my husband and films and yoga and good eating.  My favourite thing of all is to watch films.  Good films. Storytelling wonder.  Life changers and movies that are simply light hearted entertainment.  I know that the fact we have NO television is why I get so much of my creative stuff done.  I’m never ever bored!  Never.

I’m not saying this choice is for everyone.  But what I do say is that if you are experiencing tv tantrums with your children, or are so busy you can’t think straight, or feel like you never have anytime to relax, or absolutely can’t stop watching ‘The Voice’, why not take a family challenge and switch off the box for a week?  A week.  Why not?  A family experiment of sorts. Making time for bike riding, beach walks, cooking dinner together, family games nights, sorting photographs or cupboards, clearing out the junk.

Can you do it? Yes, you can.

Will you join me in this challenge?  I’d love to hear your stories.


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