Well, we did it.
We’ve been talking about it for years, usually in radical terms: “We need to get rid of the TV”; “Let’s sell the PS3”; “No more video games,” “Let’s put it in the closet until Friday night.”
Four years ago, we did it for a week. It was sheer hell.
Last fall, we told the boys we would do it. DoulaBoy, ever the pragmatist, asked, “What will we do instead of watching TV?”
“We’ll have different activities for different nights,” I replied. “Like there’s pizza movie night on Fridays, right? Well, this way we could have family art night, boardgame night, read-aloud night…”
“That sounds great,” he said. “Let’s do it.”
But we never did.
BLH grew up in a house where there are multiple TVs, one in each of three or four rooms around the house. Many times while visiting, we have encountered the phenomenon of several TVs being on at once, with no one watching any of them. It’s attractive to him, this idea of leaving the tube off, but turning it on is so automatic for him that he rarely even thinks about it.
That’s not the way I want our kids to grow up, though.
I want them to use their imaginations.
I want them to learn by doing.
I want them to get experience with working out conflicts over play before they have to work them out over important life questions.
We’ve talked about it so long, and in so many ways, and we always agree on the goals of this experiment. But somehow, in waiting for BLH to be firm in his commitment, I let the implementation go.
About three weeks ago, I got tired of waiting. One evening I announced that, no, we wouldn’t be turning on the TV; instead we would eat dinner, do homework, read aloud together in the living room.
We’d gotten through that routine by 7:00. What quiet, non-argument-inducing activity could the older boys do while an adult put FearlessToddler to bed?
They turned on the TV. But only for one episode of “Garfield”: half an hour, no fussing, no arguing, or the TV would go off for the rest of the week.
And it worked. It worked like a charm.
It wasn’t the solution I’d dreamed of. It wasn’t nearly as radical, nor as hard, as I thought it would be. But I have come to appreciate the compromise of this solution: putting the TV in the closet or selling it outright doesn’t actually teach them self-restraint. Without a TV, they might play and use their imaginations more, true; but they might also learn that the only way to avoid addiction is to eliminate the temptation altogether.
And as anyone in recovery will tell you, that simply isn’t realistic.
I like this solution. It’s simple. It underlines our authority to set appropriate limits. It gives us a break at the end of the day when we need it the most. It gives BLH, whose background causes him to have real anxiety at the thought of having no TV, a measure of comfort. But it also gives the kids a healthy relationship to screens: you can have them in the house without turning them on 24/7. You can CHOOSE to do other things. When screen time comes, if you don’t want to watch what the other kids are watching, you can turn on your Kindle and play a game or draw or read. You aren’t indebted to screens, but in charge of them.
And when BLH and I need some adult time on the weekend, it makes a great babysitter because they’re not already sick of it. But we have to be careful.
After half an hour, we’re sure to be interrupted.