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    The Media-Free Childhood

    June 13, 2006 by Brandy Vencel

    A few days ago I ranted a bit about Toys R Us. In that posting, I mentioned that E. received a Disney-issued Finding Nemo Slip and Slide that he affectionately calls “The Ocean.” And then I said, “That is the unmuddied response that can be born only in a media-free childhood.” Allow me to explain.


    In the beginning…

    For our family, the media-free childhood has been conceived of in steps. We did not set out upon our journey saying, “Thou shalt not watch television, listen to radio, or go to the movies.” And to be quite honest, Si and I do all of these things and more from time to time. The journey started out in this way: we read that the AAP does not suggest Amusing Ourselves to Death. I still think that the work of Postman is a good place to start when considering what relationship our families will have with electronic media.

    So E. made it to the age of two without any exposure to television, save the annual Thanksgiving football games that some of our relatives insist on watching. We had told our extended family our viewing policy before E. was born, and everyone respected it quite nicely, which we appreciated since we know it was inconvenient for them at times.

    When E. hit the age of two, something interesting happened. There was a great sigh of relief, and many in the family thought that it was all over, and now they could finally watch TV with him. We, however, were quite uncomfortable with this. Two had crept up on us, I suppose, and we found ourselves staring blankly at the videos and wondering how different aged 1 year and 364 days was from the age of two. Should one day really make such a difference? And was he really missing anything important from his life?


    Reflecting on personal observations…

    The birthday videos were placed, unopened, on a shelf while we privately debated the future of television in our family. We had finally moved into our own home after living with my parents for a time, and the TV was neatly tucked into the master bedroom. The focal point of our living room was a fireplace and a huge cabinet of books, and we liked it that way. And then we had some company.

    Si had some clients that were new to town, and we thought it would be Good of Us to invite them to dinner. When the special evening arrived, only the wife and children were able to come, but it was still a pleasant time together.

    The two little girls were known to watch television upwards of six hours a day. The youngest {14-months, I think} was mildly autistic {which, after doing more reading, I think may be linked to the TV, but I don’t want to get into that right now}, and the oldest {aged four} had forgotten how to play. She wanted to know where our television was. When I explained that we didn’t watch TV, she stared at me blankly. We had lots of toys, and I know, now that I have a four-year-old, that she should have been fine playing with them. But instead, the poor thing wandered aimlessly both indoors and out of doors, completely bored by her own loss of the skill of playing.

    We discussed the situation that evening, and I was instantly reminded of a little boy who had lived next door to me as a child. I remembered the day he moved in, and that I was amazed that there was only one boy, and yet it sounded as if there were a huge war going on in the backyard. Less than a year later, that little boy did very little. He was a latchkey kid who had received a Nintendo as a gift. His ability to play was diminished almost entirely within months of receiving it, and the backyard never saw a war again.


    Cultivating the soul…

    We consider our children to be a precious trust, given to us by the Lord. We take

    As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think…What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.
    –Neil Postman

    our responsibilities seriously, and believe we will be held accountable for our actions someday. We often refer to the Shema {Deut. 6} when making parental decisions because we believe that God, in His wisdom, has revealed His plan for parenthood in Scripture.

    We believe that until the child is old enough to cultivate his own soul, we parents are responsible to do it for him. We are to stimulate good growth, and prune off the bad. We are to do a lot of weeding, and we grew to consider television a weed, one that could easily spawn unhealthy thought patterns that were detrimental to the educational environment of our home.


    How do you stand it?

    I have been asked on a couple occasions how in the world I get anything done without distracting my children with the television. There seems to be a growing consensus that even if we don’t allow our children unlimited access to TV, it is a helpful “tool” when the mother needs to do “real work” around the home. Now, my children do help around the house {even the little one}, but I think the real answer is that when children have perfected the skill and art of playing they do not need distraction as much.

    This is not to say that our children have never been bored. But I am not necessarily quick to intervene when they appear so. Boredom is often a precursor to great creativity, and if I interrupt the boredom with distraction, I may prevent the invention of a new game or project. Allowing the children to experience boredom is, I believe, a part of their learning process.

    The other half of this, which is another post entirely, is that my desire is to teach them that the world around them, molded by the Creator, with so much to see and learn, is not boring. When one cultivates the life of the mind, one has less cause for boredom.


    Not just television anymore…

    Our media-free life has expanded itself over time into other forms of media. Our current desire is to secure a piano, that our evening songs will not be a capella. This desire began quite innocently one day, when we were visiting my parents’ home. E. had requested I turn on the radio while he was cleaning up the toys, and I was not in the mood for noisy songs. So I asked him if I could play the piano for him instead. He loved it. And so did Si and A. I was a bit rusty, since we don’t own a piano ourselves, but I plunked out some hymns, and before we left, we had sung a Vesper Hymn together quite nicely. The magic that hung in the air was so different from the effects of radio. We created our own music, and it was a beautiful experience for us.

    And I think that is what we seek now. It is not that we “hate” television or radio or movies. And though the content is often questionable, we are not running from media out of fear. It is simply that we have come to think that the media-free life is much more peaceful. We want to make lots of room in our family life for creating our own music and acting out our own plays, casting a golden glow on the memories of our family’s childhood.


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  • Reply Brandy July 21, 2006 at 9:03 pm

    I’m glad it could be an encouragement to you!

  • Reply Nicole July 21, 2006 at 8:09 pm

    Thank you for writting this great post. It’s encouraged me to keep on the good path we’ve already started down…and to keep the DVD habit at bay. 😉

  • Reply Si June 13, 2006 at 11:10 pm

    Just as an illustration of how pop culture can distort a child’s sense of reality…

    In my high-school history class, we were discussing Eistein. I commented on how he diffused an atomic bomb with an electric guitar. My teacher laughed at me. Why? Because that is what I saw in the movie “Young Eistein” years before.

    I also once asked my grandparents how they liked growing up in a black-and-white world. They looked confused. My only exposure to the olden days was “I Love Lucy,” “Mr. Ed,” and so on. I thought the world was colorless until the 1960s.

    About don’t get me started about the Care Bears. I was so disappointed…

  • Reply Brandy June 13, 2006 at 6:33 pm

    Hi Kris!
    I hadn’t even heard of that movie, but I just added it to our Netflix queue! The shift from written to visual is and interesting phenomena. One book I read mentioned that really the progression is spoken to written to visual, since most people used to be illiterate (yet had a great depth of understanding of what they heard read aloud to them).

    Literacy is an interesting topic. Charlotte Mason touches on it in the volume I’m reading when she mentions a London schoolteacher who read a poem about a bee to his students, with no visible response. Come to find out, these city children had never actually seen a bee in real life. They could read the word “bee,” but they were functionally illiterate because they didn’t know what it meant.

    TV adds an interesting dynamic because staying indoors so much can mean that children today don’t see bees, either, but also that the things they do see may or may not be adequate representations of reality. If the only bees they come in contact with, for instance, are on TV and can talk, will they believe that bees can talk? It’s an interesting question.

    Sorry to go on and on. I love discussing these things…

  • Reply kristie June 13, 2006 at 5:46 pm

    We have the Postman book also, and have gained a lot of insight from it. I actually use an excerpt (the one you quoted in the sidebar)as the introduction to the course I teach: “Reading and Writing Across the Curriculum.” I found it helpful in conveying to teachers the importance of literacy and the reality of its deficiency. If you haven’t yet seen it, you may find the recent movie “Good Night, and Good Luck” interesting. It also shows the shift from the written word to visual media in American news.

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