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    A Fond Reflection: Five Years Without Television

    January 11, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    Our children have been sans television since the very beginning. I remember that Si and I, when we were first married, liked to watch a certain show when he arrived home from work. We put E. in his baby swing, facing us, which is to say, away from the television. I remember the day we realized that he was craning his neck, attempting to look over the back of the swing seat.

    That was one of the last times we watched that show, at least at that hour.

    Back then, I felt like a revolutionary. We were fresh from reading Amusing Ourselves to Death and though we weren’t so crazy as to completely eliminate the big blue eye from our own lives, we were crazy enough to protect our child. We invented this rule: No TV until age 2, no matter what.

    And we stuck to it.

    Sure, the boy probably caught a glimpse when we were at restaurants, or in other people’s homes, but we never sat him down to watch a show of any kind {I can safely say we did this to the point of annoying our extended family}.

    And then this funny thing happened: the boy turned two.

    Somehow, the second birthday didn’t end up feeling as magical as we had anticipated. He was two, and yet he was really only a day older than the day before, when he was one and we didn’t let him watch anything.

    Around that same time, after living with my parents for ten months, our first house was finished being built, and we moved in. And the television ended up in our room. Why, we asked ourselves, make the television the focal point of the living room when we rarely turn it on ourselves and we don’t want our son asking to watch it?

    That was a key step that we took, five and a half years ago: we didn’t put the television in the center of the room.

    In these past five years, we have had three more children, all of whom have been raised virtually electronic media-free. There was a brief period of time, when our oldest was three, that constant colds in the winter caused me to flip on a movie for a moment’s peace and quiet. But I didn’t really like the impact on my son’s attitude and thinking, and after doing this a couple times, I decided to just learn how to deal with sickness without an electric babysitter.

    And so here we are.

    This really isn’t a rant against television. You see, just the other day, when we were all gathered around the dinner table, and something funny had just happened, and there was scattering of giggles, I had this strange thought. We have succeeded in building a family culture.

    When I consider that we started with this innocent rule made almost purely out of concern for our son’s intellect {as compared to his soul–concern for that came a bit later}, I find it almost ironic. In learning to live without television, we learned to live on our own terms, on our own schedule, in our own way, according to our own interests, and in a way that suits us just fine.

    In avoiding television, I no longer see a place where it would fit into our lives. We have moved on, and living without it is the most natural thing in the world.

    One of the side-benefits is that our children are untainted by marketing professionals. I never anticipated this. Shopping at a place like Target makes me weary, especially when I see small children begging for Dora this and Cars movie that and whatever else Disney or some other corporate giant convinced them they must like. I am so tired of companies defining children not as a persons but as consumers. Our children were not born for the purpose of buying things, but Disney wishes this were otherwise.


    Recently, I was sort of irritated by one of my children, who kept reminding me about some toy which was considered desirable, and I just kept thinking that this child was a little old for such a thing. Shouldn’t this child have moved on to “more mature” toys by now?

    And then I spoke to some other children around this child’s age. When we discussed Christmas, I realized that every single “more mature” toy these other children discussed were action figures…which went with movies and TV shows to which our family is not exposed. When I pointed these toys out to my child {not to encourage, but just to gauge a response}, the child shrugged. Such toys don’t make sense to someone who hasn’t seen the movies.

    And then suddenly I realized that I had allowed marketers to define “mature” toys for me. I didn’t realize that my child had been, all this time, expressing to me a real, live, actual interest. I myself was so influenced by the culture, that I missed seeing what was right before me.

    Once I realized that all “moving on” in the world of toys really meant was “moving on” to the toys associated with more “mature” viewing habits, I was able to totally loosen up.

    I mean, did you ever notice that in old books, within pre-television and pre-radio cultures, the children are playing dress-up well into their teens?

    Television, on a cultural level, has matured children right out of childhood.

    So, God has been gracious to us. Somehow, He made Good things attractive to us before we even recognized them for what they were. And in the process we find blessing, innocence, and simple pleasures.

    Who knew that turning off the television could be the beginning of finding meaning?

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  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts January 13, 2010 at 12:39 am

    Rebecca, Don’t you love these seemingly accidental things? We had cable up until about a year ago. It was just basic, and our use of it (just the two of us) was rather intermittent, to say the least. But they raised the price, and we just felt like we were throwing money out the window, so we ended up turning off TV for OURSELVES without really planning to.

    The only show we plan to finish watching is LOST. When it comes on, we’ll watch it on our computer, but I doubt we’ll ever get into another show for a long time.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts January 13, 2010 at 12:32 am

    Emily, I so look forward to the vivid imagining, the dressing up, etc. How precious your Anna Rose sounds! My girls are just now getting old enough for this. They play Mommy and Baby constantly, so I am getting glimpses. My son is very gruff about it; doesn’t know why they always want to play in such a way and refuses to play the Daddy! He would rather feign a war outside somewhere. 🙂

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts January 13, 2010 at 12:25 am

    KM, We just don’t know what to do with the computer, so at present we have done…nothing. On the one hand, we know that computer skills are simply things which must be had. My husband has had past experience with watching co-workers who didn’t learn to, for instance, type when they were young, and it was a hard battle, while children learn these things easily. I actually have been meaning to ask Andrew Kern about it. Maybe I’ll email him, and if he responds in a blog post, I’ll link it. Because, on the other hand, we don’t want, in the education of a free man, for skills to drown out ideas, and kids are attracted to shiny objects, so temperance can become a point of tension.

    I am a lost soul when it comes to the computer and my children.

    I will say that the children get very limited but real amounts of computer and movies with their grandparents. For instance, my son understands a mouse well enough and uses Rosetta Stone Latin there sometimes. For me, a lot of it has become about protecting our family culture and what defines the Average Day, so a little something every now and then with the grandparents is dealt with differently…

  • Reply Emily January 12, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    Love this post, Branday. We do have a tv but don’t watch it. Well, we use it for video/dvd’s but that’s it. I would be perfectly content to be rid of it altogether but…there is a little difference of opinion in our home about that. 🙂

    Your remark about the children dressing up into their teens immediately reminded me of the girls in Little Women playing at Pilgrim’s Progress.

    I so enjoy eavesdropping on Anna Rose’s playing as she acts out her little imaginary dramas (which bear no reflection on the current popular tv shows). I’m so glad she’s not influenced by the culture as I see other girls her age are, including my nine year old granddaughter who seems to be bored by anything that can’t be done on a screen. Sad.

  • Reply Rebecca January 12, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    So, God has been gracious to us. Somehow, He made Good things attractive to us before we even recognized them for what they were.

    I agree, this is good stuff.

    We “turned off” the TV nearly a year ago because I was upset with the company we were paying to provide us with satellite. We never bought an antenna and have no reception and now our TV is “out dated” and can’t receive digital signals (never bought the converter, either). I thought we would miss it more, but really, we love not having the television dictate our lives. We probably still watch way too much, but the temptation to have it on for background noise is gone.

  • Reply Kansas Mom January 12, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    How wonderful it would be to be TV-free!

    I’m curious, how do you deal with computer-time for the kids? Do they have any? Are you working on typing skills with E at all?

  • Reply Rahime January 12, 2010 at 8:16 am

    So, God has been gracious to us. Somehow, He made Good things attractive to us before we even recognized them for what they were.

    This is good. 😉

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