How To Break Free From The TV

By: Tia Johnson 0 Comments   3/4/2014

Six years ago, when my husband and I first moved into our own place, I suggested that we not connect our TV. We had stored most of our things at my in-law's for several months and unpacked them by the carload.

I couldn't help but notice how much more I accomplished at home without a TV on. So, when we finally did move our small screen into the house, I suggested that we hook it up in the guest room with a video player and just use it for movies now and then.  

This was an adjustment as I was raised watching TV. My mom worked overnights and relied upon the regular shows to keep us quiet in the morning while she slept. When I was in high school, I positioned myself on the couch with my textbook open thinking I'd get lots of homework done while watching one show. After three more, I was still on the couch with little to nothing done.

I'm not of the opinion that there's nothing good on TV. Sure, the boundaries of decency have been stretched and the commercials can even be rancid, but there's still some great stuff on the networks. We really miss having channels while the Olympics and games are on. Online stations and YouTube just don't give us the same quality. And the local news and reality shows can be educational.

So it's not that I'm anti-television. I'm just anti-time-wasting. I got tired of watching other people live their lives on TV while I accomplished nothing. I decided that I was going get off the couch and start living my life.

So, six years and three kids later I'm writing some tips for those who (for whatever reason) are cutting the cord: 

  1. Just get it out. It's easy to say, "We're not going to turn it on unless we have to," but you know what happens. It's on. So get the TV out or in an inconvenient location. Make it difficult to turn on. That's the only way to begin separating yourself from a life-long habit.
  2. If you're an avid TV watcher, the first four weeks will be the most difficult. It seems that we've conditioned our bodies to "veg" at certain points in the day. I've learned to plan in activities that are relaxing and somewhat productive when the "veg" mood arises: maybe it's time to peruse a cookbook, read a magazine, or do a Sudoku puzzle. What is it that you look forward to? Play a quick game of "memory" with the kids. Dance. Take a spin on your motorcycle. Allowing yourself five minutes to do something relaxing is much more productive than sitting in front of a 1/2-hour show.
  3. Use the internet, but don't abuse it. YouTube is a great place to find segments of just about anything. However, the computer can suck up more time than TV, so be disciplined.

To be honest, the internet has taken the place of television in many homes- including ours. For that reason, one boundary I've aspired to keep is to only hop online when my kids are in bed. If they're bouncing around the house while I'm online, I'm a bad mom. I'm quick to yell or ignore them completely- both terrible ways of mothering- so I avoid the screen altogether while they're awake.

I can't tell you how often someone I've sought information from on the phone will suggest that I just "quick hop online" to view a page of this or that. Quite often I'll tell them that's just not an option for me during the day.  

We all know that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 hours of screen time each day for children- this includes cell phone/computer/video games as well as shows/movies. And, children under age two don't benefit from screen time at all. However, sometimes the parents are the button pushers, placing their kids in front of a screen so they can have some peacend-quiet. When that mood arises, here's some alternative ideas: 

  1. Parents, get used to noise. It's tempting to sit your child in front of a screen just so you can have a few moments of quiet. But the playful noise of children lasts just a short few years, not a lifetime. Learn to love it or find a place to step away from it when tempted to silence it.
  2. Tell your kids to clean their room. That's the surest way to get them to play with their toys. Then swing in and help them organize it a bit. I've heard that kids play better in a room that's organized, and I think it's true.
  3. Ten minutes a day keeps the fighting away. Spending this much time with them in the morning will spark some creativity and better attitudes to carry them through a good part of the day.
  4. Make a list of constructive and easy-to-grab activities to pass off to your kids when a lull arises.. A few things on my list for younger children include: play dough; paints; a box of fresh books or puzzles; a few empty laundry baskets; blankets to swing over uprooted couch cushions for a fort; puppets; a basket of musical instruments; an Adventures in Odyssey radio episode; pop-up tents and sleeping bags; swimsuits and a blue sheet that can serve as a lake; eye droppers, sponges, bath toys and bowls of water; balloons; and colored tape that can make a quick hop-scotch on the floor.
  5. For older kids, make sure you stock your home with several books- even how-to picture books for the one who doesn't enjoy reading. Make a "puzzle table" and be sure there's a challenging puzzle in the works at all times. Engage with your children, and ask them to engage with you. Bake their favorite cookies and see how quick they come to the kitchen to help. 

Here's my last tip for all ages: The longer you are away from a screen the easier it will be for you to leave it off. The first few days are the most difficult. As your family gets used to playing or working (instead of sitting and watching), you and your children will more easily find constructive activities to fill the day.

Now, when I go to bed, instead of thinking of all the glories on television that I wish I could do, I'm thankful for the life God gave me and all that He allowed me to do that day. As I said before, it's much better to live life than to watch others live theirs.

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