To TV or not TV

A recent thread on a bulletin board I am on has me pondering the following question: Is it hypocritical to say one's family is TV-free and yet either still own a set or watch videos and DVDs? My gut says no, but I'm a little fuzzy as to why I have that feeling. If I write down my reasoning, maybe I can stop having arguments with myself and be able to focus on other things.(You know, like all those children running around my house.)

We have not always been a TV-free family. (Note: For the sake of argument, I will consider being TV-free as not watching commercial or cable television. This is different from being monitor-free... i.e. no screen-related activities of any kind.... [Sort of like vegetarian vs. vegan....] ) Our oldest two children have certainly watched their share of PBS shows in their younger days, and J. and I once had shows that we enjoyed watching most nights of the week. (Back in the days of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine"!)

As M. got older, though, I noticed that if she watched television (or any TV-type thing), she was whiny and cranky and generally unpleasant. The whining was often over wanting to watch more TV. To preserve my sanity, I decided it was better to not allow TV in the morning, even if it meant I had to stop using it as a babysitter. A happy child who wanted to help me during the morning was better than a half hour to myself followed by an hour of torture. Besides, nap time was coming right after lunch. It was at this same time that J. and I realized that M. was much more aware of the world around her and we became more conscious of what we were viewing. Did we really want our little girl to hear or see some of these things? There was also the question: If our daughter shouldn't see something, should we even be watching it ourselves?

Our whole family's TV watching continued to decline to the point where the children were watching no TV, and J. and I watched just a couple of shows. We never started watching any new series, so as the shows ended, we were left with nothing that we regularly watched. Consequently, when we moved to our new house, we decided not to have a television in any of the living areas. We had a family room in our old house where the TV lived, but our new house was set up very differently and there was no obvious place for one. Our one little 9-in TV went to live in the guest room, where it lives forgotten by all most of the time.

We did not stop watching television because we believed that all TV is BAD; it's not. There are some good things on television. We stopped watching because most things on TV just aren't worth our time. Both J. and I look at our lives now and wonder how we had time to watch even the smallish amount of TV that we did. We don't miss it.

Now to the original question of hypocrisy if one eschews television, but still watches DVDs. I guess for me the question is one of intent and money. What was the reason we stopped watching the television? We didn't like the time it took; we didn't want to expose our children to some of the things on it; and we wanted to model what we saw as a mature way of dealing with media to our children. We didn't stop because we saw something inherently evil in watching something on a screen. I also try to be careful about where my money is going. I won't pay for cable and am too cheap to pay for any of the services that allow you to tape television. Renting DVDs seems like a good option for us. We can choose what comes into our home and when we watch it. We can also preview a show that we aren't sure about before letting our children watch it. And yes, we can even rent a television show we might be curious about but never saw. (Though often we do this out of sheer curiosity and are usually disappointed... I'm beginning to think I am humor-impaired.) And I will admit that when one is sick in bed (and when getting up will have disastrous consequences), a movie (or two or three) can be a very good thing.

So, I guess I agree with my gut that I'm not being hypocritical in my actions. (Well, OK, that last argument might have questionable worth.) Ultimately, I want to be the one to control the medium. I want my viewing to be an intentional decision on my part. For me, at least, the continual flow of broadcast entertainment that keeps going as long as the TV is turned on means that I am more likely to continue to watch, even after the original show that I chose to watch is over, controlled by the medium. After all, that's what all broadcast TV is all about: hooking viewers so that they ooze seamlessly from show to show and ad to ad, without any inclination to turn it off.

Maybe we could get the same "broadcast-TV-free" effect with something like TiVo or another digital videorecording device... but I'm not sure it's the same thing. To some extent, these devices still render the viewer at the mercy of the broadcaster. I expect that I'd record lots of things just because they might be interesting... and then feel obligated to watch them because I'd gone to the trouble of recording them.

Maybe there will come a day when we decide to make a clean break from all video and film entertainments, but that position seems more extreme than I'd like to live with. (Similarly, while we don't consume a regular diet of meat, we also love the occasional hunk of medium-rare steak. No vegans here.) -- So, I declare myself not a hypocrite... but rather a reactionary who prefers not to give the broadcasters a toehold.


Joanne said…
Yes. Totally. Agree! There are wonderful things on TV. If I hear about a series I'll just go rent/buy it on DVD. We just get busy doing other things and don't even notice not watching. Also our house is a much more peaceful place with less TV noise.
Christina said…
I think you have an amazingly good healthy balance with the screen/tv. Our kids don't watch any prime time tv but I allow certain Disney/PBS/NickJr shows. And the most annoying thing is the commercials - I try to avoid them, but admit that some days I'm not paying that close attention. And I definitely watch too much TV myself. In other words, I totally respect your views and wish I could be so disciplined myself!
LawMommy said…
Hmm...I think there is a huge difference between thoughtfully choosing what media to watch and refusing to have any video media in one's home at all. (I personally would probably go stark raving mad without any video media, but, I HATE HATE HATE exposing my children to advertisements.)

No, I do not think you are a hypocrite - I think you are making thoughtful choices about what media you bring into your home. Dismissing film and video entirely would be kind of sad (because think of all the truly wonderful film you would miss. Although, being married to a guy who teaches a course called "Writing about Film", I tend to think of film-making as an artform, itself. What if you never watched Casablanca????)

(This is, of course, coming from a NETFLIX ADDICT, so, my opinion may have less than weight than others who have chosen to exclude much more TV from their home than I have. :-) )
maxhelcal said…
No TV?????? I can't imagine life without TV! We have one in our basement play room, our teenage sons' room, our upstairs family room, the sitting room in our master bedroom, a small flat screen next to my kitchen sink and even a set down in my laundry room. YIKES! That's six altogether! I hope this doesn't make me seem like a "bad mom". I'm really very hands on and caring about what they see and do.

Our kids seem to be very well adjusted and all excel in school. (even those who have apparent delays have exceeded all expectations) They participate in many other activities too. Max runs track and plays soccer. Cal plays tennis. Helen plays golf and spends every Saturday afternoon at the public library. Quinton played T-ball this year. They all take piano lessons except for Bronte and Nolan. (Max and Helen play very well) They swim practically every day in the pool now that's it's open. Although they have computer games, they still love to play board games. (I beat Max at checkers 5 times the day before yesterday! My brain can't handle chess these days) I don't feel like TV is necessarily a bad thing. I know you weren't asking for a debate Elizabeth....sorry. Just saying that, for us, TV seems to be a good thing.

And I love my Oprah! ;-P


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