By contributing writer, Molly Madonna Kehrer
It was a natural progression of things from the outset. We were preparing to welcome our firstborn into our family, which meant a few changes to spaces throughout the house.
Our TV at the time was a dinosaur – a 27”, heavy-as-all-get-out remnant from my college years almost a decade earlier. We’d been using a large IKEA TV stand with drawers beneath it, and the entire combo took up a sizable amount of real estate in the living room.
At first, we wheeled the unit into the adjoining room, and my husband orchestrated a setup for hooking up our cable so we could watch our favorite shows together at night or on the weekends (and still both sit on our favorite couches).
This first change was a bit of a stretch, but certainly not terrible. TV became accessible if we wanted to work for it just a tad, and was no longer just a click of the remote away.
Our habit stayed regular for a while, then only when something truly captivating might air (you can bet the cable was plugged in every Sunday night for Downton Abbey ;).
When our son came along, I remember my husband wheeling the TV back into the living room so that we could watch the wedding of Prince William and Kate in the middle of the night while we traded off our four day old, wide awake babe.
There was a sweetness to sharing time together as a family of three in those wee hours, when the TV was on for a world event and we happened to be awake to witness it.
With a new little boy in our lives to keep us busy, our TV use was quickly relegated to special events only.
I’d go to the effort of plugging things in if something major had happened in the world, or if one of us spent a day sick on the couch.
By the time our eldest was aware of the television at all, I think he was around ten months old. I’d made a personal vow not to watch TV while he was awake, because I didn’t want it distracting our time together.
As a result, he never became accustomed to having it on, and I never got used to having it around to fill the quiet spaces in my days.
I guarantee you it would have been on far more frequently if it weren’t just a little out of reach, but the combination of logistics and my commitment to saving TV time for the evenings became habit forming.
This choice has since proven helpful in our home for five years, and I’m thankful.
I know not everyone is glued to the television, but my personality is such that a readily accessible TV might quickly become a crutch on days when we’re bored or tired, or when the snow has been piling up for five months without end.
Just as much as I might be inclined to check Facebook or email on my phone too many times a day, daily access to a television would likely mean far more screen time for our entire household than the amount we’re exposed to now.
When my mother-in-law moved to town shortly before our second baby was born, she had space for a second TV in her basement, and she willingly took ours off of our hands as we worked to convert another space into a more kid-friendly area.
The room adjacent to our living room quickly became a play room, and before too long at all, not having the TV in the house was far more a blessing than an inconvenience.
We were hardly using it any more anyway, and the extra space was most welcome.
Our eldest was rounding the corner on 2.5, so he was getting a little bit of screen time each day by way of Sesame Street videos on YouTube or the occasional Sid the Science Kid episode on the free PBS Kids app.
On days when my third trimester was getting the best of me, or when baby #2 arrived and everyone was crazy tired, we’d pull out the iPad or computer for thirty minutes of time that everyone could value and enjoy.
Since then, and as the kids have gotten a little older, we’ve pared down our cable to the most basic package (and only kept it at all because we have cable internet), and we’ve added Netflix and Amazon Prime to the available entertainment options at home.
This way, we have plenty of access to kid-friendly shows for allotted “screen time,” old favorites for movie date nights in, and West Wing marathons when we’d like a little downtime as a couple.
With laptop computers and iPads that can be tucked away, our access to and use of television for entertainment remains much more limited than it might if we had a T.V. at the center of our main living space.
We can put all devices away and have a screen-free weekend anytime we’d like, and the kids aren’t always asking to watch something or grabbing the remote as a habit.
I find that I’m also not relying on TV to fill post-bedtime hours at night, which has created more space for visiting with my husband, reading, blogging, getting things done around the house, and going to bed (if only a little bit 😉 earlier.
I do watch the occasional sitcom rerun when I’m folding laundry or really craving some mindless downtime, but because it’s not an everyday thing, it always feels like a treat.
We’ve grown accustomed to watching TV on much smaller, unplugged screens over time, which, while a bummer on Super Bowl weekend or during the Academy Awards, it really doesn’t phase us most of the rest of the year.
It’s interesting, but even the “big” events I used to prioritize when we had a television at home have since lost their luster.
I can usually get my fill of the necessary details from Facebook or Twitter in a few minutes’ time before bed. My husband and I both use news apps on our phone to stay up to date on current events (we don’t miss much of the media hype from a bombardment of sources), and when political debates are actually worth watching during election seasons, we can stream them online to follow along.
I used to feel like the strangest person on the block for canning our TV, and based on a number of responses from others over the years, it’s possible that a few people have considered us pretty strange, too.
More and more though, we run into families like ours, who are exhausted of the constant barrage of advertisements, violence, sexuality, and sensationalism of cable television.
It seems more people all of the time are choosing to pay a minimal amount for specific content, accessible online, rather than an exorbitant amount for an overwhelming number of entertainment choices piping across the airwaves and into their homes.
I love that we are no longer the outlier, but more the norm, as we channel and steward the input we feel is best and safest for our young families.
Maybe you’ve had a similar path towards a TV-free home in recent years, or perhaps you struggle far less than I would with a television at my fingertips.
Either way, I’d love to hear how you’ve met success and/or challenges with TV time and boundaries in your home, especially as it pertains to your kiddos and their desire to find entertainment where the big black box meets the road.
We’re ever-working to strike a balance here as our kids get a little older and family dynamics continue to change.
What guidelines have you found to be most successful as you parent and shepherd young minds and eyes with regard to screen time, media and beyond?
We’ve never owned a TV in our eleven years of marriage (had people try to give us one several times:) and I love the our woodstove is the central feature of our living room. We don’t have Netflix or anything like our movie entertainment is pretty limited to a movie a few times a year. It works well for us. I still find myself far too attached to my device that I’ve had for a few years now which is really hard and I wish I could figure out a balance for that and have the discipline to handle it better.
We’ve only had TV for two months out of the laSt 10 years. We’ve never missed it. We got a computer that doubled as a TV about 7 years ago in order to keep our kids out of blockbuster. We’ve always limited screen time and it’s worked well. We’ve been happy to stream online, use Netflix, or YouTube. I wonder how long cable is even going to be around. I have no use for commercials.
At this point we do zero screen time, with the exception of the occasional YouTube video (like, what on earth DO elephant noises sound like?). Before hubs and I had kids we watched too many movies and played too many video games, and were we ever glad to kick that habit! We have no laptops or iPads, so watching stuff is highly inconvenient and has been completely squeezed out of our lives. We may change our practice in the future, but honestly I can’t imagine that right now.
Yes, we too have been the weird family who does not have cable or even an antenna for watching TV. We do have them but only for Netflix or Amazon Prime. Our kids are allowed 1 – 1 1/2 hours of screen time a day. This includes any TV, video games, and computer/kindle apps. If I notice the TV is becoming too important we have some time out until things get back into balance. I can always tell because my son is all of a sudden “bored”. That’s when I know its time to cut it off for a few days and lower his screen time some more. My teen has no time restriction (16) because its time for her to start managing her own time. She will be an adult soon and if she learns now things will go better for her later. We monitor and talk a lot about behavior if its getting out of control. She probably watches less than my son during a given week though. She has too many other things to occupy her time. I’ve found the TV kills creativity. So, if you find yourself or your kids losing that creative energy its time to shut it off and set more boundaries. Life is so much more interesting and productive if you are not plugged in all of the time!!!