I’m on vacation this week, so I thought I’d republish one of our older and more popular posts. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Personally, our family has a television. We don’t think it’s evil. Together, we enjoy watching movies, quality TV shows, and occasionally the news.
But it’s not on by default, and it’s definitely not our main method of entertainment. For the past three years living overseas, we haven’t received a TV signal, so our television set was reserved solely for watching DVDs.
Now that we’re back in the U.S., we get a minimal amount of channels (just your basic networks and public broadcasting), and it’s on about an hour per day, on average.
This isn’t meant to sound holier-than-thou, as though anything less than that makes someone a bad parent. I’m simply saying that we’ve discovered that it’s honestly not that hard to not depend on television as though it’s the shrine of the living room.
In the household where I grew up, TV was on by default, and I admittedly watched quite a bit (though I still somehow managed to read a ton and come out rather non-addicted to TV). Soon after I moved out of my parents’, I noticed how much I loved the sound of… nothing. That the blare of television didn’t have to constantly be on. I knew I wanted that as the default in my own home.
My husband and I are content with the balance we’ve found in our family; that we use the TV as a tool in our home for both entertainment and education, but it’s not an idol or an addiction.
Yet we know it can easily fall prey to the role of major time-sucker and energy waster. It’s important to remind ourselves continually why it’s a great idea to not always watch TV. And that there are plenty of other things to do.
Here are my favorite reasons.
1. Watching TV correlates with poor health, weight gain, and low energy levels.
Photo by Caryn Werner
It’s no secret — being a couch potato contributes to a lot of our current culture’s weight gain and poor health. I was surprised by some of the statistics I unearthed when I did research on this for my upcoming book. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control:
“One-fourth of children in America spend four hours or more watching television daily and only 27 percent of students in grades 9 through 12 engage in moderate physical activity at least 30 minutes a day on five or more days of the week.”
Childhood obesity is a major problem; we all know this. One of the biggest links is the increase in screen time — according to Norman Herr, professor of science education at California State University, the average child in America watches 1,680 minutes of television per week. That’s four hours per day.
The health risks are the same for adults and for those outside the U.S. If we want to maintain a healthy weight, keep our needed energy levels up, and generally take care of our bodies, we must keep the TV set off by default.
2. Mindless TV-watching allows all sorts of images and values I don’t necessarily endorse into my home.
Those children that watch 28 hours of TV weekly? They’ll see an average of 8.000 murders by the time they finish elementary school. They’ll also see about 20,000 30-second commercials each year.
There are so many other things I want filling my children’s minds than our culture’s obsession with things and with graphically shocking images. I’d rather them savor real life.
Leaving the TV on means having very little control of what information is infiltrated into your four walls. If you wouldn’t want those images decorating your walls, or if you wouldn’t want that particular act done on your floor, then why display it on a screen for you to watch?
3. Keeping TV watching down to a minimal level means that when it’s on, it’s quality.
Photo from Ocean’s 12
This brings me to the topic of purposeful television watching. When you don’t have it on by default, watching TV is so much more enjoyable. You’re being entertained or educated by something you’re allowing into your home, that passes your inspection.
Watching TV as a whole family four hours per week, instead of 28, means that those four hours are much more meaningful. Our kids love “family movie night,” where once per week we select one movie to sit down and watch together, without doing anything else. We dim the lights, pop popcorn, and snuggle together on the couch.
If we’re relaxing in front of the TV any other time, it’s to watch one or two shows we’re deliberately watching because that’s why we turned the TV on in the first place. When the show ends, the television gets turned off.
4. It’s more peaceful, relaxing, and less stressful when the TV is off by default.
TV is loud. Commercials scream at you to buy their (usually) pointless products, cacophony from around the world tells you what you’ve missed in the last ten minutes, and images spin and whir and whiz by you faster than your brain can digest them.
When television is on all the time, you miss out on living slowly. You don’t hear the birds quite as well. It’s harder to have a conversation. In short, it’s a poor replacement for real life — and real life is much more peaceful without media on in the background by default.
5. There are simply other fun things to do.
Photo by Robert S. Donovan
This is probably my strongest reason for not wanting TV on all the time. I have too many things I’d rather do! Any time I’m watching something on television, I’m deliberately choosing to do that instead of something else.
I love to sew, to read, to decorate, to play with my kids. My kids love to explore and wander outside, to help me cook, to play with their friends. Why would I trade watching someone else’s (fake) life for living out my own?
More often than not, there truly are more things I’d rather do than watch TV. Once you get out of the habit of constantly having it on, it’s honestly not that enticing anymore. It’s just one more option in the myriad of choices out there to do. And there are plenty, believe me.
If your kids complain of being bored, that’s okay. It’s a good thing to be bored — it stretches their imagination; it forces them to think outside the box; it pushes them to do things they don’t normally do.
I encourage you—try to keep your television set turned off for a week, and do something else. I know you’ve got a whole list of things you want to do when you have the time. You can do it!
What’s the hardest thing for you about keeping the TV off? What are your main reasons for not watching too much?