Steve Pavlina once again has posted yet another good article that I feel compelled to comment on. He currently is in the middle of a 30-day TV fast and while that is good, I’m hoping he, and many others, continue to avoid television much more. As a father of six children, people often question what we “do” since we don’t have a television. I find the question amusing - but first let me give a little background.

When we were first married back in 1995, I had sold my television to my parents for about $200 to help pay for wedding costs - so we had no television. We registered for gifts at JC Penney and after we had picked out some typical items like bath towels, the wedding consultant than proceeded to walk us through the electronics section wanting to know what television, CD player and so forth we wanted to register for. There was no way we were going to ask our friends to pay for a TV for us so we didn’t put anything electronic on our list - much to the dismay of the consultant.

In our Prue-marital counseling, and through some of the books we had read, we learned that many people unwittingly use the television as an escape when disagreements arise - sometimes sitting “together” in silence while watching television. So, partly out of poverty, partly out of love, we decided to forgo a television for the first six months of our marriage. It seemed kind of romantic at the time. We just simply lived without it.

As the six months were ending, we were still pretty broke, and neither of us had really missed it much. I probably missed it more than my wife. Prior to getting married, I had only missed a few Miami Dolphin games - I was (and am) a huge Dan Marino fan. Since we got married in November, I missed the end of the 1995 season. In case you missed it too, the Dolphins did not go to the Superbowl - so God spared me the agony of regret.

So, we decided to go another six months - feeling pretty good about ourselves I think. Sometime nearing the end of these six months, we were getting pretty excited that we would soon be buying our first television together. We had even done some window shopping and began studying up on features and looking at the sales ads. Once again, it seemed like it was so romantic to buy a television together - our first television! Like it was our first house or something. During this time, a family from church invited us over for dinner. We didn’t know them very well - I can’t even remember their names anymore - but it was one of those “invite the new young couple over for dinner” things, I guess. While we were there, their television stayed on during the entire time we were there - mostly news as I recall. It was the most annoying and distracting thing I had experienced. Nobody was even watching it. Then we retired to the living room while the television stayed on - and, it seemed to me, very loud. They had two children that I remember and their children had gone back into their bedrooms to play, so finally I just said “if you don’t mind, I’m just going to turn this off”. They didn’t mind at all, but within five minutes, one of their kids who was just passing through the room, noticed it was off (as if someone had broken his toy) and turned it on and promptly left the room again. The parents said and did nothing. I should point out that their children were under five years old. We said our pleasant goodbyes and left. I commented later to my wife that had we been told that we were being invited to have Peter Jennings crammed down our throats, I think we would have declined.

So, our excitement turned to a realization that television really had nothing to benefit us, and apparently, the obvious potential to turn normal people into zombies - and their children, too. We had a different vision for our family.

I knew all the stats about violence and smut on television, the bias of media reporting, and the number of hours each week that children were increasingly spending in front of the television, passively, rather than doing active things - building, creating, playing, learning. But, it was that singular experience that crystallized it in our head. So, thanks to that lovely family, we made a decision to not have a television.

This lasted five years. During those five years, we were having and raising children. I remember having dinner with a good friend and his father - a devout Catholic man whom I highly respected who had fathered eight children, my friend being his youngest. Somehow the topic turned to television and he asked me if I knew why he and his wife had eight children. He said it was because after my friend was born, they got a color TV. He wasn’t joking. In all seriousness, the man confessed that the television stole his time away from his wife such that they never had anymore children. He wasn’t regretting it or anything - just stating a fact. Or perhaps an admonition to a young man with a few children at the time.

After five years of marriage, my fourth child was born and it was getting harder and harder to find time to go on a date with my wife. We finally bought a small VCR/TV combo that we put in our bedroom so that we could occasionally rent movies and have a “mini-date” at home. Not to many babysitters want to babysit four children - and we weren’t in a position financially to pay a babysitter for four children. We would be broke before we even bought dinner or movie tickets. We didn’t hook the TV up to cable and we didn’t install the antenna ears.

Several years later, the VCR finally bit the dust when it had enough Legos put into it that it just couldn’t take it anymore. After a few months, we finally bought a regular TV and a DVD player. Blockbuster had just made the major switch to DVDs and had essentially announced they wouldn’t be carrying VHS tapes anymore unless there was no DVD equivalent. To date, we might own 20 DVDs. We never did plug in the rabbit ears except for a brief time after September 11, 2001.

I still follow football. For a while, I would go to a Sports Bar with a few buddies, but only for Monday Night Football Dolphin games. About two per year. The rest of the time I listened to the games on the radio - and more recently, follow along at But, we did have digital cable for a short while when we first moved in - hey, they gave us a free month! - and the children really enjoyed watching some of the Olympics, soccer, and Formula 1. Go Michael! We have a few Loony Tunes on DVD and they get to watch those as a special treat every blue moon.

But, for the most part, when people ask what our kids do - they play, the build, the run - and run hard. They build sweeping cities out of Legos, or learn to cook, or actually cook. They clean, they organize, they meddle, they ask questions. Believe it or not, they learned all of this without watching television - and thankfully, they have not learned much of what television truly teaches - sarcasm, flippant behavior, sneakiness, craftiness, etc. Television doesn’t teach these things overtly; most producers of “kid’s shows” I don’t think mean to do it, but they have children (whether real children or animated children) behave in a way that the producers seem to think all kids act like. Even though the storyline is usually one such that the more humble kid wins the day over the bully or brat, the behavior is modeled (and usually copied) by even the most timid of children. Of course, my children love to read. We encourage it like a lot of parents, but it helps that we don’t have competition from Disney and Nickelodeon all day long.

We live in an era in which it is probably very easy to get rid of television. People ask us how we get our news. That apparently is just a crucial matter to most people. I’m really not concerned with the news, except the news I’m interested in. I don’t ever recall watching a newscast and saying “wow - I’m sure glad I saw that - that was so relevant to me”. The local news is an absolute joke - car crashes, shootings in Orlando, some government worker with questionable ethics. But worst of all - no depth - just scattered drops of mini-info. If you actually did see something of importance to you on the news (Aunt Polly’s house burned to the ground), you would have to consult other sources of information to get any real measure of accuracy or any depth to the information - probably discovering along the way that at least part of what you heard or saw on the news was erroneous.

Oddly, I’m kind of a news junkie. I doubt that there would be any significant story that I would not be aware of - and maybe know more about it than you. Nowadays, I get nearly all my news off the internet - and not from the major places usually. My home pages at Yahoo and Google are setup to list various feeds of all the major news outlets that I’m interested in. I subscribe to nearly two dozen RSS feeds with my feed reader. A lot of these are tech-related, since I’m usually more interested in that, than the latest hunger strike by Saddam. For real news and insight, I usually listen to a lot of talk radio when I’m out and about.

So, yes it is true, I’ve never seen a single episode of Survivor, American Idol, or Lost. I did see a few episodes of Donald Trump’s show - kind of interesting, and we like any kind of home or craft building show.

I’ve met a lot of families who have told me something along these lines: “I wish we could find a way to get rid of our televisions”. I am always a bit amazed to hear this stated in some defeatist tone, as if there were television Nazis stationed outside their home who force them to keep the TV’s in the house and on.

I don’t expect anyone to go cold turkey on television. But I have a few recommendations for those who want to lessen the power and influence that television has in their family.

1. Reduce Television Sets: If you have more than one television, that is a key problem. People will make all sorts of excuses as to why they need an extra set (or two or three or four!). Pick your best set and get rid of all the other ones. If you are getting ready to tell me that there is a certain great educational family show that comes on just as your show comes on, so you have to have two sets, I’ll solve that problem for you in a minute (and I’ll be nice about debating you on the value of that education versus you spending some actual time with your children teaching them something - anything, even what you did at work yesterday, or how to make vegetarian pizza, or explaining the electric meter on the outside of the house. Oh, I did say I was going to be nice, right?).

TiVo TCD649080 Series2 80 Hour Dual Tuner Digital Video Recorder2. Get a DVR: If you have digital cable, you can buy a digital video recorder. These things are great. Of course, you can get a TIVO if your budget allows (after you’ve gotten rid of the other television). My local cable company here in Brevard will rent you one for $6/month. This thing will automatically record shows you like. If you want it to record Home Improvement, it will just start doing it. No need to buy video tapes - and once you’ve seen the episode, you can just click delete. You can also record old movies that come on late at night to watch with older children for special treats. It saves time going to video rental stores and after a few weeks there is usually enough material to sit down and watch something together. A DVR gives you control over your own time. Additionally, you’ll be able to skip the commercials, which as I’ve stated before, can be more harmful than the show.

3. Try a TV Fast: This is a good way to break away from television for a while. If there is a person in the house who claims they will “die” if they don’t get to see “their show”, they need the fast more than anyone. Now that you have a DVR, they will not miss it forever - just delay it. You can do a 30-day fast like Steve Pavlina is doing, or you can do a shorter one if your television viewing habits have been intense - maybe 1 week or 10 days. Anything less than a week is probably not going to help too much. Another alternative would be to have no television during the week, and only on the weekends. Obviously, in this case, you would want to limit how much on the weekends. If your family watches a combined 14 hours of television during the week, moving it all 14 hours to Saturday isn’t helping much. If there are discipline problems already in the house and certain family members might not be able to exercise self-control, the father should move the television somewhere inaccessible - the attic. If it is a big-screen television that won’t fit in an attic, borrow a friend’s pickup and go rent a storage space for 30 days.

4. Watch TV as a Family: I’m sure you’ve heard this one before, but it is true. If your children are watching something without you present, you are headed for problems, if not disaster. Take your rightful role as a parent and monitor the shows. Even good shows can degrade over time or a particular episode might need some additional insight from mom or dad. Additionally, you have a common shared experience which helps to build unity. Sometimes, during later discussions, you might find yourself using something you saw together as an example to help your child understand something - or using the behavior of a character on one of their shows as an example. Even for couples with no children, this is very important. You should watch her shows with her and she should watch your shows (or games) with you. They don’t have to be super-attentive and stay hinged on every word, but being with you at the time is important.

5. Control Access to the TV: If your one television is in an area that you can’t see often, move it. I’d recommend not putting it near an eating area. But don’t leave it in a playroom, a kid’s basement, and most certainly not in one of your children’s rooms. We have ours in our bedroom where the whole family can come in and sit on the bed and watch it together. Some people say you shouldn’t put a television in the bedroom. That may be so - so find an area that works for you. That may mean rearranging some furniture in a room - or switching the purposes of some rooms around. We don’t like the television to be out in a common area for visitors. First, if someone comes to visit, we like to visit - to talk, to get to know each other, to watch the children play together. I’d much rather use the space that a television would occupy for a few more chairs. If you have one of those built-in media centers, it may seem like you have no choice, but if it is in a bad area (and many of those media centers are placed into areas that dominate a room), you can still move it. Cable can be rewired and you can use the old media center as book shelving, a little alcove or possibly a reading nook (put a cushioned bench in it and watch the kids fight for that area).

If you have a particular problem that these solutions don’t address, feel free to contact me for more information, or leave a comment below. But remember that it is ultimately your responsibility for the outcome, education, and activities of your children (and family), so it may likely require that you do some things initially that cause you to be disliked for a while by some. You may not get full concession - and the absence of concession in a family doesn’t mean you can throw your hands up in despair and mutter that you tried. Be fair, but be resolute.

Technorati : children, family, mealtime, television

Posted in: Culture & Family