A No-TV Household
Over 15 years ago, Kim Moldofsky, a mom from Chicago, Illinois, and her husband moved into a basement apartment that was not cable-ready. By the time they were settled in and ready to call the cable company, they discovered that their lives were quite nice without TV and that they had been spending more time together. And while nowadays they do use their TV set for watching DVDs, their household has remained television-free—even with the addition of two sons.
While not every family that spends some time without television will decide to turn the set off permanently, such an experiment can be interesting. A perfect chance to find out firsthand how life without television might affect your family is by participating in Turnoff TV Week, which this year runs April 19-25.
Why Try to Turn It Off?
Television is such a routine part of life for so many of us that it may seem strange at first to want to give it up, even for just a week. But groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) are in favor of trying. The AAP recommends that children under 2 years of age watch no television or other screen media and that children older than 2 limit exposure to one to two hours per day. This advice contrasts greatly with the fact that one out of every four toddlers has a TV set in his bedroom.
Dr. Jennifer Shu, a pediatrician and author, notes that there are many good reasons to keep TV viewing down among children. "Although adults may find watching TV before bedtime to be relaxing, this is actually stimulating for children and can cause sleep disturbances, so a good step would be to get the TV out of the bedroom," she says. "In addition, TV can lead to unwanted weight gain, possible attention and hyperactivity problems, and exposure to commercials for foods, drinks, and snacks that are often high in sugar and fat."
Moldofsky likes that her children have had less exposure to violence and commercialism by living in a TV-free house and says that "not watching TV during the holiday shopping season reduces the 'holiday gimmies.'"
Perhaps the greatest incentive for turning off the television for a week lies in discovering the possibilities for filling that time. "TV time robs kids of time they could be interacting with their parents, reading together, and exploring their surroundings—all important tasks for overall learning and developing,"
Dr. Shu says. "This week would be a great opportunity for families to be active, read together, cook, play outside, practice a musical instrument, learn a hobby, and just connect with each other!"
Carol H. Rasco, president and CEO of the nonprofit literacy organization Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), echoes the sentiment. "This is a wonderful opportunity for families to discover the joy of reading and interacting together," says Rasco. "Parents are children's first and best teachers. When parents interact with young children—talking, singing, reading, and playing games—they stimulate language and vocabulary development and build important foundations for learning."
But while parents may love spending time with their children and helping them learn, parents also need some time to themselves. "Without television, we would have to transition to more reading and games for downtime, which because my children are young, would require more of my time for their downtime," says Melissa Durante, a mother of three from Bartlett, Illinois. "If we participated in the TV-free week, we would probably play more games to replace television, but with kids ages 6, 3 1/2, and 1 1/2 years, they are each at a different level when it comes to turn-taking and skill levels."
For those times when you want to fix dinner or make a phone call and need the kids to entertain themselves, there are still plenty of alternatives during a TV-free week. Get a piece of paper large enough to cover your table and let budding artists create a crayon mural. Bring out the play dough and some plastic kitchen utensils. Check out some read-along stories from the library and let the child listen to the story on CD while following along in the book.
Don't be surprised, too, that without the television to rely upon for quick entertainment if your kids become good at using their own imaginations to find interesting things to do. Betsy Shaw, a mother from a TV-free household in Vermont, notes that her daughter listens to soundtracks from favorite movies, such as Disney's Mary Poppins, and likes to reenact the movie from the music.