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Turn The TV Off, Tune In With Your Kids

252772357_e5e0115d32My kids like to march around the house singing “Dad Threw The TV Out The Window” at the top of their lungs.

They like to march around the house singing just about anything at the top of their lungs. They also fill my house with endless art projects and my garden with flowers and little handmade signs that say, “No Cats Allowed In Mamas Garden.”

They do these things when they’re not watching TV. Which is pretty much always. Turn Off Your TV Week is a lot like regular life for us.

We do have a TV, a relic from my college days that sits behind doors in a big wooden armoire in the living room. There’s no cable or antenna hooked up; we use it once in awhile for family movie night. The kids love cleaning the living room, setting up a table, making a big bowl of popcorn and curling up to watch a movie.

I’m not above letting them watch a DVD on their own once in awhile either, especially on rainy afternoons. But it’s never my first choice activity for me or them. One of my goals as a mom is to make sure we always have something better to do.

Most of the time, it works. Weeks pass and the kids never mention the TV or ask for a movie. If the kids are asking to watch videos a lot, that suggests to me that they’re bored or unhappy or tired, and we need to shift something.

Why? Why not just let them watch?

Because when my kids are watching a lot of TV, I see them not using their bodies or their minds. They’re limp on the couch, and their eyes kind of glaze over. They fight more with each other, and with me. Even when TV time is over, they remain irritable. Their attention spans seem shorter. They start asking me to Buy Things and have less patience for baking cookies together or doing a sewing project at home.

In other words, my kids act the way mountains of research tells us kids act when they watch TV: they become more aggressive, less creative and intellectually curious and more prone to consumerism. They also become more passive. Culturally, passive entertainment is such a problem that it’s seen as a major factor in social problems ranging from childhood obesity to bullying.

Many kids just don’t know how to play anymore.

I watched a lot of TV as a kid. Saturday mornings, my sister and I would be glued to the couch sucking down Thundercats and Jem and Care Bears. Obviously, I was not scarred for like by it. I don’t try to police the TV my kids take in at their friend’s houses, or go around preaching the virtues of our low-TV lifestyle to people who did not ask my opinion (I’m assuming that you, by virtue of reading this article, want my opinion).

I want my kids to have an active, creative childhood. One in which they are sometimes so bored they’re left with no choice but to make up something fun to do. One that’s sheltered somewhat from the influences of marketing and pop culture.

It’s pretty easy for me to turn off the TV. It helps that I’m not a TV watcher myself. I just don’t like having the TV on, making noise and filling my space up with advertising and unhealthy social pressures.

There are tradeoffs, of course. Kids who are not watching TV are more likely to be marching around the house banging pot lids together and performing their personal interpretations of Indigo Girls songs. They linger around the dinner table asking difficult questions and making adult conversation impossible. They demand Family Drawing Time and have a voracious appetite for being read to.

This can be exhausting. In the moment, I sometimes find it frustrating and wish I could just park them in front of the tube. But I suspect that long term, I’ll have no regrets.

Love your TV? Think I’m nuts? Check out KJ’s take on Turning On Your TV.

Photo: Schmilblick

More by Sierra Black:

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The End of Play

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