Did you know that Screen-Free Week is coming right up? It’s May 4-10. During that time, people are encouraged to “rediscover life beyond the screen.” These days, screens are everywhere, but once upon a time there was just the television.
My husband and I decided to live without one many years ago. The old clunker we had served us quite well, although it did require getting up off the couch and turning a dial to change the channel. When it finally bit the dust, we realized that other than watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, we hardly used it. We decided to take the plunge, save some bucks, and leave the television cabinet bare.
We didn’t commit to never getting another television, but so far we haven’t, which means that my kids grew up in a home with no TV. Recently, my daughter had to write an essay on the following topic: Describe any characteristics of your family or community that have been important to your personal development.
She began with this sentence: In the corner of my living room where most families have a TV, my family has a bookshelf.
The essay focused on the importance of books and the arts in my daughter’s life, but she clearly understood that the ways they were woven into her childhood were a direct result of our lack of a television. There was no “electronic babysitter,” but there were books, music, and stories on tape, and she and her siblings listened to them often. Instead of nightly television watching, we read together (and still do). Entertainment came from attending live music and theater events, not from sitting in front of the tube.
As parents, we can’t really know how the lifestyle choices we make will affect our kids. It felt gratifying to realize what a profound effect growing up without television had on my daughter, especially because of the push back we got from family and community members.
For a few years after we first got rid of the TV, my mother tried several times to convince me to let her buy one for us and stop depriving our kids. When I mentioned our lack of TV to my former boss, he said with astonishment, “Do you have indoor plumbing?” I didn’t dare mention our no-TV household in unschooling discussion forums after being told I was harming my relationship with my children.
The fact is, life was richer without television, especially with kids. Whatever hole was left by getting rid of the television was seamlessly filled to overflowing with other endeavors. We read more books, drew more pictures, played more games, sang more songs, talked more, and took more walks in the woods.
These days, although we still don’t have a television, we have plenty of screens, and even watch selected television shows on the computer. It’s a challenge to make the choice to minimize them, but it’s one that’s both liberating and rewarding. Come early May, try it for yourself and see.