When I learned to tell time so many years ago, my reward from my parents was to pick out a book at the bookstore. The scent and feel of that 1984 purple hardcover The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Television still summons easily to my mind even to this day. I remember the dimly illuminated shelves and my mom pulling it down and handing it to me.

If it’s been awhile: in this story Mama Bear declares a moratorium on television in the tree house for the period of one week. In this television-less time, the bears relearn the art of invigorating conversation, engage in more exercise, learn to solve the Rubik’s Cube, watch the stars come out one night, and work on crafting projects.

It isn’t so much that the television use has been out of control at our house, because we truly are not big watchers…any of us. I do not turn it on during the day. For a few weeks in August/September this year we would turn it on at 10:00 AM for Sesame Street when the kiddos had a school-time break, but we found that it was too easy for the show to spill over into the next show and cut into time when we need to be working, so lately the policy has been: no TV during school hours at all. That goes for me, too. So mainly the bulk of the television would happen in the early evening when I was preparing dinner or trying to catch up on running the house. All kiddo shows. There is no program I currently watch on television, including after my children go to bed, and there has not been all year. Bill streams Agents of Shield, I think, but I am not sure how committed he is to it…and that is for sure his only program right now, if he even keeps up with at this point. The only programs I have watched with regularity in the past couple of years have been Downton Abbey and Mad Men.

On the weekends, Katie and Eric do watch cartoons while I run. I take a rest day now on Saturdays, so actually at this point, I might be having a lie-a-bed for an extra hour while they are downstairs. We are permissive with their access to iPads on the weekends, as well, but all of it usually stops mid-morning.

So our television consumption, while not much, certainly did have some patterns to it, and I felt as though on the weekdays we as parents were using it more as a crutch in those very exhausted evening hours versus as a source of pure enjoyment or learning for our children (weekend cartoons are kind of part of the childhood territory in certain ways, right?). Just as for Mama Bear, it was the emerging habit that was beginning to bother me; and, not being much of a TV-watcher myself, this habit was starting to become not only noticeable, but also uncomfortable. I totally understand the TV-as-babysitter need at times. There are just those days, and gosh, don’t I know it. I believe, however, that function needs to be rare for developing minds. I could see hours being lost when Bill and I could be interacting with our children, or teaching them how to relax in different ways, and I have been sad about that.

Therefore: as of last week, I instituted a blanket no-television policy that covers all weekdays. Bill might still be streaming—not sure, and that’s his business—but I applied this policy to myself as well. I made the decision a few weeks ago to let go of Downton Abbey this season, in order to work on other projects. I do not know yet if I will also let go of Mad Men. I do not like that feeling of being compelled to watch something or feeling caught up in something that is ongoing and has no end, or something around which I must arrange my schedule. I love books and movies because they are finite and already complete works of art when we approach them (which I believe changes the way we interpret and interact with them).

The kiddos still get cartoons on Saturday and Sunday mornings. (Yesterday they had one hour; today it was more like two hours—three hours total for the week is not bad for our experiment). They had no TV at all—at all—during the week and no TV at all for a few days the week before.

And how is it going?

It’s hard. Or, it was. They didn’t really put up much of a fight or anything. There were a couple of comments, but mostly they adapted to the new plan without a fuss.

It’s just hard for me. No TV means I have to be “on” and engaged even when I am multitasking at the busiest time of the day. The first few days were an adjustment. It is getting easier now, but parenting is performance. Sustained performance is not an easy task.

But then. Then we all started adapting. Instead of looking to me for that entertainment, their brains began to create. Katie delved into books, began writing a cookbook, started planning her own cooking show on YouTube, offered to make a fruit salad one night for dinner and did, played with her brother, and reported today on our walk, unprompted, that she is glad tomorrow is a no TV day.

Eric made his own store, read with Bill, played with his sister, helped me with dinner, and made music (among other things).

These are all familiar activities during our normal daytimes together, but suddenly this opening up of time has everyone feeling more creative in some ways than we did before. We were talking today about our plans for this week, and we came to the conclusion that with our later afternoon walks, dance parties, reading time, dinner prep, and baths, we aren’t sure when we would be fitting it in at this point. Our dinner conversations have also become livelier. We are more vocal about what we’re thankful about during the day; we’ve been telling stories; the kiddos got to listen with somewhat pained looks on their faces to a whole conversation Bill and I had about whole brain emulation and Transhumanism. Unfortunately for them, I happen to believe they benefit greatly from having to listen to extremely nerdy conversations even if they can’t quite follow the ideas totally. The past couple of days, Katie has been exploding with more questions than ever about various topics.

It’s been such a weird, but natural, paradigm shift. As a mom, though, I am feeling some big pressure. Can I keep next week as fulfilling without TV to fall back on? I feel the pressure of work on my shoulders. I am kind of one of those people who likes to keep track of streaks.We’re on a streak with this experiment, and I don’t want to blow it now…but that also means not feeling like I have an “out” if the day gets to be one of those days.

Do I have anything against TV in general? No, I think it has been the medium for some captivating art, and it can be a learning tool. But, as Mama Bear says, I am against the TV habit for my family. I am a big believer in taking our habits out once in awhile and shaking them around, just like I did with my food consumption habits a couple of years ago. If a habit is worth having—and only an individual can judge that—then keep it. But if, in shaking up and airing out our habits, we find that they hold us back in any way, then that is the time to do the hard work to break them…sometimes just to prove to yourself that you can. I also believe in calling everything by its name, so if I have a habit but don’t root around until I find it and can identify it as such, then that would be a lack of awareness on my part…and I am striving always to be in a metacognitive, extremely self-monitoring kind of mental place. I do the same, almost yearly, with my philosophical system. I like to think of it as extracting ideas out of my head, holding each one up, turning it around, and assessing it for validity against new and old information. I think of it as a mental/intellectual housecleaning.

We have cleaned up our TV habit—for now. But a couple of weeks is nothing to get too excited about. Anyone can achieve that. I will be interested now to see how long we can go without falling back on old patterns. I haven’t yet determined how I will know when, or even if, it will be “safe” to reintroduce an hour or so periodically during the week just for the enjoyment of it (because TV is enjoyable). Ironically, one of my favorite programs the kiddos watch is the cartoon version of The Berenstain Bears.

I did not watch TV for four years in college (except snippits here and there when I was on break at my parents’ house), and I found I did not miss it much. I think there is some need to be apprised of what is on just to be kind of culturally and socially aware, but that can be accomplished without watching it. Poor kiddos—this is what they have to contend with!

Will our experiment implode this coming week? Or will it continue successfully? I am a little nervous to find out either way, actually. So far, though? It seems to be having the intended effects. I am crossing my fingers that we continue to adapt this week!

 

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