Our decision to throw out the TV came after a long period of interrupted meals, temper tantrums, conversationless evenings and chaotic week-ends.
My husband and I had lived well without television for three years in Latin America. On returning to this country we neglected to buy one. But as our babies grew and my husband became less available because of his work, I thought a television would help relieve me of my job as the central entertainer, planner, innovator and storyteller of the family. We bought our first set.
During the winter the children (then 8 and 9), spent much more time in front of the screen than I had planned, so we started limiting hours. This worked all right for a while. But the hour-limitation became entangled around what to do when guests want to watch, when someone misses a day, or watches during someone else's hour. The questions proliferated and so did the enforcement and appeal procedures.
So it was with unrestrained joy that I heard my husband agree to the radical surgery -- cutting the cord, as it were -- that would seperate the tube from the family room. I quickly removed the set before either of us would have a chance to renege.
Any parent reading this can imagine the uproar. The children desperately searched the house. Like two drug addicts seeking the lost syringe, they hunted, pried and peered into every possible hiding place. (It was in the trunk of the car.)
After three days of searching and protest they resigned themselves to looking around the house for other things to do. They were, however, consoled by friends who, believing we must be the cruelest of all child-abusers, invited them over for a good TV "fix" once or twice a week.
In the three years since this great event changed our lives I can honestly say that our family relationships have improved. The changes have been slow and never completely up to our high expectations, but yes, the report-card grades are better for one child (the other never needed to improve) and their creations in art, music and writing are certainly their own. Their work does not reflect the Hollywood influence common nowadays in children's art and writing.
Television-viewing among children, according to studies, peaks at age 12. If this is true, our 12-year-old is over the hump and is now less likely to be bombarded by friends' reports of action-filled shows he missed. The 11-year-old still occasionally wishes she could see "Zoom," but has rarely seized the moment when the opportunity has arisen in friends' houses.
This child kept the secret of our "loss" from her school friends until she heard of another whose parents refused to install a set, on the basis that if the bad outweighs the good, then TV is not worth having. After realizing that she was not alone, our daughter's attitude changed. She doesn't mind it now when people say, "What, you don't have a TV set? Not even one TV set?"
For those who cannot believe a family without TV can find things to do I compiled a list of things my children do at home. I've separated the list into two types of activities: passive and active.
The passive activity list used to consist mainly of television viewing. Now it includes: listening to the radio (non-commercial FM stations), records and tapes, looking at photo albums, eaves-dropping, people-watching, thinking, daydreaming and occasionally feeling bored.
The active pastimes include a good deal of eclectic reading, cooking, eating (of course), talking, playing with the cat, practicing piano, going places, shopping, playing outdoor and indoor games (depending on the weather), doing chores, bathing, making and fixing things, going to the library, participating in sports and studying.
My husband's and my activities have not changed too greatly -- we didn't have as much time to watch -- but we do have some more time for talking, reading and thinking. Keeping up with current events is no problem. In Washington, D.C., "the news" all but permeates the air. We find radio just as informative and much more convenient. Newspapers and magazines provide us with many of the details that don't get into the TV newscast.
I offer a bit of advice for those who decide to pull the plug on the TV permanently. It is a good idea to have a final date for viewing in mind. This will give the children time to adjust mentally and will allow adults time to lay in a supply of books, magazines and games from libraries, second-hand stores, garage sales or church bazaars.
Art and craft materials are always good "stock" items, for many children don't have enough opportunity to use their hands at school or camp and will jump at the chance to do so at home. Radios and record players can also help fill what at first seems a void, but really isn't.
The decision to function without television is indeed an important one and shouldn't be made hastily, In a world, however, where many of us feel that decisions are made for us, it is refreshing to know that this is one we can make for ourselves.