“I’m looking around your house, and I’ve noticed something missing.” It’s a comment I hear occasionally when someone comes to the house for the first time. So what’s missing from my home?
A television. That’s right – we don’t own a TV.
Not only do we not own a TV, but our children get near-zero screen time as a rule. Now wait, before you start to defend your own family’s screen time to me, let me explain. We didn’t set out to be that way – my husband owns an IT company; we’re certainly not anti-technology.
When we were dating and after we first got married, we watched a lot of TV. We had a big, clunky, box of a TV that was handed down to us. I publicly admit to being a Food Network/HGTV junkie. Jon could sit in front of news channels most of the day and be a happy camper.
We moved into a new apartment just before our second anniversary. It was a God-send and provided some much-needed extended living space with a 3-month-old baby now in the mix. But the living room was an odd shape, and there wasn’t a natural place to put that clunker of a TV. Plus, we knew screen time wasn’t supposed to be good for babies, so we moved it into our master bedroom. Jon and I would watch movies or the occasional Netflix series at night, but it quickly became “out of sight, out of mind.” Life got busier: Jon’s new business grew, we had another baby, and we increasingly had other ways to spend our time. Eventually we realized that it had been eight or nine months since we had even turned the TV on.
About the same time our firstborn son, Gavrel, learned to climb. When he pulled the (thankfully short) dresser in his own bedroom over one day while climbing, we started taking a look around the rest of the house. Our dresser was much taller – with that giant box TV on top of it. If he were to climb that, it could kill him. We really weren’t watching it anyway, so away the TV went. We realized pretty quickly that we didn’t miss it. Jon and I still watched a very occasional movie, but a laptop screen worked just fine for that.
For a while, we would let the kids watch videos on a tablet or play with an app (I’m a huge fan of the Bible App for Kids) for those times when “Mommy just needs to rest” or “I just need to get something done.” You know – those times we all have throughout the day. It didn’t take us long to realize, though, that it affected our kids’ attitudes and behavior: they were meaner, shorter-tempered, and more demanding after screen time. We weren’t actually saving ourselves any time or effort by adding screen time back in. Finally we decided enough was enough, and we stopped even that.
Today, we will set up a projector for family movie night once in a while. I play videos off of my phone or computer for school lessons some days. But we largely still live screen-free at home during the day. It’s pretty drastically (and noticeably) different than most people. But it has been a good thing for us.
Trust me, I’m not sitting back here judging you because you let your kids watch TV or play with iPads. Life is hard, parenting is harder, and we all do what we need to to get through. I do frequently hear “I would really love to cut back on our family’s screen time, but I just don’t know how” or “I just don’t know what else to do with my kids while I…” I just want to gently and lovingly encourage you that it is possible, if it’s important to you or a goal of yours. I’ll be circling back around to talk about what that looks like on a practical, daily basis – you know, what I actually do instead of turning cartoons on.
If that’s not something that’s for you – great. Enjoy those cartoons with no shame! And hey, now you know why my family and I are a little slow on the popular culture references. We’re weirdos; we know.