February 8, 2004

Banning TV... Well as many of my readers know we do not have commercial or network or cable television in our home (for a long list of reasons) and I have not watched it for about 12 years now. We do however have a TV set and allow the children to watch pre-selected videos from time to time. Prodromal labor and the early days of a newborn and then a move found us watching far more than I felt comfortable with (about an hour a day) and I've been trying to cut back down again.

Yesterday we were listening to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the car and I became reinspired to take more drastic means. No I am not going to throw the set out of the house (I think Serona would veto that) and I'm not going to burn it in our backyard (the neighbors would definitely think we were crazy new neighbors then) - but I did tell the children that starting tomorrow we are going to have no TV at all for a week. Anticipating a fight I was surprised at what I heard. Rhainnon simply said "OK but can we watch one last movie today" - then she asked "Are we never watching movies again ever?" and seemed relieved when I said we would reconsider it after a week. Ciaran said "Tv is bad for our brain" and happily sat down to watch his last movie for the week (and perhaps longer). I anticipated a fight and planned to let them watch some today since I was planning to take it away for the week. However I was pleasantly surprised by their reaction.

In reality I think I will miss it more than them. No I don't watch it much - but I do use the TV as a tool to keep them still or quiet sometimes. As much as I said I would never let the TV parent my kids - that is exactly what I have done. I find myself putting on a movie to keep them quiet so I can get Sirah to sleep, pay bills, clean the house or cook dinner. It is for me not them that I put on the TV. Yes I choose the program, yes there are no commercials, yes we control the content. But I am still putting them in front of the box to be quiet.

Yes I read to my kids (a ton), yes we homeschool, yes we play games and watch so little of it already. But still I feel like I am doing them a disservice. You may ask what pushed me over the edge? A few different things happened at the same time that led me here (much like when I stopped watching violent movies - which by the way is nearly everything) . First, about a week ago Rhiannon said "no" when I put on a movie - she proceeded to tell me that TV was not good for her brain and would I read to her? No, I am not kidding - she was serious - she really wanted me to read and did not want to watch the show I had just put in. I was taken aback and as she was right I obliged - even though I wanted her to watch a movie so I could get some things done. Second I noticed an increase in Ciaran asking to watch movies whenever he did not have a planned activity. I also noticed Rhiannon mopping about more saying she was bored and could not think of anything to do. Then I heard this poem from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:

Mike Teavee..."

(from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)

"The most important thing we've learned,
So far as children are concerned,
Is never, NEVER, NEVER let
Them near your television set–
Or better still, just don't install
The idiotic thing at all.
In almost every house we've been,
We've watched them gaping at the screen.
They loll and slop and lounge about,
And stare until their eyes pop out.
(Last week in someone's place we saw
A dozen eyeballs on the floor.)
They sit and stare and stare and sit
Until they're hypnotised by it,
Until they're absolutely drunk
With all the shocking ghastly junk.
Oh yes, we know it keeps them still,
They don't climb out the window sill,
They never fight or kick or punch,
They leave you free to cook the lunch
And wash the dishes in the sink–
But did you ever stop to think,
To wonder just exactly what
This does to your beloved tot?
'All right!' you'll cry. 'All right!' you'll say,
'But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertain
Our darling children? Please explain!'
We'll answer this by asking you,
'What used the darling ones to do?
'How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?'
Have you forgotten? Don't you know?
We'll say it very loud and slow:
THEY...USED...TO...READ! They'd READ and READ,
AND READ and READ, and then proceed
To READ some more. Great Scott! Gadzooks!
One half their lives was reading books!
The nursery shelves held books galore!
Books cluttered up the nursery floor!
And in the bedroom, by the bed,
More books were waiting to be read!
Such wondrous, fine, fantastic takes
Of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales
And treasure isles, and distant shores
Where smugglers rowed with muffled oars,
And pirates wearing purple pants,
And sailing ships and elephants,
And cannibals crouching 'round the pot,
Stirring away at something hot.
(It smells so good, what can it be?
Good gracious, it's Penelope.)
The younger ones had Beatrix Potter
With Mr. Tod, the dirty rotter,
And Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland,
And Mrs. TiggyWinkle and–
Just How The Camel Got His Hump,
And How The Monkey Lost His Rump,
And Mr. Toad, and bless my soul,
There's Mr. Rat and Mr. Mole
Oh, books, what books they used to know,
Those children living long ago!
So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They'll now begin to feel the need
Of having something good to read.
And once they start oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hears. They'll grow so keen
They'll wonder what they'd ever seen
In that ridiculous machine,
That nauseating, foul, unclean,
Repulsive television screen!
And later, each and every kid
Will love you more for what you did.
P.S. Regarding Mike Teavee,
We very much regret that we
Shall simply have to wait and see
If we can get him back his height.
But if we can't –it serves him right."

Then I stopped to think about why my children have been watching more TV recently. The reality is because I have been overusing the TV for my conveinance. I was starting to see some of the downsides of it, albeit in very little ways. So I've decided to just shut the thing off for a week and see how it goes and then reevaluate next week.

The astonishing reality that I needed to face is that this will be harder on me than on them. I needed to face the fact that I am doing exactly what I said I never would. The time has come for me to face up and correct my ways before I let TV watching (even just videos) become an acceptable norm for our family.


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