“TV will never be a serious competitor for radio because people must sit and keep their eyes glued on a screen; the average American family hasn't time for it. “ from New York Times, 1939
With so many new year's resolutions involving time--family time, controlling time, more time with those we love, less wasted time, etc., I thought I would re-work parts of a lengthy series I did on here a few years ago--this time titled "Taming the Television."
When Ray and I speak or write about allowing more time to be with your kids, we are always asked how we have so much time for our kids, especially in light of our business and ministry. And the answer lies in not where we get the time (we all get the same amount, remember), but where we allocate the time we have been given.
Thirty-two years ago this summer Ray and I were married in a little country church. The best marriage advice we received (and followed) has also become our best parenting advice: do not get a television. Somebody told us not to get a television set for the first year of marriage but instead spend time together, talking and getting to know one another, developing intimacy and romance. We took that advice—and have been “stationless” for most of the thirty-two years of our family, though we did get a vcr and eventually a dvd to watch movies. (We tried getting stations one year, but didn’t like the way it dictated our evening schedule and stole time from us. We just got a television and Netflix about a month ago--and so far, so good!)
With the advent of computers, dvd’s, i-pads, and other electronic devices, we have other things to contend with for our attention—and our entire family loves movies—however, we have found that by not being able to get television stations (via antennae, box, cable, etc.), we have gained the most-sought-after commodity: time. The latest statistic on television viewing in America is twenty-eight hours per week, per person. Even if we and our children watch three movies a week (which is a stretch many months), we still have twenty more hours every week than the “average” American.
We cannot tell people that they should get rid of television as it is all bad. Nowadays, more than ever before, there are tons of good, interesting, entertaining things to watch. Educational and informative programs abound. Good movies are available at the flip of the remote. However, one thing has stayed the same: television (and now internet or internet television) is the greatest time robber of all things that vie for our attention.
Getting rid of television programming is not an option for most people, I realize. After all, it’s an American institution! However, I propose to you that even getting control of the television could potentially yield you more time than you would know what to do with! And would give you literally hours each week to spend with your kids.
Consider the math for a moment. If a person is the “average” American watching twenty-eight hours a week of television, over an eighty year life, that person will have watched 13.29 YEARS of television—28 hours a week x 4 weeks x 80 years=116,480 hours….divided by 24 hours in each day equals 4,854 hours, which equals 13.29 years of twenty-four hour days. Imagine the relationships we could build with our children; imagine the things we could learn; imagine the good we could do—with even half of that time, say six and a half years—given to us. Makes me want to control my time just a little better!
Today and tomorrow I will give you many ideas and tips for Taming the Television--some that we have used successfully and some that we have heard of others using. Here we go:
1. Set weekly time limits.
Even with the ability to only watch movies for at least thirty of our thirty-two years, we have had to set weekly limits when it seemed that every day someone wanted to watch a movie! We have usually had the four to six hour movie rule per week—and found that this was enough for the kids to watch a thing or two that they wanted on dvd (currently Monk on dvd) and a family movie or two.
This varies with kids, too. A couple of our kids really like watching movies; our three boys recently went an entire month without watching anything, even though they were allowed to watch if they asked. Now they got a television series on dvd and have watched several hours in one week. It is the spirit of this rule—not the letter—that we try to follow. It is about being in control of your life (and teaching your kids to be in control of theirs)—not about a certain number. We balance this time out so that it is enough entertainment to enjoy being entertained, but not so much that it controls our lives.*
2. Set television days.
We had a rule for over a dozen years that other than educational dvd’s (we use some teachers on cd/dvd for school), movies could only be watched on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. I prefer the #1 idea as sometimes the children wanted to watch, watch, watch simply because it was the weekend.*
3. Decide ahead of time what programs/times/days the family will watch television each week.
Many child development experts recommend this—and call it the “family viewing schedule.” Write these programs/times on a calendar or schedule, and only turn the television on during those times. This method provides you with conscientious, purposeful viewing—not just, “Wow, we’re home, so we should turn on the television.”
4. Cover your television or put it away unless it is purposeful viewing time. We have our television on a rolling cart in my bedroom closet.
This worked for us for most of our family's life because if we had a television to watch movies on, it was not hooked up to anything to keep it in one place (i.e. cable or box, etc.). I know this might not work if you have it hooked up to receive programming, but our family loved this. We just sat in the living room and talked for hours—no television calling out to us, no “favorite programs” causing us to work around them. If you do have your television hooked up to something, you might consider having it in an armoire or other close-able cupboard. Again, the out of sight, out of mind concept works wonders, especially for younger children.
5. When you do watch movies and television, watch it together whenever possible.
This will allow you to keep tabs on what your children are seeing/hearing, but it will also create opportunities for lively discussions. We love to talk about movies that we have watched. We love to quote lines from them back and forth to each other. Watching together allows you to share the entertainment, not just passively watch shows separately.
Obviously, we cannot do this all the time. The boys were on a Psyche kick (on dvd)with one of their sisters. They only watched it when the four of them could all watch it together—and Ray and I seldom joined them. We didn’t have the time then to devote to watching it, and we knew that they were watching it together, so that worked out well.
Family viewing will be more of an event than an everyday occasion if certain shows or time slots are dedicated to family television watching or movie watching rather than just evening free-for-alls.
6. Declare certain days “tv-less days.”
If you cannot get rid of television programming all together, the “tv-less days” seems to be the next best thing to me. Decide what evenings/days are people’s least favorite days to watch something, and make those evenings no television evenings. Cover the television up—and don’t even consider turning it on. If you manage to have three evenings a week without television, you will likely cut your family’s viewing by one third, at least. Just imagine evenings together without anything distracting everybody. If you do this, follow our family’s “replacement” rule—if you’re going to take something away from your kids, replace it with something else. (More on this tomorrow!)
Well, I am out of time and space. Tomorrow I will post tips for television viewing reduction for children specifically. Same bat time. Same bat channel. (Sorry--I just couldn’t resist.)
*Note: With the ability to watch things online, watch dvd’s, stick a dvd in the laptop, etc., we have found it especially important to include all viewing in these time or day limits. Thus, the four to six hours a week includes anything they watch—unless they watch it at Grandpa’s for an overnighter or go to their brother's to watch football or something.