Becoming a TV-Free Family

One of the best decisions my husband and I ever made was to ditch our television set and never replace it.

This happened over three years ago, a few months after “the big switch,.” For those of you who missed it, a few years ago, free television programming switched from analog to digital and viewers were forced to either subscribe to cable, purchase a new, digital television or purchase a convertor box.

Our son was a a few months old at the time and we lived in a loft apartment. This meant that, at bedtime, we either kept quiet or risked waking the boy. When it came to television, it was out of the question. It just wasn’t worth it. And, during our son’s waking hours, we simply didn’t want him exposed at such a young age to the weird stuff that flashed on the screen.

Our television set was older than dirt, only had one working speaker, and could barely pick up a signal. I hadn’t had a television myself (or a personal computer) for almost all of my post-high school years, so I had a lukewarm relationship with the thing. John and I mostly used it for movies, anyway. We bought our laptop around the same time so, when we did watch any sort of entertainment, we watched streaming tv shows or youtube clips of movies huddled on our bed in front of the computer, sharing a set of earbuds.

Needless to say, we were fair-weather tv-watchers. So, when “the big switch” happened and regular tv sets went black, we tossed the tv and never looked back.

When I tell people that “we don’t watch tv,” it illicits a bunch of different reactions. Some assume we’ve taken some high-and-mighty anti-culture position and judge tv-watching as a sin. Some assume it means we entertain our children with puppet shows and charades, instead. Some assume that we, like them, just mean that we don’t watch it often.

So, let me explain what being a TV-free family means to us.

retro tv

Why are we choosing to be tv-free?

1. Television programming is, in general, a total waste of time. There are about a million more important/creative/world-changing things I can (and should) do with my down-time.

2. Most television shows and movies are full of crap. I’m no prude and I am not, as a rule, offended by crude language. But, turn off the popular media stream in your mind for a few months and then re-introduce it. You will be amazing by the loads of disgusting crap you never noticed yourself ingesting before. Everything from the language and gratuitous sex to the general philosophical lessons of popular culture and the hyper-commercialization of the omnipresent marking. The more you take it in, the more desensitized you become and the more “normal” you think it all to be. Wake up and look at what you’re actually consuming.

3. My children should entertain themselves. As tempting as it is to sit my kids in front of some form of hands-off entertainment (computer, tv, iPhone, etc.), it is not profitable for them, developmentally. Creative, child-led (or parent-led) play is important for both artistic and academic reasons. Plopping a kid in front of a screen that requires no real interaction teaches children to be consumers of entertainment rather than creators–consumers of culture rather than culture-makers. I’m not exaggerating. Look 15 years down the road at the lifestyles of tv-lite kids compared to their screen-addicted peers. They are more socially adept (at least with the real world, if not their peers), are less likely to develop destructive habits, tend to be more physically active, and have more academic and career success ahead of them.

4. It is not “harmless.” Nothing is devoid of influence and when children are most impressionable and easily-influenced, we should never assume that the obnoxious whining cartoon character on the television screen isn’t making its way into their subconscious. It all makes its way in, my friends.

5. The branding of children’s products is enough to make me stay away. Everything–from fishing poles to diapers to Memory games to gym shoes–is branded with lame cartoon characters. I will not allow my children to be lured by this manipulative marketing and I refuse to argue with my child over buying that cereal or that juice box because it has their favorite character on it. If it’s as simply as only allowing my child moderate access to the branded characters themselves, I will spare myself a million headaches.

So, how does being “tv-free” actually play out in our family? (This it to prove that we are not insane, culturally isolated, or all-around tv-haters.)

– We do not have a physical television set. But we do have a laptop computer and both my husband and I have iPhones.

– Our laptop does have a DVD-player, but it has been broken for about a year and we have not had it fixed.

– We do not subscribe to any paid online television or movie service. If we want to watch a tv show or movie, we must either watch it streaming for free on a site like Hulu, or must download it from iTunes.

Our son knows how to use an iPhone, but does not have access to either our computer or our phones on any average day.

– I have a few select television shows downloaded from iTunes on our computer, but my son is only allowed to watch them on special occasions. This translates to about once or twice a month. About once a week, I allow him 20-30 minutes with my phone to watch clips on YouTube–mostly vintage Mickey Mouse cartoons. At our home, he has seen about 6 full-length movies in his lifetime. (He has never seen Cars, Toy Story, or the majority of children’s movies made in the last 10 years.) He does not usually have access to either the computer or my phone while his sister is around. This is very (intentionally) limiting.

– My daughter is 18 months old and is not allowed any “screen time.”

– When visiting friends and relatives, we don’t encourage screen time, but we aren’t stingy about allowing our children to watch shows. If I though something was actually objectionable, I would politely ask to change the show. But, I would rather not cause a fuss. I mean, we might be idealists but we’re not jerks.

– My husband and I have a few tv shows we watch online each week, totaling maybe 2 hours a week. I have another show or two that I catch online sometimes during naptime, maybe once or twice a week.

– With my phone, I can get any information I need about popular culture and/or a world news feed at the touch of a button. Television, for me then, is simply superfluous since I don’t need it for entertainment.

– Without access to normal television programming or a DVD player, our kids don’t ever have un-attended screen time. Chances are, unless I’m in bed vomiting or experiencing something similarly debilitating, you will never hear me say, “Here, son, play with my phone while I do this other thing in the other room.” Any show watched, movie seen, or iPhone game played is chosen and approved my me or John. And it is always used as entertainment–not time-filler while I do other things. When my kids are older, they will likely have more freedom to choose what media they consume and have access to it more often. But, for now, we call the shots.

– The curse of a smartphone is that it never leaves my side and it could quickly become just as much a distraction from parenting as a television set would be. For this reason, I try to avoid spending too much time on my phone while around my children and try to limit my serious phone use to naptime, bedtime, and odd “the kids are playing so nicely together they don’t even notice I’m here!” times. These times don’t come often and I am, admittedly, not awesome at living up to my own expectations much of the time.

We know dozens of other tv-free or (what I’d call) tv-lite families and they all do it for different reasons. And it looks different in every home. Some families have the tv set tucked-away in a closet for special times. Some families have tv and movies, but enforce strict time restraints for older children who deserve a little more freedom. I would never give someone a hard time for making a different decision for their family, especially if we can at least agree that our time is usually best spent doing something else.

I know that parenting is hard and–believe me–I completely understand why someone would want to be able to send their kids to the living room to watch cartoon early on a Saturday morning. There are times when I am really tired or it’s really early or I really want to take a shower or I really need to wash the dishes and I (literally) say to myself, “Gosh, I wish we had a tv.” And, this sometimes means that I have less time alone to myself and less time to do things other than entertain, teach, and play with my kids. Which means, by necessity, less time to clean “in peace” and fewer creative pet projects around the house. But, in the end, it’s worth it to me. And, no, I don’t think we’ll be getting another tv someday. And I’m pretty resolute to not apologize for the decision we’ve made for the benefit of our family. In fact, I think it’s a decision we should be proud of–and it’s a decision I would encourage YOU to make.

Also, on a personal note, it should be said that I do enjoy some contemporary television programming. (Heck, I almost joined a support group when Lost ended a few years back.) And I really enjoy movies. BUT. I really don’t miss watching them. And, if I really wanted to, I could find a way to access them. In fact, I have a few shows waiting in my Hulu queue as I type this.

And, that’s how I prefer to consume entertainment–in small quantities, when the time is right, and only the shows I actually enjoy and find valuable. And, hopefully, that will be the lesson I teach my children: TV is not “bad,” but it’s like junk food. Consumed in small quantities, alongside a steady diet of nutritious, creative play, it won’t kill you. But it’s not going to make you any healthier than you’d be without it.


Go Play Outside: In The Cold

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything but, boy, things have been busy!

I’ve been wrapping-up the 2012 cleanup season at work. My husband has been working on finishing his houses before the end of the year. Our kids never stop moving and I spend all my non-working moments trying to keep up.

On mornings that I don’t work, when I ask my (almost) 4 year-old son what he wants to do with his day, my favorite response is “go for a hike!” My kids love exploring outdoors and I’ve tried to offer as many opportunties as possible for them to do so. Living in the city doesn’t have many built-in opportunties, which makes it hard. But it’s not impossible. If we want to play outside–whether we’re looking for a playground or the woods–there are a handful of great places within walking distance and a few within just a few minutes’ drive. If I’m willing to go an extra 10-15 minutes, we can find a million places to explore.

With a few exceptions, this season has still been pretty warm. But I don’t anticipate it staying warm all Winter! The trick to keeping kids happy outside in the cold? Layer-up, keep moving, and bring snacks.

Rather than wearing one huge, puffy jacket, invest in multiple layers of clothing that allow you and your kids the freedom to remove only one layer as the sun comes out or your body warms up. Bring hats, mittens, and wear a nice pair of wool socks. Kids who are used to being outside will usually be more adaptable than their parents, so you’ll notice your kids become more comfortable in the cold as they get used to dealing with it.

On colder days, find something to do that keeps you all moving (like hiking) so your blood keeps flowing. You might actually be surprised how warm you get! Standing watching your kids play on the playground is sometimes a bore. Every once and a while, pick an activity that gets you moving, too.

As always, kids are very sensitive to hunger. Keep a few small, packable snacks in your pocket or backpack, as well as a bottle of water. If hunger strikes, and your child starts to whine, stop for a quick snack and then get moving again.

Get your kids outside now, while it’s still comfortably chilly. You’ll be thankful for the practice later, when it’s really cold!

In the past few weeks, in addition to our normal neighborhood playground expeditions, we went to Sharon Woods. It was a chilly day, but we took a lovely hike around the lake, which we’ve never done. We’ve also been back to Lindner Park in Norwood recently, and we explored a new place in Florence, KY.

The other day, on our way home from running an errand, we visited a park on Linn St. in the West End. It’s a tiny little pocket park perfect for my kids’ age group. And there’s a dinosaur!!

Enjoy the season and GET OUTSIDE!

Go Play Outside: Sharon Woods

Did you know that it’s only $10 a year for access to all of Hamilton County’s amazing parks!?

Since I moved to Cincinnati nearly seven years ago, I’ve only gone two years without a Parks pass. But, to be honest, I haven’t used any of the passes very often. I usually just consider it a $10 donation to the Park District. This year, though, I’m making an effort to explore the parks with my kids.

Recently, we took two trips to Sharon Woods, which is the park I know best because we have some good friends whose property abuts the park.

Wanna see some photos of trips!?

45202 Families

Parenting in an urban area can be a little isolating.
90% of the peers you see on a daily basis are either child-less or live 20 minutes away. It can be hard to make friends and stay active in your own community.

But most of us are on Facebook these days, right?
A few weeks ago, I started a Facebook group for “45202 Families.”I’m hoping this group will be a way to connect folks who live, work, or play downtown so we can share recommendations and plan events.

The group is “invite only,” so let me know if you’d like to join!

And I’ll try to get around to blogging again eventually…

Starting "School"

My son is 2yrs and 8 months old. He’s super gregarious, energetic, and has a great sense of humor. He also corners the market on creative play these days. But, about a year ago, I noticed that some of my son’s peers were surpassing him in learning things like “the ABC’s,” colors, numbers, and shapes. My son might be able to guide you on the mile long walk through the streets of Over-the-Rhine to the public library, but he can barely count to ten.

Many of my son’s peers are learning these basic skills (counting, identifying letters, etc.) from either watching television or attending daycare/preschool. Since my son does not watch television, nor attend daycare, it’s going to be my job to teach him.

We already read a lot. And we talk a lot in normal conversation about animals and colors and such. But, last week, we started our first official week of “school.” And for the next eight months or so, we will spend 3o minutes, 1-3 days a week, learning basic preschool things–letters, numbers, shapes, colors, and lifeskills.

I’m really excited to share the experience of homeschooling in the city where it’s possible to have a rich, exciting education, as well a socialization, apart from attending a standard school.

My son loved his first day.

Now I just need to prep for Day 2!

Midpoint Music Festival

I have had mixed feelings about the local phenomenon of Midpoint Music Festival, but they really redeemed themselves for me this year with their Midpoint Midway and CAC-sponsored acoustic stage.

For folks like me who live in the neighborhood, it was a great way to get out of the house and enjoy the event without spending money on a ticket. With two kids at home, the ticket would have been mostly wasted. And, considering the way MPMF takes over our neighborhood for a weekend, it was nice to have this early evening, all-ages, free part of the event. It definitely made up for the noise and parking issues that weekend!

We made it down to the Midway three nights in a row. We listened to some acoustic music, watched the skateboarders, and ate some fabulous soft pretzels. The weather was great and my son is still asking me if he can go “see some music” again tonight.

Thanks, Midpoint. Maybe next year I’ll buy a ticket.