We have three children – ages 6, 3, and 2 – all of whom enjoy watching television. For a long time my wife and I struggled to regulate how much television our kids watched, at what times of day they watched, and what kind of shows they watched. It was hard. For one, our most lived-in room in the house – the family room – was laid out with the television in mind (all the seating oriented toward the television, shelves of DVDs, etc.). The kids had learned how to turn on the television, change DVDs, and flip through their favorite kids channels. And my wife and I had come to depend on the television as a lazy
parenting tool ("Hey kids, watch some TV and be quiet while I make
dinner/check my email/talk on the phone/waste time on Facebook"). Turning off the television sometimes involved arguments with the kids, and turning it on surely kept us more tuned in to the television than to each other.
But six weeks ago we decided to cut the cord … no more cable television at our house. The decision was driven by a perfect synergy of both financial and lifestyle considerations. We are saving money and our children are spending much less time in front of a television screen – both of which are good things.
In fact, we moved the television out of the first floor altogether, leaving my old computer and a stereo as the only electronic entertainment devices in our children's play area. We still have the television, connected to a DVD player, but we move it to our bedroom … and it gets used about once a week for the kids to watch a Disney movie or a Backyardigans video. And yes, the kids will sometimes watch partial episodes of Clifford on www.pbskids.org or Little Einsteins on www.playhousedisney.com, but overall their screen time has dropped dramatically.
And somewhat to our surprise, our kids didn't instigate a violent revolt. For sure, the week after we cut the chord was a pretty tough transition. But in the days and weeks that followed, we have watched as our kids have gone from complaining about being bored to coming up with their own games to play.
Over the past six weeks the kids have built more living room forts and set up more make-believe yard sales and cooked more make-believe meals in their play kitchen than they ever had in the previous year. Our six year-old, who is not the strongest reader, will sometimes grab a book and try to read by herself, and our three year-old will get a book, too, just so she can be like her big sister. Instances of sidewalk chalk art have skyrocketed, as have the numbers of puzzles completed. We also find that the kids need to take more frequent baths, since they are playing more often with markers or with dirt or in ways that get them quite sweaty. It's been amazing.
It is highly unlikely that we will go back to television anytime soon, even if I do miss watching sports. And I doubt that we'll be a family that owns a video game system, either. Banishing the television screen to our bedroom where watching a movie becomes a weekly special event has been a great move for us, and there is little reason for us to increase the amount of time that we or our children spend in front of a screen.
So, a word to all you parents who struggle with the amount of time your children spend in front of a television screen: If cutting down the time your family spends in front of the television is hard to do, consider cutting it out altogether. It is possible.