April 19, 2011 at 6:00 am
About five weeks ago, our family went on a “media diet.”
As many of you know, this week is Screen Free Week across America, so today I wanted to talk a little today about why we made the choice to cut-back on media, how we did it, what we did instead, and how it all worked out.
Before I go further though, I know that television can be a bit of a hot-button topic, especially when it comes to kids. So please just know that this is the honest experience of one family, trying to find our way.
During the winter, we felt like we had spent a lot of time plugged in, and we were looking for a way to break the habit.
It had become really natural to walk into a room and turn on the television, or to keep checking computers and phones for new e-mails and Facebook updates.
Our kids don’t have e-mail or Facebook pages, so those last two things just referred to us, the grown-ups. We worried that we were setting a bit of a bad example.
And so, we moved our television. It went from the living room of our house to the office.
Because computer time is a part of my job, I made a committment to try to work more in blocks, instead of spreading things out so much throughout the day. I also tried working more when my husband was available to be with the kids (meaning Saturdays, mostly).
And I switched my e-mail address … I know you’re probably wondering why that’s relevant.
For me, an issue I have with media is the disease-of-the-month thing (and Yahoo is all about this).
It’s broader than the disease-of-the-month, of course, but so much of what is on television or available through other media is sad, upsetting, violent and/or intended to promote worry.
I worked in the media for a long time. My husband still does (which added an interesting dimension to this whole media break). So I can say with a lot of confidence that what is “news” is very subjective — this is certainly the case with Yahoo’s front page.
During those long blue months of winter, it had begun to feel like there was a lot wrong with our world.
Certainly, there are very real problems. During this media diet there was a lot of talk of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Thinking about it made my heart ache. I tried to think of ways our little family could help.
But I also felt I didn’t need to see all the footage, all day long.
And I felt it important to shield my children. They are young, and it is important to me that they see the world as a safe place. I want them to grow up compassionate and empathetic people, but I don’t believe that now is the time for them to be exposed to a 24-hour news cycle of tragedy.
A Little More How
Full disclosure here: We didn’t ban television for the past five weeks. But we might as well have. Our kids watched almost no television programs at all. We did watch two movies as a family. We also all watched a show via Netflix last Saturday night.
My husband and I watched a couple of things after the kids were asleep, including the movie Jackass 3.*
Our kids don’t spend a lot of time on the computer normally, but we did talk about what they like to do on the computer and learned how they view it in our home. Owen enjoys going to sites about birds right now, so he did spend a little time each week looking at bird-related sites.
Owen also likes to write books, so a few times throughout the past five weeks he worked on typing.
Ellery didn’t seem to miss computer time much. She just recently learned to play an online educational game and I had gone back and forth a lot about her using the computer at all at age 4. This break confirmed for me that the game is such a small part of her world, and she doesn’t miss it when it is gone.
What We Did Instead/How it Went
Something strange that came out of all of this was realizing how much we talk about media in our culture today. We didn’t set out to tell people about our media break, but it ended up coming up in conversation a few times.
The biggest question we got after, “Did the kids get upset?” (they didn’t) was “Well what do you do instead?”
It’s a valid question. Television eats up a lot of time.
It became time to: do puzzles, play board games, create a pretend post office, do an animal fashion show, go outside, go outside, go outside, read, draw, grow stuff, tell knock-knock jokes, work on household projects, knit, play music, take walks, spend time with friends, build stuff, birdwatch, learn, sew, play in the sand, talk, play baseball, go to the park, have adventures, climb trees, make paper airplanes, snuggle, dig for bugs, dance in the dining room, learn rhymes, bake bread, have ticklefights and sleep.
Finally, all the animals in our backyard have names and backstories now — Elmer and Jane, Wally (Waldorf), Dee-Dee the Chickadee and Mr. Cardinalis, Downy, Passer the House Sparrow and Mr. Hairy.
I saw some things I really loved – I saw two kids fall deeply in love with the works of Beatrix Potter. I saw more time for imaginative play. I saw children amazed by a hand-made ”Hawaii postcard” and an airplane made out of recycled paper.
There were not so good moments. I recently saw a post at Rockin’ Granola where Kara (no relation) talks about a quote she heard from Kim John Payne, the author of Simplicity Parenting: “The step between boredom and creativity is sibling torture.”
There was a little of that.
(Note: If you are looking for resources on cutting back on media – Payne’s book is one of my very favorites and it’s no coincidence that we went on our media diet a few days after hearing him speak. Clean is actually doing an online Simplicity Parenting book club right now!)
So What Now
I’d like to say that getting rid of television for five weeks led to some sort of big change here, and that everything is different.
But there are some small changes I’ve noticed.
First, I can’t remember what we used to watch all the time.
I referenced above that my husband and I watched a couple of shows and a movie. I was really glad we didn’t miss the Michael proposal episode of The Office. But I would be OK with never seeing another Jackass* movie again. I didn’t watch all of it, it was on in the background while I was doing some school planning (doesn’t that sound ridiculously innocent?) but it was really upsetting to me for some reason (for those who have seen it, I’m thinking specifically of the tooth thing here).
Was I more sensitive because we had cut out so much media, or did this whole media break thing come from feeling a little burned out on that stuff in the first place?
I mentioned that we saw a lot of creative play, but that wasn’t missing before, there was just more time for the kids to go deeper into the experience (the animal names, for instance, or the fully functional post office).
I referenced sibling torture, which sounds extreme. It wasn’t that bad, and it wasn’t any worse than before, it was just I couldn’t take the easy way out and say, “Why don’t you guys go watch a show while I finish my work.”
So where does this leave us?
I’m not sure yet.
I can acknowledge that a lot of our worry about too much TV came from it being the cold months of winter. Some days it was literally 4 degrees outside which limited other possibilities.
But I don’t want to go back to that either.
Some very good things have happened during the past five weeks. I do feel like we are all a little closer. We’re all talking a little more about the important stuff.
I do still like curling up for a movie night on occasion. I even like that the Wild Kratts taught my 4-year-old what a proboscis is and what it does. I like talking TV with grown-up friends.
I don’t miss my old e-mail, although I hate the new one (stop stacking stuff, Gmail!)
I do feel less worried. I have to say it. I feel less barraged, you know?
Diets are usually associated with deprivation, and when you end a diet, all you want is to go a little nuts (as in nuts by way of a Snickers bar). But I’m just not there yet.
In fact, as I sit here writing this, I don’t feel like we have been deprived at all. I feel just the opposite.
I think that says something important. I just haven’t figured out exactly what.
But I do know I have more time now than I used to to think about it.
I would love to hear your feedback on this post and your feelings about media in your home. Please comment below!