Posts tagged Television

The War is Over

Bugs Bunny Rides Again

Image via Wikipedia

It has been one month since our family’s television fast began, and it’s time to take stock of our time spent disconnected.

I can’t say that we’ve gotten used to being completely without television, although I’d love to say that it has no draw on our family after being without it for one month. The truth is that there are times when I’d like to sit down with Oliver after the children are in bed to watch an episode of The Office. There are times I’d like to allow the children to watch a story they delight in, because I remember how I cherished those times with my brother when we were growing up. I have very fond memories of watching Mr. Dress-Up on a weekday morning or Bugs Bunny after church on Sundays with Dad.

Still, our television fast has been worthwhile. For one thing, we’ve been forced to come up with alternate activities during unstructured time. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, it required some effort on my part to plan activities for the children to do when they would normally have watched television before. As a result of exercising our collective creative muscle, our home is decorated with home-made paper snowflakes dangling in front of our picture window, and many of our presents are wrapped in recycled newsprint dressed up with paint stencils and potato stamps. We have handed out and enjoyed large amounts of home-made goodies, baked and decorated with the children’s help. We’ve made more music together, played more Lego together, and read more books together.

Oliver and I have also been challenged to find different things to do on those evenings when we’d rather have sat down and watched TV. We’ve spent many hours sitting in front of the fire, sometimes sipping a glass of wine and chatting about life. Our marriage has certainly benefited from the “forced” communication. Although we have spent many evenings apart, involved in our respective commitments and friendships, we have found more uninterrupted time to communicate in meaningful ways.

I cannot say that there have been any fundamental changes in our children’s behaviour as a result of not watching television or playing computer games. This is to be expected, however, since television only comprised a very small part of their daily routine to begin with. The one difference I can see is that they have become better at playing together peacefully, but that can be attributed to a change in the way Daddy and I deal with their bickering (for details on how we have begun dealing with sibling rivalry, see Cock Fights in the Chicken Coop).

The pre-Christmas season has passed seemingly more slowly than in previous years, and I feel that we have allowed our hearts to be prepared to celebrate the Saviour’s birth in the coming days. As with all fasts, we are looking forward to being able to return to “regularly scheduled programming,” as it were, but with the understanding that discernment still needs to be our plumb line as we expose ourselves and our children to media again.

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The War is On (Part 2)

It has been a full week now since our family last turned on the television, and I’m happy to report that we are still whole and sane and thriving. Amazingly enough, our children have not protested anywhere near as much as I thought they would. I used to hear, “Can-I-watch-a-show?” several times a day whenever they were too lazy to come up with anything creative to do. (Other requests included “Can-I-have-a-snack?”, “Can-I-go-on-TVOkids? and “Can-we-go-somewhere?” All of these phrases can be translated to mean, “I am bored. Entertain me.”) In fact, 2-year-old Caleb had started to say it when we were driving in the van coming home from somewhere. Except coming from him it sounded more like this: “Ca-A-watchasha? NO!” (Yes, he would add his own emphatic “No” based on the general answer the children would receive to their oft-repeated mantra.)

I can say with certainty, however, that our Television Fast would not be so successful were we as parents not intentional about planning other things for our kids to do or just being available to them during the times when they would normally watch television. There have been several times where I have been tempted to turn on the television for them so that I can get something done. It requires effort on my part to come up with an activity and then supervising that activity.

This is not to say, however, that our life is now centered around doing stuff with our kids and that everything else is being neglected. I think there are two reasons for this:

1. Our children are inwardly more at peace without all the media input and can occupy themselves happily. Yesterday while Oliver and I sat on the couch, Caleb was busy playing with PlayDough at the table, Sammy was immersed in decorating Christmas cookies on his own, and Teddy was working hard at creaming some butter and sugar for Spritz Cookie dough in the kitchen. Sometimes all it takes is giving them a start on something and they run with it.

2. Because Oliver and I are also not watching television in the evenings, we are getting all sorts of things done, even if it’s just sitting and having a long-overdue conversation and investing in our marriage. Most of our Christmas presents are bought and wrapped already. Oliver spent last night practicing piano for his involvement on Christmas Eve, and I finally sat down to read a book without interruptions.

While I bake or craft with the kids, Oliver has become more intentional about passing on his love of music to the kids. His most recent project has been to build a South American drum called a Cajon (which, by the way, has an amazing array of sounds considering it looks like a wooden dehumidifier). I don’t know of any child that can sit still when they hear a good beat, and our children are no different. A few nights ago he brought the drum upstairs, cranked the tunes on the stereo, and began accompanying the Transylvanian Orchestra on his drum, much to the delight of the children. Before that, we actually had a jam session in my music studio downstairs. While I played the piano, he played the Cajon, and those children that wanted to participate picked one of our percussion instruments and played along. When they were done they went and played with the train track Oliver had set up previously, and we could continue with our jam session. It was the first real one since the children came along, and it was sweet. We ended off with the most rocking version of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” our children had ever heard. I felt like a teenager again. Wicked.

Last week we baked and decorated Christmas cookies. This week will include more baking and perhaps some Christmas colouring for the grandparents. Maybe next week we’ll be putting together cookie plates for the neighbours and then deliver them. That’ll be fun.



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Screen Wars

SpongeBob SquarePants

Image via Wikipedia

I’m sitting here indulging in one of life’s little pleasures: M&M’s. If you’ve ever opened a Halloween-sized package of M&M’s you’ll know that the pleasure is indeed little: the Almond M&M’s package contains exactly four morsels. Everything in me wants to open another package, but I of course know that my children’s Halloween treats should be enjoyed in moderation, and probably primarily by the children. If only moderation were a lesson we learned in childhood and never again forgot…

Last weekend passed much the same way most weekends do at our house: the children have unlimited playtime, Daddy works on some projects, and Mommy does the laundry because hydro’s cheaper. One notable exception was that our eldest son, by virtue of attending school, has developed a taste for a certain web-based educational computer game, and was seemingly unable to do anything but either play the game or ask to play the game. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) for him, his mother is not a fan of substituting computer play for imaginative play, so he spent many hours unsuccessfully begging, “Mommy, can I go on coolmathgamesforkids? PLEASE?”

You can imagine the frustration this caused us both. My steadfast resistance in the face of his persistence caused me to seriously evaluate my reasons for wanting to limit our children’s screen time at their young ages. Wouldn’t it have been easier to just give in and allow him the indulgence more often? (To be clear, he did have some opportunity to play the games on the site.) It must be said that things are much more peaceful around the house when one is playing a video game, another watching a video, and the other napping. Our children don’t fight when they are being entertained.

Even so, I am loathe to – as I see it – open up the media floodgates in our house. Up until recently our children’s exposure to screen media was limited to the following: TVO Kids and Kids CBC (both publicly funded commercial-free children’s programming available with only an antenna.) Once those signals went digital, the children’s access to entertainment was pared down even further to our selection of VHS and DVD videos. They played a game on a second-hand VTech Smile once, and Teddy played a few music games that I use in my piano studio for teaching purposes. Recently he had been on about three times, and twice he had played the Wii at somebody’s house. That’s it. The more exposure he has to these things, however, the more they draw him in, and the less interesting the real-world alternatives seem.

On Saturday morning we visited a family where the TV runs constantly in the living room, so our children were transfixed by the novelty of SpongeBob Squarepants and saw more children’s advertising than they had in their entire lives up until that point. In fact, Teddy saw an advertisement for one of his favourite toys (a BeyBlade) and reacted in much the same way one does when one sees a familiar face on television. “Hey Mom! Check it out! A BeyBlade on TV!” Unfortunately not every ad was as benign as the one for the BeyBlade, and I shuddered as I saw the violent and disturbing “toys” being foisted upon our children’s imaginations.

On the way home Oliver and I once again renewed our resolve to shield our impressionable children from the pollution of television advertising. I can see no good reason to pay at least $30 a month for a service that fills my kids’ heads with all the things they’d like to have but don’t have yet, or worse, a whole slew of programming that does absolutely nothing to develop their character or intellect, but only teaches nonsense, obscenity, and/or violence. As much as I (as an adult with more self-control and discretion) would like to have access to a wider variety of interesting programming, I’m not sure the trade-off is worth it in the lives of my children. I’m sure there will come a time when they are older that we’ll consider it, but not while the clay of their minds is still so soft and pliable.

I realize I’m very old-fashioned and many readers will think I’m being too harsh. Not every parent will agree with our approach, and that’s ok. Every family’s situation is different, calling for different measures. But allow me to illustrate our reasoning the way we did for our son on the weekend:

“As a child, you lack the self-control to eat sweet desserts in moderation. If we were to put an apple and a slice of cake in front of you, which one would you pick? (He was honest, and answered “cake.”) As your parents then, it is our job to limit the amount of sugar you consume, because we know it’s not good for you to consume too much, regardless of how good it tastes. As long as you are under our care, we cannot let you stuff your face with desserts.

One day you will be an adult and you will make your own choices. You will have the choice at that time to have as much cake as you’d like, but you’re the one who has to live with the consequences of your decisions.”

I highly doubt that anyone would question our decision to limit our son’s sugar intake, but there are plenty of people who allow their children to gorge themselves on media as though the entire pastime is completely devoid of consequences. It doesn’t take long for all other foods to lose their appeal, as their craving for the decadent sweetness of media trumps all other desires. From one weekend to the next we witnessed a transformation in our little boys, from getting lost in deeply imaginative games using cars and Playmobile, to simply looking for something to tide them over until they could once again be entertained by a screen. Am I wrong to be concerned?

My husband, who is drawn to technology and screens more than I am, had this sage piece of advice for his little progeny: “Teddy, even as an adult I often ask myself this question: am I still the boss of the screen, or is the screen the boss of me? Can I tell it when I will turn it off, or does it tell me to keep it on?” Wise words.

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