Saturday, August 17, 2013

Raising Children Without Paying for TV


A few weeks ago there was a knock on our front door.  I opened it to find a well-dressed salesman from Direct TV on the steps.  Politely he informed me that his crew was in the area installing services at neighboring homes, and "since we're here we can offer you a discount."  I smiled and said thank, you no thank you.  Being a well trained salesperson he attempted to keep the conversation going by asking "may I ask what TV service you currently use, we can beat their prices!"  My response was not part of his script and left him a bit puzzled, "we don't pay for any TV, in fact we watch very little and when we do it is PBS."  He muttered something along the lines of "you don't watch TV?" My smile continued, and as my three year old joined me at the door I said "yes, we prefer them to be entertained by the outdoors, books or games.  Thanks and good luck."  I closed the door and returned to my kids, who had been coloring at the kitchen table.

Now don't get me wrong.  Our kids do not live in a bubble of no TV.  In fact, as I type they are watching a Magic School Bus episode.  TV, or screen time does exists in our house, but with limits.  We are doing our best to help them have a healthy relationship with TV -- it's all about balance.

So how do we raise kids without electronic media in constant play?  Here are a few tools from our playbook:

  1. Garden and do yard work.  The patio railing holds a collection of herbs.  We have a few potted pepper and tomato plants that need water and tending to every day.  We recently add some perennial plants to our yard.  Give kids a directed place to dig and get dirty.
  2. Take nature walks in your neighborhood.  There is a creek (think city water draining to the lake) with a bridge just behind our house.  Most night we walk over to take a look.  Might we see the raccoon again?  What color are the leaves.  Is the mulberry tree ripe?  Both kids usually take a notepad and colors with them for make drawings.
  3. Embrace the power of colors!  A great way to have the kids close in the kitchen and not too underfoot is to have them color at the table while I cook.  Paper is the discarded sheets from my writing efforts or seminar handouts that I do not need.
  4. Ask them to build something.  Whether it be with blocks, Legos, or toilet paper rolls, give them a pile and say "surprise me with a creation!"
  5. Board games are a great way to be silly and practice important life lessons.  We have a lovely collection of age appropriate games given as birthday and holiday gifts from a dear friend.  
  6. Books -- read aloud with emotion and gusto.  Kids will laugh, you'll all be entertained, and it is a great way to enhance vocabulary.
  7. Let them get a little bored.  Then let them figure out something to do. TV often lets kids sit still for hours.  Figuring out what to do, or seeking something out is a great life skill.
  8. Set limits.  Screens are not in our car.  They never have been and never will.  Take books, stuffed animals, or drawing tablets (not the electronic kind) in the car.  
Those are my go-to ways to raise children without the constant drone of the TV.  It severely limits exposure to advertising designed to get kids to beg, kick and scream for products at the store.  It is not easy, but sometimes the hard route is worth it.  Our library supplies most all of our videos.  And we have an Amazon Prime Membership; for $79 a year we get access to streaming videos as well as free shipping for any item labeled as prime.  No Netflix, no direct TV, not cable -- yet we survive.  In fact, I'd say we thrive.  

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