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Our No TV Week — The Kids Survived, but Did I?

A lively 7-year-old boy who has climbed up in an oak tree. He needs no TV to have fun. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Playing. Photo by Barbara Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall, The Oakland Tribune, Nov. 8, 1987

“I don’t have time to play,” Peter howled. Peter had put in a long, hard day at day camp. He wanted his toys.

“I want to play. I need to play,” he complained. “But I know that the TV will go on at 4:30 and it will distract me from my playing.”

Peter got his way. We banned afternoon TV. But only temporarily.

As soon as day camp was over, “Mr. Roger” and “Sesame Street” resumed their rightful place in the family schedule – 4:30 to 6 p.m.

So the Cook Could Cook

That way, the cook could cook in peace while the kids watched Mr. Rogers change his shoes and the letter P turn into a popsicle.

And, once again, the kids could sit down to dinner and forget to eat as Big Bird learned to roller skate.

Over the years, TV has nudged its way into our mornings as well as our afternoons.

Peter hates to get out of bed. So does his mother. They make a surly pair at 7 a.m.

Much easier to let him find his own way to the sock drawer and the breakfast table. Reward the behavior with a half hour of Mr. Wizard.

Saturday mornings, Mom sleeps in while Dad supervises the watching of cartoons.

What would happen, I wondered, if our family did without TV – for a week, say. Where

would it hurt? Who would complain most?

Dad Says No to No TV

No, said Jon. Jon likes to rent suspense thrillers and watch them after the kids are in

girl on tricyclle with helmet. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Serious fun. Photo by Barbara Newhall

bed. “I work hard all day,” he said. “I get the kids’ teeth brushed. I do their lunch boxes. I feed the cats. I set the breakfast table. After that, I want to relax. I want to watch my movies. I don’t want to think.”

I tried to picture Jon and me alone, together, the kids in bed and 30 minutes to go till our own bedtime. What would transpire?

Gin rummy, maybe? Conversation? Reading, curled up together on our new sofa, me with a novel, he with a computer magazine? Sweet nothings?

Marie Winn, who was in town last week plugging her newest book. “Unplugging the Plug-In-Drug,” warns that more than one child has been conceived during a no TV week.

But no, Jon would not participate.

Winn recommends careful preparations for a TV turn-off. Otherwise, the experiment can backfire and leave the addicts more hooked than ever.

Our No TV Week

Recklessly, I ignored her warnings and gave our children 10 minutes notice.

“Kids,” I said during a TV commercial one morning before school. “What do you think about going without television for a whole week?” It would be kind of a scientific experiment.”

Peter’s eyes lit up. “An experiment? Wow.”

Ceremoniously, I turned off the television during the next station break.

By then, Jon was ready to leave for work. He kissed each of us good-bye. With no TV to distract them, the kids kissed back, instituting a new tradition in our house.

A dinosaur at the Lawrence Hall of Science, Berkeley, California, a great destination for our no TV week. Lawrence Hall of Science photo.

‘More funner.’ Lawrence Hall of Science photo

Not once during the week did the children ask to turn on the television set.

That’s because Mom – not Peter, not Christina – is the addict. I rarely watch TV, but I’m the addict. I use it to give myself a break from the kids.

I crave a moment’s peace the way I have, in more carefree days, craved a cup of coffee or a cigarette. It’s hard to say no.

Friday afternoon, the school newsletter was past deadline. Christina wanted to bake her Play-Do person in the oven. I stopped work to find the cookie sheet. I wished I could turn on the TV.

Sunday afternoon the kitchen sink was full of dishes. Peter stood on a counter, looking into a cupboard for something to eat. I wished I could turn on the TV. If it were on, he would forget about eating until dinner time. Whose idea was this anyway? I was getting petulant.

Monday morning, I was sleepy, so sleepy. Due back at work the next day after a week’s sick leave, I wanted only to rest.

I turned on the TV, put Christina in front of it, tucked her blankie around her, and went to bed.

An hour and a half later Christina was leaning against my pillow.

“Mommy, I don’t want to watch any more TV. Can we go someplace more funner? Like the Lawrence Hall of Science?”’

She settled for a trip to the bookstore.

© 1997 The Oakland Tribune. Republished by permission. All rights reserved.

Peter was six years old when I wrote this no TV column for the Oakland Tribune. A few years later he would beg us to be allowed to have a Nintendo. We resisted, but finally gave in when Peter made it clear that he wouldn’t be able to participate in important conversations with the other boys at school if he wasn’t playing Nintendo at home. TV or no TV, a sea change in children’s play was about to take place. 

If you enjoyed this post, you might like “James Dobson: Bully Your Pet, Hit Your Kid, Make Them Obey You — and God.”  Also, “When Your Six-Year-Old Wants to Talk Money.”

 

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