To TV or Not to TV? That is the Question
By: Lisa Donovan
When I moved into my first apartment after high school I made, what I felt to be, one of my first and wisest "grown up" decisions. I didn't want a television anywhere in my home. I wasn't comfortable with the idea of the center of my small little, island of a world being about media and consumerism and noise that wasn't direct human interaction and mental stimulation. In high school and college years, I had watched my parents get into a rather unhealthy routine of coming home from work, eating dinner and separating into their respective rooms (my dad: his office, my mom: the living room) to watch their programs. My dad, being utterly deaf in one ear, tends to turn the set up as loud as he can and, when blended with my mom's Entertainment Tonight or Everybody Loves Raymond, the house ends up being a consistently loud soundtrack of television noise. It still is. It is a rare occasion to walk into my parent's house and not find at least one TV on — very loudly. Thus began my antipathy toward it. There was just nothing very attractive or interesting to me about it once I had the option to put one into my own home.
Then I had children. My opinion of television became even more intense and important to me. I didn't want my children plugged into things that were going to make their little brains and bodies become mushy and occasionally out of their control. I had seen plain evidence of the ill effects of a young child watching TV — not even a lot of TV, simply any amount of TV. My son would turn into nothing short of a devil when he would watch even just one thirty-minute program. Not immediately, mind you — but later in the day. I would notice something different, something much more out of control about him. He would flop and not be able to sit still for a single minute. He would not hear me, or ignore me, when I said anything to him. There were random things that I just started to notice about his behavior. I didn't, at first, want to blame it on television but after a few months of me and him living with my parents (when I started to do these little studies of his behavior), I couldn't deny it. It fortified my decision to keep a television out of our home.
We moved to Nashville, into our own home again, and my son began a Waldorf school. One of the main facets of a Waldorf education is complete media avoidance. It is strongly and actively encouraged when you are a student. Along with a list of other things that make the school wonderful, we felt it was a great match. A few months into our pre-k year there, we realized that there was a whole other level of boycotting media that we weren't really super excited about. If my son mentioned a movie that we watched together, his teacher would have a meeting with us about it. If they pretended to be superheroes they were not to mention such cultural icons as Superman or Batman which have been passed down through all forms of storytelling — one way just happens to be television and film. Now, this was both to encourage the child to create their own mythologies (which I agree with) as well as because it was associated with media sources that they didn't want to encourage. I started to feel like it was a little extreme when the mention of such things were handled as "issues" rather than just as parts of our culture that are, on many levels, inescapable and (quite frankly) don't seem entirely too harmful. I didn't want my son to be exposed to television and video games at such a young age and I was making sure not to overexpose him to movies and DVDs. However, I was certain that we weren't a family that was about to make our lives devoid of any form of entertainment that wasn't home-made. We love movies and we love watching old batman and superman cartoons on our computer — in fact, this has spawned a very serious and intense love of animation in my son. I don't know many five year olds that walk around saying they want to be an animator and illustrator — my son does. I give full credit to my husband passing down his love of old school comics/animation and passion for current clay-mation movies like Wallace and Grommit for my son's intense "hobby" of making an illustration for everything. My son will watch a movie like Chicken Run on DVD only once, but, he will spend as much time as possible watching the "Behind the Scenes" and the making of the clay figures and the processes of creation. There is something very exciting and good about that and I am not about to deem it unnecessary or harmful. There has got to be a balance.
My son no longer goes to the Waldorf school — for no other reason than expenses. We love the basic foundation of it and miss the school terribly, even if their stance on media was too extreme for us. We are now in a public school where the tables are turned quite drastically toward the other extreme. There are plenty of kindergartners who have an entire media center, DVD and Playstation included, in their bedrooms. Mixed in there, however, are conscientious parents who haven't banned television from their homes but have always kept tight reigns on their children in regard to it. They set limits and are quite comfortable using it as a tool in discipline. They are smart people who have smart kids. It has made my husband and I talk a few things over. Throughout this long process and journey, we are now considering not only getting a television, but, full on cable.
I'm nervous about this leap — I feel like it plunges us into a universe that we haven't been a part of in years. We never know what shows people are talking about — we don't base our conversations about what happened on some series that we are addicted to. I have always taken great pride in the fact that we have no idea who is on what reality show and who they are "voting off" or if Friends is over. I like that my life consists of real events that matter to us immediately — not abstractly. My husband, however, is a fellow who would love to have a "program" to call his own. He still, I think, daydreams about sitting on the couch with a bag of chips and a soda to watch the new Battlestar Gallactica. And, there are some programs that I know my son would adore watching that aren't going to rot his sweet brain to mush. He is much older now that he was when it affected him poorly — there is a huge difference between a two year old watching TV and a six year old, I believe. There is still a lot to think about though. Nonetheless, I am about to take a plunge that, to me, is a huge test of strength in parental skills and personal ideals. I have to know, before I commit, that I will be like those smart parents with smart kids at my son's school who are in control of their TV and not the other way around — and I will remind myself that it is all about balance.