Author Archives: pjptacek

Turning On The TV After 14 Years

In November of 1999, with three children ages eight weeks to four-years-old, we turned off our TV. In December of 2013, with four children ages ten to eighteen, we turned it back on.

I couldn’t remember the exact reason why we turned off the TV. My kids went to a Waldorf-inspired preschool, Morning Light. It was a sweet, one-room schoolhouse style establishment, in the basement of a church. The teachers wore skirts. The kids baked bread and did water color paintings. They read picture books with no words and didn’t need to learn the alphabet or numbers. Each child was assigned a symbol so they didn’t need to spell their names.

They only played with wooden and fabric toys. Gigi, the owner, had been encouraging the families of her students to turn off their TVs. I remember thinking, “Does she have kids? She’s crazy!”

I had spent a lot of time battling my kids over the TV. I couldn’t get them to go outside to play. We were often late for school because they need to finish a show. I didn’t like seeing my four-year-old stretched out on the couch in front of the TV. He looked too much like my sixty-four year old mother who did the same thing. I couldn’t watch the news because Peter danced in front of the TV until I gave up and let him put his show on. I had had it by the time Turn Off The TV and Pick Up A Book Week in November of 1999 came around.

My husband and I decided to take the challenge. We unplugged the TV. Peter followed me around for two weeks begging for a show. He finally convinced his two-year-old sister to go behind the cabinet and plug it in. It fell out of the cabinet. Thankfully no one was hurt. I pronounced the television probably broken and put it up in the attic. The only time I saw that TV again was when we sold it in a garage sale before moving from New Jersey to Tennessee.

I felt so strongly about being TV free that I wrote an article, Adjusting to an enriching life without television, which was published in the Observer-Tribune in 2001.

Over the years, the kids would ask for a TV. They told us they wouldn’t have friends over because they were embarrassed that we didn’t have a TV. In 2006 my husband felt strongly that the kids should see the Olympics. We borrowed a neighbor’s spare TV and got cable for a month. Another neighbor, a former Mr. Tennessee, helped us carry it to our house. He thought the situation so ridiculous he offered to buy us a new one.

Years later, we tried to stream the Super Bowl on a computer. It kept buffering so it was difficult to watch. We couldn’t see the commercials so we had to Google them on another computer. The kids were pissed. After that fiasco, I promised, without consulting my husband, that once Max, who was then eight, was firmly entrenched in reading, we would reconsider our no-TV stance.

While the kids slept last Saturday, I removed my lovely Jean Graham painting of a sheep farm in Mendham, NJ to make room for our long lost foe. The appliance guys came and installed it on the wall of my cozy family room. My husband and I had deliberated about where to put the TV, basement or family room?

We went with family room. I wanted us to be together as a family, watching shows like I did in the 70s. We used to get our ice cream and head to our basement family room and watch The Waltons, The NBC Mystery Movies and Disney. Was this a fantasy now that my kids are eighteen, sixteen, fourteen and ten? As soon as the TV was up, I felt only trepidation.

What was I thinking? I felt a desperate urge to read the article I had written twelve years ago. I dug through my stuff and found it. We had gotten rid of the TV because it had taken over our life. Why didn’t I re-read that article before I convinced my husband to go along with my plan?

I look at our new TV as I walk through the family room, plotting how I can hide it. Can I talk my husband into a $5,000 to $10,000 cabinet cover for a television he didn’t want in the first place? This has already cost us over $2000 and we haven’t even gotten the cable hooked up. I keep wishing the farm painting were still in its place.

Adjusting to an enriching life without television

Published in the Observer-Tribune on 3/29/01

Is live worth living after chucking your television? You bet.

We how have a calmer, slower-paced home. It’s quiet. I have creative, busy and happy children. My husband and I have time to sit and talk, read, and eat quiet dinners together. We get our stuff done around the house and do fun activities with our kids.

We turned off the television 15 months ago, when our children were ages 4, 2 and 8-weeks-old. Turning the TV off has given my family a life it loves. I have been able to keep the TV off because having no TV is easier than having TV.

There are many articles out there that say television viewing in young children is damaging. I don’t know for a fact if that is true. But I know for myself that since turning off the TV my children are more pleasant and my life is easier.

Since we have removed the television and VCR from our lives (they are in the attic and we cancelled cable) meal times are a time for talking, laughing and eating. There is no TV viewing during any meals. There is no rushing from the table to catch the next show.

Playtime is a time for playing with toys, games, doing arts and crafts, reading books or running around outside. Bedtime is a time for unwinding, reading books, praying and going to sleep.

Our life was not always like this. My husband and I used the TV as an electronic babysitter for hours at a time. It was easy to let our kids sit in front of the TV while we did household chores or hobbies. It was certainly more convenient than reading to them or playing with them. It was certainly more convenient than reading to them or playing with them. We had to force the kids to go outside and play and then only stayed out for a short time.

My children rarely went down to their playroom. My 2-year-old wandered around with nobody to play with while her 4-year-old brother was glued to the TV.

Because my kids rushed from meals to see a show, I started feeding them meals in front of the TV. My hope was that they’d sit longer and eat an entire meal. I had to fight with them to leave the house on time to get to school or to an appointment. They didn’t want to leave until the show was over.

My husband and I ate meals in front of the TV on Thursdays because there wasn’t time to get the kids to bed, eat dinner and make Friends. Now when he comes home form work we have a glass of wine, talk, eat dinner, read the newspaper or books.

I am an artist. While my 5 year-old is at school, my 3-year-old and I dash down to my studio while the baby sleeps. She will paint or sculpt with Play-Doh for the 90 minutes we are down there. She will sit with books for a half hour while I need to prepare lunch, fold laundry or handle a phone call.

When asked, the big kids will entertains the baby when I need them to. I have explained to them that we are family and everyone needs to chip in at times.

No TV has given me peace. It has given me time with my husband. It has given me more reading time, exercising time, cooking time, kid time.

It has inspired me to take my kids to museums, to New York City, to parks and to the library regularly. As I hoist a bag with 15 to 20 books over my shoulder each week, I know I am doing something great for my kids.

My husband works long hours and is not here for breakfast and dinner with the kids and often not for bedtime. On weekends the time he does spend with the children is spent playing, talking and reading.

Everyone asks, “What do you do with the kids when you need to get something done?” My response is “Nothing.”

Since they are not in front of the TV all of the time, they are more cognizant of what is going on in the house. They understand that I have certain things that I need to get done, like cooking dinner, doing laundry or caring for the baby.

They have become very self-motivated. They play for long stretches of time without my having to get involved. I plan things when the baby naps. If I am making a more involved meal, the kids join me. I give them an apron and a spoon.

I turned off the TV for many reasons. As far as my kids were concerned, I didn’t like certain behaviors I attributed to excessive TV watching. I didn’t like my son’s asocial behavior. I didn’t like the demands for food and toys they saw on TV. I didn’t like that they were not interested in reading books. I didn’t like that they didn’t play much inside or out.

It irked me to see my 4-year-old boy stretched out on the couch for hours at a time. I didn’t like my constant fighting with them over their TV viewing.

In myself, I didn’t like that I was not speaking or interacting with my kids enough. I didn’t like that I was not reading to them. I didn’t like that the use of TV was about my needs and not theirs.

I feel that the television desensitizes children and taking it away makes them more appreciative of their surroundings. They sleep well at night. They love books. They play, play, play. Crayons can keep them occupied for an hour. They love to go outside. They build. They get excited by a trip to the ice cream store, pizza place or museum. They get excited about books.

It took me about four months to go TV free. I vacillated between leaving it on and turning it off. I tried to limit my children’s watching to an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. Fights ensued when it was turned off. My son would beg me throughout the day to watch a show. I spent a lot of energy fighting over the TV, thinking about the TV and trying to plan my days around TV shows.

As the years went on, their watching grew. When I had my third child, I found that I was letting them watch TV after dinner. By the time my son was 4, he no longer wanted to watch PBS, just Nickelodeon and other stations I don’t even know the names of. When my son watched eight hours one Saturday while my husband and I got things done, I realized that I could no longer ignore the problem.

But at the same time I still felt, “How can I take Little Bear away from Peter, he loves it so much.”

During Turn Off the TV And Pick Up A Book Week, we turned the TV off and then my 2-year-old tried to plug it back in. It fell out of the cabinet. No one was hurt. It was a blessing in disguise. I told the kids, “It may be broken.” We never turned it on again.

The first two weeks of TV free can be the most difficult. It is an adjustment for everyone. You may have to do more reading, arts and crafts, etc. to entertain your kids.

They will ask you when it is going back on. After awhile they stop asking for the TV. They will also stop asking you for things to do. They will play with their toys. They will color and read. I think having fewer choices makes it easier for them to just play.

What is the downside to being TV Free: We are not up on the latest breaking news. We read the paper, listen to the radio and talk to friends and family who keep us informed.

I can think of no other downside to not having a TV, unless you think spending more time with your kids and having more time for yourself and your spouse is a negative.

Being TV Free has given me all the simple things life had to offer before its invention. But most importantly, I have kids that act like kids.

Published in the Observer-Tribune on 3/29/01