Removing Television

I don’t consume a lot of television. Occasionally I will binge a show on Netflix. I liked the three seasons of Fargo and the first season of True Detective. I will put on some garden reality show or documentary in the background. Every now and then my wife and I stream a movie or watch some standup. But for the most part if I lived alone I would watch almost no television.

The truth is I just don’t enjoy movies or television. Compared to reading or listening to audiobooks I find the process tedious and unstimulating. I can’t thing of the last time I really enjoyed a new movie. I find streaming services like Netflix especially irritating because of the choice paralysis involved. Every time I sit down I spend forty-five minutes scrolling through the lackluster choices until I pick something I’m not really that excited to about but feel compelled to watch because I just spent forty-five minutes looking for it. I would rather spend the time reading, writing, talking, cooking, or just about anything including just sitting in silence napping.

Yesterday my wife and I were discussing children, our childhood, and parenting styles. Television screen time came up. I don’t exactly remember how the conversation developed but my wife asked me if I thought getting rid of the television would be a good idea. As in getting rid of it completely and making a living room without one as the centerpiece. The point being that we would raise Juniper free of television.

My initial reaction was immediate approval. The only one who watches it regularly is my wife so my life would remain mostly unchanged. It would be a improvement because it would force us to come up with some better activities on weekend nights and get rid of the dread of being stuck in an endless loop of deciding what to watch.

But we both have some misgiving. I grew up with unlimited screen time and no supervision over what movies and television I watched. I remember spending my afternoons watching Disney cartoons, I Love Lucy, Gilligan’s Island, The Beverly Hillbillies, and other reruns. Once I got a bit older I watched a lot of Star Trek the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Hercules, Xena, The X-Files, and a bunch of other shows I can’t even remember. My younger brother and I spent a lot of time watching television, but we also played outside, played games, skateboarded, had a lot of friends, explored, got girlfriends when we got older, and grew up to be overall successful adults. Television did not rot our brains. Well maybe a little bit.

I’m afraid that if we get rid of the television we would be depriving Juniper of the fun I had growing up. I don’t want to be that crunchy granola or fundamentalist religious parent that forces my ascetic beliefs onto my children, but at the same time I feel that modern television is pure brain garbage and is just another excessive attention deficit inducing trash pile that sucks away happiness.

With our move coming up in the next few weeks it would be the perfect time to get rid of television and change the way we interact in our living room space. So I’m really thinking this over, weighing the pros and the cons. What do you guys think, should I dump the television? Do you think I would be depriving my daughter? Let me know in the comments, I’m really interested.

15 thoughts on “Removing Television

  1. An interesting post. And an interesting conundrum for any parent. We went down the path of restricting screen time (particularly for video games – we’ve got two boys) and insisting that the boys read before they went on video games etc. With mixed results, to be honest. (They can both read very well, but only one is what I’d call a ‘reader’.) Then again, boys are very different to girls.

    That said, the boy that reads has become remarkably analytical of what he watches. He doesn’t mindlessly consume TV, but is actually quite critical of what he watches both in terms of technique and content. (He’d have been a great Media Studies undergrad, but quite sensibly chose Electrical Engineering instead.) He also spends a fair amount of time going to the gym, as well as the cinema. He’s turned out okay.

    Maybe the solution is to restrict the amount of time your daughter watches TV and engage with her about what she’s watched from time to time?

    Of course, what you and your wife do with your time matters as well. If you model yourselves as people who are not enslaved to the screen but have varied ways of interacting with one another and the world around you, your daughter may well see that as behaviour to emulate.

    You’re right about a lot of current TV being garbage or (and this is worse in some respects) technically excellent but saturated in the cynicism and immorality of our current age. That said, there’s plenty of good old stuff now available on streaming services etc. Swings and roundabouts, as they say…. 🙂

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    1. “Of course, what you and your wife do with your time matters as well. If you model yourselves as people who are not enslaved to the screen but have varied ways of interacting with one another and the world around you, your daughter may well see that as behaviour to emulate.”

      I think this is the key point. Yet it’s hard not to default to mindless netflix streeming after a long day of work. It’s really up to us to set the example.

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  2. Before our first child was born we had already cut TV out and were only using the internet. A large collection of discs and vhs tapes provided a catalogue of movies and tv shows, and streaming services allowed us to watch anything new we wanted to. Mostly. But still the conversation came up about what we wanted to let the kids watch, and what we wanted to watch around the kids.

    Like you mentioned, we grew up watching TV as well. I’d say we turned out ok. We wanted to be able to watch some of those old shows with the kids.

    I decided to set up a media center on a PC using a free program called Kodi and hooked it up in the living room. From there we can watch our movie and tv show collection on the TV. The kids, when they’re old enough, have a huge selection to choose from.

    You can always do the same thing with a DVD or Blu-ray player and a shelf full of discs too.

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  3. My wife and I cut cable back in 2011 and just have Netflix, Hulu, and now Amazon prime. The thing is, we still have a TV but watch it maybe four or five times per week. We are also able to find all the stuff you mentioned on those services or on YouTube. We feel like we’re missing nothing because modern cable TV is so terrible.

    So while we have a TV, it’s not the centerpiece of our home life. I’d keep the device if I were you. I’m telling you, once you cut cable you won’t watch that much TV and it’ll feel like Twitter—you’ll hardly notice it’s not there.

    Back in our day you COULD watch TV and be relatively certain bad messages weren’t being pumped into your children’s brain. The bad messages were generally more geared towards adults, or were very subtle. Now it’s a different world on children’s TV. A world largely run by pedophiles. I think your daughter will be just fine without broadcast cable.

    Best of luck whatever you do!

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    1. I actually cut cable way back in 2008. Used Neflix from day one. But it’s still sorta a centerpiece of our livingroom, and we constantly default to it as what to do on a friday night. My big fear is that it will become the default for the kid. I guess that its on me to control that impulse.

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  4. I grew up in my younger years without TV, which means I never warched Sesame Street. I didn’t watch as a teenager or much in my 20s either. That leaves my middle school years and the current ones as the only binge-watching ones. Tbh, YouTube is a bigger addiction currently. This **** phone. I think so many years without TV has affected my writing style. I don’t think in short scenes.

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  5. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, too, Alex.

    Another part of it is the cultural element involved. There’s always a weird kid in school who isn’t allowed to watch TV or can only have sugar on the weekends or some such. I’m sure they get over it, and it may not even be all that bad. But they’ll be exposed to some of this stuff just from growing up and having friends. But then again, is that a good reason to have it in your home – just because other parents do?

    It’s a tough thing to parse.

    I’m not sure what I’ll do about current shows when my kid(s) get older, but I’ve been collecting DVDs of shows and movies that I either liked or at least know aren’t too saturated with toxic modernity. At least they’ll be allowed to watch David the Gnome and Fraggle Rock and such…

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  6. My wife and I have been having the screen time talk as well, without much progress.

    I don’t watch sports as much as I used to, but that at least will probably always keep me from dumping TV entirely. And I would never convince my wife to lose Longhorn football.

    A computer screen is a poor substitute for a nice, big HD television.

    There is a lot of good television and a lot of good movies out there, especially now. Better, I think, to be intentional about what you consume than to cut it entirely.

    I spent a week at my in-laws over Christmas and rediscovered the joy of cable movies. Where would I be without cable as a kid? When would I have watched Tron and The Adventures of Robin Hood and all those Godzilla movies?

    Although when I was really young we didn’t have cable, just one of those truck-sized satellite dishes out back. No game consoles for a while. We had two TVs, but only because the sound on one didn’t work and the picture on the other didn’t work, so we had to stack them on top of each other to watch TV. Makes for a good story, but I can’t say it greatly enriched my inner life.

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    1. This is my conundrum. I don’t want my kid to grow up not beign part of the cultural conversation like I was. I have fond memories of watching XMen on Saturday mornings, the XFiles, and the constant reruns of Big Troule in Little China on Fox.

      But current tv seems so slanted and weirdly political.

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  7. Our house was no tv Sunday thru Thursday nights. Friday night a movie was allowed. Saturday there was no tv until after lunch and they had to chose between tv or gaming console but no more than a set number of hours for the day when combined.
    We cut the cable & went streaming only many years ago. Recently we added live tv but only for football season.
    They also had plenty of books (we bought Scholastic Books monthly for like 12 years) and go outside often. They have hobbies (scale models, tabletop gaming) and are more socially capable than most of their peers.
    TV? Don’t miss it a bit!

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  8. Alexandru,

    I also face the same dilemma. What my wife and I do is keep an eye on his TV watching and ac He watched Disney JR when he was younger. Now that he’s older we restrict his TV until he finishes his homework and we always sit and watch with him. He likes Disney XD as he like the Avengers and Spiderman cartoons I dislike Cartoon Network so I tend to really limit it. The only show I really like is a Korean one called Running man (the cartoon not the real life show)

    Overall, he’s OK and is familiar with the same or similar TV shows his schoolmates see.

    xavier

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