TV-Free: One Week Was All We Could Stand

(First published in The Beach Reporter on 5/21/92.)

The notice they sent home seemed benign enough. My children’s school was going to go “TV-free” for one week, and children and parents were invited to sign up. No pressure, though. If you didn’t do it, they would probably just post your family’s name in big scarlet letters on the playground fence, or assign your kid to be lunch monitor for the next year.

So, naturally, we signed up.

The first part of TV-free week was a questionnaire to be filed out by the student. (With the parent making sure the questions were answered “correctly.”)

The first questions were simple enough. How much TV do you watch each day? Do you do other things (like homework) while watching TV? Then the two clinchers: Would you rather spend time with your family or watch TV? And, would you rather give up TV for a week or your best friend? (What if your TV is your best friend, I ask you.)Let’s just say I did some heavy duty parental hovering and prodding on those last two questions.
I could hear my children thinking: A big moral dilemma. Answer truthfully and face moral judgment or put down the answers Mom and teacher want to hear.

It was a struggle for my daughter, who I know would rather watch Family Double Dare than engage in a conversation with her loving parents. My son, the staunch moralist, had no problem. The right thing to do was obvious – put down what his sister did.

Then the tough part: signing the pledge. The child could go TV-free alone, or the whole family could sign up. You people who watched The Simpsons while your children scratched at the family room door – we know who you are.

The first days weren’t too hard. Like everyone else, our schedules are so busy that we were amazed we had even ever had time to watch TV. My son’s class made a chart of ten possible activities they could engage in besides TV watching.

Each morning the children would fill in the activities they had done instead of watching TV. Like helping around the house, doing extra workbooks, and reading… (Not.)

And each morning at the school flag-raising, a student got up and spoke into the microphone about things they had done at home instead of TV-watching. “Hi, my name is Tiffany, and I’m ten. Last night my family worked on a Bible jigsaw puzzle, sang folk songs around the piano, and worked on a quilt for a homeless family.” I felt like I was at a 12-step meeting. I could see that a lot of the kids had the shakes.

We made it fine until Friday night. That was when we realized we had the next 48 hours to get through together without TV or videos. It was a pathetic sight. A family with nothing else they wanted to do but watch TV.

My husband and I started drinking, and our children engaged in a high-speed game of tag through the house, screaming at the top of their lungs.

We got out the Scrabble game, but our hearts really weren’t in it. We made it through the weekend, but none of us is speaking to one another now. That’s what you get when you force people to have good quality time together.

On Monday we signed our TV-free pledges. We had made it. I told my kids, “Watch whatever you want, you deserve it.” Like they had gone through an incredible hardship. I told them that when I was growing up, we were too poor to have a TV, and that when we were lucky enough to get a used one, it usually only had two channels, and it worked only if you smacked it on the side every two minutes. They weren’t interested.

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