It all started pretty innocently. It was a really cold winter, and it felt like it would never end. I had a little baby/toddler (not sure what you define a 1-year old as), I was still nursing constantly (day and night…even more at night than day), I was homeschooling two rugrats who would prefer to not do any schoolwork whatsoever and teaching Jazzercise five or more times a week. I was exhausted and worn down. I was (still am, really), a typical tired mom. No different than any other parent or busy working guy or gal burning the candle at both ends.
We’ve never been a big TV family. It’s never on in the evening, it’s never on during meals. I went through a small stint of watching the news before the last presidential election, but that amount of media was sucking my soul dry, so I swore off of all “news” TV (best decision, BTW. If you are addicted to morning “news” shows, you should quit–you will live a happier life).
At first the extra TV started with a “reward” for a good day of school. This “reward” was mutually beneficial: The silent TV watching gave me a minute of peace to clean up, feed a baby, or get something done. It was cold, after all. It felt like the sub-zero temperatures would never end. If you have spent any amount of time in the heartland, you know how cold winters can be. And how they seem to go on…and on…and on.
Before this winter, the boys were watching two-ish short shows per week. Slowly but surely, this winter, it crept up a little more. First it was just a Leapfrog language video for Harrison…after all, he’s not great at his letters and sounds, I would tell myself. Then, it was “just one” while I took a nap. Then it was “just one” while I made dinner. Pretty soon the kids were watching a TV show (sometimes two), or a movie every day after school. Most of the time they were educational shows, and Grant, the boy that loves TV more than anyone, would always be sure to tell me what he learned that day on WildKratts and some random statistic to impress me. It worked (or at least help me rationalize my guilt about letting them watch TV).
Maybe it was what I had to do at the time to stay sane. Maybe I should have cut myself some extra slack, as I did have a time-consuming baby to keep up with. I was tired. It was cold. We were inside a lot. Boys get the wiggles very easily, and if you are not careful, you will have an American Ninja Warrior episode happening in your living room before you know it. The amount of yelling and physical energy in little boys will make you question your sanity very quickly.
Don’t get me wrong. We did go outside, we did play in the snow, we did do our schoolwork, we did play with lots of Legos and games. But we also watched TV–just a “little bit”–each day. But there was always a little nagging guilt on my part. I never forgot some of the studies from my college years of children from the Appalachian mountains that actually became less intelligent after the introduction of a TV into their homes. Researchers were certain these kids would have a boosted IQ from educational TV that only provided Sesame Street. Turns out they were wrong. And I never forgot that. And it nagged at me.
Spring finally came. I never thought it would. It was a very beautiful spring, and I was so happy to get the boys out of the house more often. They needed more exercise. They needed to run outside more. They needed to breath fresh air and run and scream and not get get yelled at for being too loud.
Guess what happened? They were “bored.” “Play Legos,” I would say. “No…that’s boring, we did that already,” they would respond. “Why don’t you go outside–it’s a beautiful day!” I would say. “We don’t want to, there’s nothing to do out there…” was the reply. “Can we watch a little bit of TV?” they would ask. It was starting to frustrate me. They had a complete lack of desire to do anything other than sit on the couch as a passive viewer.
One day after letting the boys watch a PBS show, I noticed something. Anytime they watched TV, their imagination, their desire to explore and discover, their desire to run and play was totally squelched. Maybe that’s not true of all kids, but it was like that box on the wall was sucking away all of their creative energies. Nothing could compare to the blessed moving picture screen.
Something in me snapped. The next morning when the boys asked to watch another show, I impulsively proclaimed, “No more TV. I’ve decided it’s going to be a no-TV summer.” Grant, of course, being the TV-lover than he is, wasn’t impressed by my proclamation. He was irritated but played it cool. I think he thought it wouldn’t stick.
I was nervous. The first week or two was rough. It’s hard for me to remember, exactly, but I think there were some tears, some stomping away, and some sharp words. There were some withdrawal symptoms, for them (and me, to be honest). But we made it.
Then something magical started happening: They quit asking me to watch TV. Those two little boys would tear from their bedroom upstairs, barely yelling, “we’re going outside!” before they were out the door.
There were fireflies to catch and there were swings on which to play the “who-can-fling-their-shoe-higher-while-swinging” game. There were many many strange bugs caught, pet turtles and frogs; there were garden plants to take care of; there were games in the trees. The Legos became more fun. Their game closet got a lot of use. There was much giggling, imagining, fighting, and loud voices.
Their endless energy always kept up with their endless ideas. They slept outside for a whole week in a tent. One night I yelled out the window, “boys, stop catching fireflies and go to bed!” They came streaking across the back yard, the darkness only illuminated by the light of the moon, diving into their tent, a pile full of giggles.
I realized something this summer that I would have never realized if I had not made the impulsive decision to say “no” to the TV. I realized that while educational shows may teach them something and fun shows may make them giggle and movies may slow them down for awhile, that’s not what children were meant to do.
Children were meant to run. To play, to hop, to make up silly games, to imagine they are part of Swiss Family Robinson in their treehouse. They were meant to climb trees and eat breakfast outside. They were meant to explore the world around them–to touch it with their fingers, to feel the dirt between their toes. They were meant to pick flowers, throw rocks, and roll down hills. They were meant to get a few banged-up knees and mosquito bites. They were meant to discover. They were meant to create. They were meant to explore. They were meant to run till sweat poured down their faces, stopping under a shade tree, bending over, hands on their knees, only long enough to catch their breath before running away again.
We quit letting WildKratts tell us what we needed to know about frogs, turtles, birds, and fish–and went outside and discovered them. They touched frogs, studied birds and snakes, and in the case of a few bugs, accidentally performed dissections. They experienced planting, watering, and weeding garden beds. They watched in frustration as the deer ate their green beans and shouted with glee upon discovery of the first ripe tomato. Harrison is learning the fine art of oatmeal and egg-making, and Grant is an excellent granola and pancake chef.
They are learning something in these moments that can never be experienced from a television. It can never be taught in a classroom. It can only be experienced through living.
TV is fun. But TV can never replace living life. I want my children to grow up experiencing life on their own–learning through discovery–not watching life happen to someone else on a flat screen.
Summer is winding down. Fall is on its way, and there is talk of a very cold winter ahead. I don’t know what the future holds. I am not saying, “no, never ever” to TV (shoot, they still watch it in the playroom while I work out), but I am saying yes to life. I am saying yes to living in this moment, I am saying yes to experiencing this world with our hands and feet. I don’t want to hear about how someone else experienced life–I want to live it.
I believe we only have one chance at this life. I only have one chance at having young kiddos, and I don’t want to waste these precious moments on a moving picture screen.
I will never regret the day I said, “We are having a no-TV summer.” Best decision of my summer. Hands down.
>> Sarah Pierce . . .
is a mom educating and raising three boys in the US heartland. She loves exercise, travel, and taking on remodeling projects with her husband by her side. Shopping in a home improvement store on date night sounds way more fun than dinner and a movie. You can find her blogging at sarahandtheboysblog.com, on facebook at sarahandtheboysblog or, even better, on instagram @sarahandtheboysblog.