A couple of years ago, we were driving down to North Carolina to spend the holidays with friends and stopped to eat in Fredericksburg, Virginia. As we walked into the restaurant, our kids spotted a barely audible television glowing in the corner and adjusted their chairs so they could watch while they ate.
Dinner was unusually quiet. In fact except for the occasional, "please pass the chow mein," the kids didn't say a word. As I watched their blank stares, I remember thinking how lucky we were for not having a television at home. They looked more like zombies than three children with a day's worth of energy to blow off after being cooped up in the car for so many hours.
Raising kids without television isn't something my husband and I gave much thought to when, as newlyweds, we set up our TV-free home 18 years ago. Our decision had more to do with my husband's fear that he'd become addicted than with the effect on our future family. Still, ever since our children came along 14, 12 and 10 years ago, we've grown more convinced than ever that we did the right thing.
Not that living without a television has always been easy. Given the choice, I would rather have plunked my toddlers down in front of Sesame Street or Mr. Roger's Neighborhood than trudge to the library, especially in the middle of our Northern winters. And a TV would have saved my son more than a few tears when his fourth-grade teacher assigned homework based on the game show Jeopardy. He had no idea what she was talking about.
But any difficult days were more than made up for by the pure joy of witnessing my children's imagination take flight -- of seeing my son try to invent electricity out of sugar cubes and wire or his sister glide through the house dressed up as the "queen of the whole wide world." Even the occasional bout of boredom sparked a creative urge to arrange books on a shelf or organize a rock collection for the umpteenth time. Not having advertisers hawking the hottest toys or teaching our children which sugar-laden cereals are part of a complete breakfast made their homegrown fun that much more refreshing.
I sometimes wonder how life would have been different had we not joined that statistical one percent of TV-free households. Would our kids have become such enthusiastic readers? Would they have spent Saturday mornings making jigsaw puzzles? Would they have stuck around after supper playing games such as 20 Questions or Charades? Or would the lure of a favorite sitcom have proven too strong to resist?
Being the only kids in school without a television set at home may have felt weird at first, but today our children accept their TV-less status with nary a shrug. They're even proud of it. "We don't miss it," I often hear them tell their friends who can't imagine life without cable, let alone without the boob tube altogether.
Left to their own devices kids rarely run out of things to do. Mine are no exception. Watching them when they were preschoolers, building forts with the sofa cushions or dueling with empty paper-towel rolls, constantly renewed my faith in their ingenuity and resourcefulness -- the same qualities that television often is blamed for sapping.
Well-meaning onlookers concerned that our TV-deprived kids miss out on valuable programming needn't worry. Shows like Reading Rainbow may awaken youngsters to a world of music words numbers and nature but who says dancing in the kitchen making up skits or plain old horsing around doesn't?
As for me, I don't know whether raising children without television makes them more inventive and imaginative than TV-fed kids. But my heart tells me it can't hurt.
Would you ever try to raise your kids in a TV-free home? Share your thoughts below.