How does living TV-free affect your family?

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the ol' picture tube.My spouse grew up in a home without a TV due to his parents’ religious beliefs. He reports that he often felt left out and isolated at school because he never knew other kids were referring to when they talked about shows, characters, or advertisements from mainstream media.

I know times have changed in the last 30 years, what with the internets and all, and it’s probably more common for people nowadays to not have a TV. I also recognize that because of the internet, it’s easier to find ways to stay connected with various communities.

Currently, my spouse and I choose to live TV-free. As an adult, I have a sense for how that could affect me personally and socially, but I am also the one consenting to not having a TV. I can choose to download TV shows if I want to. I can look up references to things if I’m not familiar with them. But kids don’t necessarily have the choice. My spouse certainly didn’t have that choice when he was a kid. His social isolation was a direct result of his parents’ choices, and that has had a lifelong impact on him.

What I’m wondering about is how living TV-free affects your household and your social life. I’m especially curious about this for households with children, and whether (or how) you suspect it affects your kids’ social life (both positively and negatively). -Sosi

We’ve talked about getting rid of cable to watch TV online, and how not having a TV and it’s impact on a newlywed couple. But we haven’t talked about the lack of TV and its influence on families with kids. So let’s do that!

How does not having a TV influence your family and your social lives?

Comments on How does living TV-free affect your family?

  1. what i thought of in reading this is that the situation depends on luck as well. at the kindergarten my son goes to, very nature-y and offbeat, tv shows are no big deal. there is the occasional thomas-hat or cars-shirt but nothing more.
    in a place i used to work, the kids had huge discussions every breakfast about yakari or something, and some kids were clearly left out. – but then again, it´s good to get the skill to deal with feeling left out, and how to find solutions in this relatively save place that is kindergarten.
    so,i think it´s very random if your kid ends up with the “tv-crowd” or not.

  2. My house was mostly TV-free when I was growing up. My folks had this 12-inch color TV and we’d watch maybe a program or movie a week. Interestingly enough, they were okay with some video games, and we’d get an hour or so of Nintendo a day, lol. How it affected my socialization growing up? I learned to say “hmm, I haven’t seen it, tell me about it.” Sure, it was kinda embarrassing and I got made fun of a bit, but I developed mad Tetris skills, friendships with people who enjoyed storytelling, and a personality absolutely perfect for the healthcare field. Not to mention the insane amount of books I read (the love of reading remains!) I really binged on television for about a year after moving out (also binged on crap food that year). Ultimately, lack of funds got the best of me and the TV became just a vehicle for movies and video games.

    Nowadays, I wouldn’t say I’m TV-free. Thanks to Netflix (available on our Bluray player along with other free streaming services), and the ability to hook up the laptop to the television (for Hulu or specific show websites that allow free streaming of their shows), there’s plenty of television in my life. We even caved and got a digital converter, but we got it for the Superbowl and it’s only used occasionally for the news in the morning or “important” football games involving my husbands team. But we’re mostly live-TV-free. And what that means is that we have to know what we want to watch and it’s easy to stop when it’s over. We dictate the TV, it doesn’t dictate us. I don’t know what that means for our daughter – she already has a “boy” name, she’s a ginger, and she’s 33 inches tall (at 17 months – her 6’5″ dad was an even three feet at the age of two, so while I’m not sure what height she will ultimately reach, she will likely tower over her classmates), so I anticipate she will get made fun of when she gets to school, regardless of if she’s seen “the latest show”. Kids are mean sometimes, we’ve just gotta keep open communication going.

    She’s going to be different, it’s my job to reassure her that different is good even if other people can’t see it that way. Different is where new ideas are born and if no one was ever different, we would not live in this amazing world we are in. I’d bring up The Croods here, but you get the point (also, just watched that flick the other day… without the child… and I really enjoyed it). People who are mean are not worth your time. If you don’t know what someone is talking about, ask them about it. If they question why you didn’t see it, remind them you were camping and rock climbing with Uncle Boone (seriously, my brother built her a toddler rock climbing wall – which she enjoys – and can’t wait until she’s three so he can take her to the rock climbing gym) that weekend but if it’s worth watching, you’ll check it out. Also, while it feels like this time is forever, it will end. But if it’s really bad, we’ll find you a new school.

  3. We grew up with a tv and even cable, but like some people said we were very limited on what we could watch and when. My dad was really strict and would insist on educational shows as the bulk of our tv time, mostly PBS kids or discovery channel- though even if he “caught” us watching these shows, he STILL got mad we were watching at all. We were allowed to get up early and watch something called “One Saturday Morning” cartoons (kid-friendly shows like Recess and Hey Arnold that played early on saturday mornings), which was nice sibling bonding time before he woke up. We weren’t allowed to have console video games but we did have computers, and were allowed to play education games and even a few just for fun ones like the Sims. They had really slow dial-up until I was a junior in high school so I missed out on a lot of the chat rooms and online games that became popular when I was in middle school. He even disapproved of fiction books because we weren’t “challenging ourselves,” but we put our feet down on that one, there was no way we were giving up our fantasy worlds!- he still took them away and made us read math books from time to time, that was really sucky. If I had to be honest, while I appreciate that my parents didn’t let us veg out in front of the tv, we all found the rules annoying and ridiculous. We are all avid readers and never had to be encouraged to pick up a book, we all played sports and did well in school, so the restrictions and monitoring was really unappreciated and frankly unfair. Children should be allowed to play video games or enjoy the latest age-appropriate sitcom, and unless they’re reading porno mags at age five you should let your kids read what they want. Entertainment definitely needs to be in moderation and shouldn’t come at the expense of real friendships or grades, but when you are too strict your kids will resent the rules and take advantage of you being gone. Whenever my dad was away my mom and us kids would sit in front of the tv ALL DAY just because we could. One of the worst parts was not being allowed to see movies and shows that he considered inappropriate for our ages, and I swear he was convinced we were all five for most of our childhoods. I wasn’t able to participate in many aspects of pop culture growing up, and while it didn’t scar me, it definitely gave me an unhealthy obsession with binging on entertainment when I moved out. I still struggle with tempering my addiction to the internet with a need for sleep/work as an adult. Trust your kids to make good decisions and use your authority as a parent to help them learn self-discipline. It’s a balance.

  4. I like the balance we have – we have a tv, it is not plugged into the aerial, but is plugged into the xbox. So you can’t just turn the tv on and watch whatever mindless crap is on, but if we want to see something we watch it on iplayer through the xbox. You have to make a conscious decision to watch something, and you don’t get so much advertising.

  5. My sister and I grew up with limited TV access and I don’t ever remember feeling any sort of social ramifications because of it. When I was single I had no TV at all and loved it because I’d actually get things done, like cleaning the house and reading books that I wanted to read. Now my husband and I have a physical TV which we pretty much use exclusively to watch movies and occasionally play Wii, but no cable. I’m happy with this arrangement but would also be fine with no TV at all. When we do have children, we will definitely continue on the no cable route, and will limit the amount of movie watching and video game playing that we ALL do.

    I think any perceived negatives of not having TV for the children has to be outweighed by the MASSIVE benefits: more family time, greater capacity for inter-personal relationships, increased creativity, etc. In my opinion, it’s a no-brainer.

  6. Growing up, we only had two tv stations, pbs and nbc, and I probably watched a few hours of tv every couple of days. I did feel like the weird kid when everyone else was talking about various shows – or worse, just gasping in horror that I only got two channels. Which people still do, to this very day. Now it’s worse because I live in a dead zone with the new digital tv, and only signal strong enough to reach our house without satellite or cable is pbs, and my internet connection is too slow to watch anything online. I do feel left out and I am frustrated when people start talking about shows and all i can say is “I don’t watch tv”. Maybe because it’s not even really a choice for me?

    And I think I’ve swung the opposite direction after not growing up with much tv – when i was in college and had access to cable, I would keep the tv on all the time, constantly watching it late into the night because I was so fascinated by it. Even now, if I am home alone, I will immediately turn on the tv (but I’m shy of watching it around people). I agree with an earlier poster about not being able to tune out tvs in public places.

  7. Like many others, I grew up with very limited TV – mostly PBS. When we did get cable (I was in high school), I watched whatever my parents watched – for whatever reason, I never thought to watch TV on my own. As a result, I was definitely out of the loop, media-wise, and I do recall being teased about that. In eighth grade we had to practice speeches in front of the class, using random topics the teacher came up with, and of course my topic was “my favorite TV show.” I talked about Graham Kerr’s “Galloping Gourmet,” and I did get laughed at. I was also teased for saying that Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” were my “favorite music” in third grade.

    But in general, my lack of media knowledge isn’t what led to years of being bullied – it was just a little extra fodder for the bullies. So unless your kids are already getting picked on, I don’t think keeping the house TV-free will hurt them in any way.

  8. I grew up in a TV free household since the age of 10 on wards. I found I was able to keep up with references to TV shows through friends and exposure to TV outside of my home. I never felt that I was deprived or missing out on any exposure to any cultural references, in fact I feel that I gain more than my peers. We would listen to the radio and read newspapers every morning, as opposed to sitting down and turning on cartoons. My grades, as well as the grades of my siblings, improved and everyone had deep conversations instead of arguing over what to watch and then starring mindlessly at the screen for hours on end. We got to go out and experience life first hand instead of merely hearing about it or watching someone else experience it. My younger brother was probably most impacted, since my parents got rid of the TV when he was just a baby. He grew up with a very vivid imagination and a deep interest in music.
    My parents noticed a huge change in our behaviors. We became more independent thinkers and stopped asking for toys, food, makeup, etc. because we didn’t have the exposure to marketing like our peers did.
    As far as other kids bullying us for not having TV, we never experienced anything like that. We had favorite movies or music to talk about, and any TV shows we did like, we could watch outside of the house or on VHS/ DVD.
    I did sign up for cable once after moving out of my parent’s house. I canceled it less than a year after I got it because I found it was a huge waste of money to pay for something I hardly used. I have been living TV free for over 20 years now and I don’t miss it one bit. With all the advancements in technology, I don’t feel like I am missing out on anything. In fact, looking back on my childhood, I am thankful my parents enriched our lives by getting rid of the TV.

  9. I grew up in a TV free household since the age of 10 on wards. I found I was able to keep up with references to TV shows through friends and exposure to TV outside of my home. I never felt that I was deprived or missing out on any exposure to any cultural references, in fact I feel that I gain more than my peers. We would listen to the radio and read newspapers every morning, as opposed to sitting down and turning on cartoons. My grades, as well as the grades of my siblings, improved and everyone and had deep conversations instead of arguing over what to watch and then starring mindlessly at the screen for hours on end. We got to go out an experience life first hand instead of merely hearing about it or watching someone else experience it. My younger brother was probably most impacted, since my parents got rid of the TV when he was just a baby. He grew up with a very vivid imagination and a deep interest in music.
    My parents noticed a huge change in our behaviors. We became more independent thinkers and stopped asking for toys, food, makeup, etc. because we didn’t have the exposure to marketing like our peers did.
    I did sign up for cable on year after I moved out of my parent’s house. I canceled it less than a year after I got it because I found it was a huge waste of money to pay for something I hardly used. I have been living TV free for over 10 years now and I don’t miss it one bit. With all the advancements in technology, I don’t feel like I am missing out on anything. In fact, looking back on my childhood, I am thankful my parents enriched our lives by getting rid of the TV.

  10. I was born 1984. I remember when we got a TV with color, and then later one with a remote. We never had cable, though I would watch Nick at my grandparents’. For some reason, Nick at Night only showed the same 4 episodes of whatever I was watching that I don’t even remember anymore–whatever their rerun schedule was, it was the same as the schedule of me going over to visit. My parents still don’t have cable, though they have a pretty cool digital antennae set-up.

    I do remember occasionally feeling left out, and saying “Oh, I don’t have cable.” I hated missing episodes of things I watched, or scheduling my life around the TV schedule. When I got my first apartment all by myself, I felt all grown up and part of the world because I got cable TV…… and then realized how fucking bored I was. There was 20 times the channels and still nothing on, I only used it for noise! So I started watching TV shows as they came out on DVD, and TV scheduling stopped consuming my life. Now, I consume my TV almost exclusively over Netflix. There’s always something to watch, and I can watch it at my leisure. Without the pressure of always being caught up, I don’t have to worry about spoilers, either–I’ve just finished season 4, by the time I get to season 7 I will probably have forgotten! Plus, no worries about crap like “I need to study for this test, but the new Star Trek comes on in 5 minutes!” Well, Star Trek can wait until tomorrow.

    Programming these days is so huge that if someone doesn’t watch a show I don’t think anyone is surprised. It’s like, even little kids totally understand that there isn’t enough time to watch everything. I just don’t think it’s as big a deal as it was when I was a kid, and I’m perfectly comfortable making the decision for my kid that they’re going to do something besides be glued to a TV all the time. Don’t get a pop culture reference? Let mama show you how to google that shit.

  11. Am I the odd one out that doesn’t think TV is bad for children? I don’t think the problem is that kids watch TV (although if it means no physical activity it is) its that kids sometimes are taught to engage intellectually with a show the way that you interact with a book. *I* don’t sit dumbly while watching TV… I think about the characters and what’s going to happen next… TV watching is as passive as you let it be.

  12. My daughter is growing up TV free. She watches 30-90 minutes of TV like programing on my iPod each week. Over all it has not caused many issues as far as we know. She knows Dora from books and she can tell you about the latest episode of “conversations with my 2 year old”.
    I will admit that my firm and unwavering NO DISNEY Princess rule has probably hurt her socially more than us not owning a TV ever will. The girls in her class are downright cruel to her over her lack of knowledge of all things Bell and Aurora.

  13. We had a television set when I was growing up–no channels whatsoever. We had a VCR and so could watch movies, but that was it. I grew up just fine. I spent my time reading, playing with Barbies and American Girl dolls and Muffy dolls (please tell me I’m not the only one who remembers those!), and doing craft projects. In elementary and middle school, I often got the “how do you LIVE without TV????” reaction, and I’d just shrug and say something fresh like, “I breathe in and out” or (if I was feeling nice) “I read a lot.”

    We just got cable this past winter, because it was cheaper to get a bundle of phone-TV-internet, but we very rarely use it (if I’m free Tuesday nights I’ll watch Agents of SHIELD on the TV, otherwise I watch it on Wednesday online) and for the most part I watch all my shows online. I definitely don’t want my kids watching tons of TV–I’d love to not have it at all, but I’m willing to compromise and watch certain shows together as a family. Otherwise, it will stay off and they can find other ways to entertain themselves.

  14. It’s just my husband and I, and we don’t have TV. Any shows we like to watch are available online. Sometimes I feel out of the loop when it comes to local news, but that’s about it. And even then, we still end up hearing things through the grapevine, so I’m not at a total loss.

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