Our lives are a series of choices. Some we deliberate over, others we make automatically. But as we begin to live our lives more consciously, with more attention to the details, we become increasingly aware of just how many decisions we do make in the course of every day — from what we toss into our grocery carts to the images we allow into our living rooms.
We begin to choose foods that promote healthy bodies and, in the same way, we begin to choose sensory experiences that nurture our souls. Knowing that the shape and mood we bring to a day has a deep effect on our children’s own sense of well-being, we begin to pay more attention to the atmosphere in our homes. We may become more thoughtful in our words and gestures, more deliberate as we attend to our surroundings. The challenge, of course, is to make our choices creatively, so that the details of our lives support and nourish what is best in us.
* * *
As I think back to the battles my children and I used to have over shows and times and channels and hours in front of the set — and to the vague sense of unease I felt about plopping my young children down in front of the loud, insistent sounds and images of television — I realize that the cold turkey approach was the right way for our family. After a few weeks of adjustment, we were weaned. And after that, we never looked back.
In our house, eliminating television cleared a space for the things we really care about. In fact, I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that turning off the TV was the greatest single thing my husband and I have done to foster creativity, imaginative play, and independent thinking in our children. What’s more, we realized that we suddenly felt more connected to each other and more in touch with ourselves. Somehow we got far more than we gave up. We’ve found that no TV means
- More time for music. When Henry doesn’t know what to do with himself, he goes to the piano or picks up his guitar to pass the time. He and his dad practice together every day, I’ve taken up the recorder, and Jack is the rhythm section. Many evenings we all sing and play together.
- More time for reading. We read aloud, we read alone, we read for pleasure and education. In fact, we jump down into books as if they were rabbit holes, passageways into other realms. Everyone in the family has a book going all the time.
- More time for art. There are hours for drawing and coloring and projects. Like music, art is simply part of daily life.
- More time for play.
- More compassion. Television turns us all into jaded voyeurs. When you are bombarded with violence, sex, and catastrophe, you can’t help but become desensitized to the images that wash over you. Once we eliminated that daily flood of sensory information from our lives, our own senses seemed heightened. Our children experience life fully and feel it deeply — both its beauty and its sadness.
- More time for each other. No TV has meant that we have all gotten very good at entertaining ourselves; we know how to make our own fun, how to make one another laugh.
- More time to live. We spend our days doing instead of watching; entering into real-life activity instead of disengaging from the world; creating our own images and stories instead of absorbing manufactured ones. When it’s time to relax, we do so without delivering ourselves over to the media. We open ourselves to the moment instead.
Once we see our homes as sanctuaries from a hectic world, then televison begins to feel more and more like an unsavory intruder, robbing our rooms of life and meaning, stealing our time, and preying on our souls. When it comes to TV, less is really more. Or, as my son Henry has advised me: “Just say that TV fills your head up with other people’s ideas, which means that you don’t have as much room for your own. Also, it’s a waste of time.” Words of wisdom from a product of the counterculture.
When the TV goes off, life begins.
CHALLENGE: If you haven’t done so yet, sign the pledge on our Facebook page for Screen-Free Week!