Sunday, February 13, 2011

Piece of Advice #87: Ditch the TV

And its corollary, Piece of Advice #87b: Don't let your kids watch TV

Television has become so ghastly, so utterly depraved in so many different ways, it's surprising we are not hearing a regular denouncement of it from the collective pulpit and other organizations which promote decency.

When I was a kid the rule in our house was you had to read an hour for every hour of TV - which automatically cuts the number of potential hours watching TV in half and, really, even further because even a voracious reader is only going to bank so many hours for, say, Saturday morning. Also, there were only five channels, two of which were the same network and one of which was PBS, and the VCR didn't make its appearance until I was in high school. As a result I never developed much of a TV habit.

We had cable when we were first married because my husband liked the political/economic analysis channels, but we cancelled it because he found watching on a regular basis provoked a lot of anger and anxiety. I hardly ever watched because I'd flip through the channels and find nothing I was remotely interested in. I was much more entertained reading.

There are four main benefits from not watching TV:

  1. You are spared the advertising and thus the pressure to constantly want and buy things that are utterly unnecessary for happiness.  No doubt I've saved countless dollars just from ignorance.  From a parent's perspective, my kid also is unaware of how much stuff I'm not buying him and more or less happy with what he's got.  I notice this benefit when I give him soup, a roll, and a cup of tea after school for a snack and he gobbles it up, smacks his lips, and asks for more.  He does not demand Dora the Explorer fruit roll ups or what have you.  He did ask for a Batman lunchbox this fall when he saw one in Meijer, but - well, let's face it, who wouldn't want one of those?  Batman is cool.
  2. You are spared the constant barrage on your traditional morals and values.  The funny, cool people on television are very frequently cruel, spiteful, stupid, promiscuous, and selfish, and every cutting edge show pushes a sexual agenda contrary to real Christian or Jewish beliefs.  The writers of these shows know that if they can make their characters sympathetic, the viewer will cut them a break when they do something immoral because they like them.  Every episode watched then is an assault on any solid moral standards as we struggle to pass judgment on the actions of "people" we like.  Can anyone doubt this has an effect in real life situations?  The most dangerous type of person to a collective moral standard is a "nice" person who behaves immorally because we don't like to condemn the behavior of nice people.  But if it is immoral, we really have to.  Excising TV from your life will at least eliminate this dilemma from one area of your life.  As a parent, if you do not let your child watch TV, you have a far greater ability to shape what they believe without unwanted intrusion.  You will not be inviting immoral people into your house, and you will not have to answer so many difficult questions until your child is at least old enough to understand nuance.  Essentially, you can guide them according to your own beliefs until their moral compass has been fully created.
  3. You will not be tempted to enjoy the humiliation of real people or feel superior to them.  The rise of reality TV has essentially been the reappearance of the freak show, writ large.  We would be ashamed to peer at and mock people with physical deformities, but we don't hesitate when it's people with no sense, no intelligence, or no morals.  Some of the people on reality TV shows are true sociopaths or actual villains, but most of them are stupid, undisciplined, or morally malformed, often due to the kind of bad parenting we see all too often.  If we cannot help them, we can at least not elevate or celebrate them, watching happily as they inevitably crash and burn on the public stage.
  4. You will have much more time to do actual worthwhile things.
I have a television, but it is old and I do not have a converter box (and did not have an antenna before that).  All the television we watch comes either from the library or we own it.  In this way I have total control over what my son and I watch.   We do watch the occasional educational program, and he has a little library of VHS tapes I've approved for his entertainment (I have one as well).  It would have been a lot easier for me to let the TV babysit him sometimes, but I'm glad I've done it this way.  The long-term rewards far outweigh the temporary ones.  

It's been so long since we've had TV that I am frankly astounded by what they allow on TV when I see it  at other people's houses.  We are nearly to the gladiatorial games level as a society here, and it's frightening how easily we've embraced this.


  1. This is one of those things where Mr. and Mrs. need to be on one accord.

    Thankfully, 80% of what we watch is Cooking channel, Discovery, Science channel, DIY, etc. 10% news (I've cut back, I was going nuts), 10% entertainment (PBS, etc).

    I have been talking to my husband about losing cable to save money and because the couple of shows we do watch can usually be seen online at some point.

    You're right, though. Life is better without TV. My young kids are mostly out of step with all the latest and greatest trends because when they do watch, it's PBS (no advertisements) and no more than 1 hour a day.

    I agree with you that we, as a society, embrace filth far too easily.

  2. It's pretty much fundamental to my family life at this point, and I do enjoy watching TV with my flatmate whilst we have dinner. I suppose I'm too hedonistic to give it up completely, even though I'm pretty aware of how I constantly need to internally monitor my values compared to the media. It does help I watch Arab TV from different parts of there as well (and maybe some Bollywood), and the varied cultural perspectives keeps my head on straight.

    But when I do found my own family household, I'd definitely do my best with the mister to find several pursuits that aren't TV-related; I also thought of the tv/reading rule when it came to kids, and to change it up with radio and reading out loud to each other.

  3. I haven't owned a TV in years. I didn't get cable at my last apartment, because it was either that or the garage for my bikes; I chose the garage for my bikes. Besides, I can watch things I REALLY want to see (e.g. auto racing like F1, NASCAR, etc.) online, and this is becoming easier every day...

  4. Oh, now that I can afford cable at my new house (mortgage is cheaper than rent was by a long shot), I no longer miss TV. I don't have the time to watch much of it anyway. If I REALLY want to see something, I've usually been able to find it online anyway...

  5. I tossed the telly back in '05 after my then 5 yo S1 happened to catch a snippet of a booty video on BET. Imagine how difficult it is to explain rump-shaking to a 5 yo boy that you only have a few weeks a year?

    Out that TV went.

    We only got it back recently because our apartment complex gives our cable to us for free. So, while it spends the majority of time on PBS in the AM and History or HGTV in the PM, it still is a vehicle to drag terrible values into our home.

    And after I lost the TV way back then, I didn't really miss it. We had much better things to do with our time.

  6. We have a TV, but it's used mostly for video games for me and my oldest son (6yo). Other than that, we use it to watch Netflix. I prefer Netflix over network, because once the show is over it just stops. With regular TV there's always something on. It makes TV watching a more active rather than passive experience.

    Up until a couple weeks ago, we didn't even have an antenna. My wife wanted to watch the Super Bowl, so we bought one for that. We've watched a few shows, but it is quite alarming what networks think is appropriate for children to watch. A couple days ago we had to turn off the children's show "Arthur" (based on the books many of us read as kids) because the titular character thought he was getting fat and had to go on a diet.

    My wife watches a lot less now that she's got her Nook back (from being repaired). I only watch if it's a show we both like, and there are very few of those. Otherwise, I'd much rather do something more productive with my time.

    Overall though Grerp, I agree with you, it is best to just ditch the whole thing. If I didn't love video games so much, I probably would have a long time ago.

  7. Got rid of the TV and replaced it with an LCD projector. Regardless, kids need to get out more and play more "Super Sucker" and they don't need no damn government money for it;

  8. Young Christian woman here. I used to see everything on TV and on the Internet but lately I've been cutting back and choosing this or that. Reasons 1, 2 and 4 were the most influencial with 3 a close behind. I don't want to go into debt and I have to spend on things I need and not waste money. I have more time to be balanced and live with watching TV, reading books and going on the Internet while not being an addict anymore. Hey I have a life. I don't like people or things that are contrary to what is good or what is moral and insult God. What you watch will influence what you think and in turn what you do and believe. At the end now I remember the stupidity of some reality TV shows. Sure some are cool and excellent but some are awful.

  9. Some studies have suggested that TV-watching can be harmful to the mental development of young children **irrespective of the content**, if it's all well-done educational programs, it can *still* be harmful.

  10. Gladiatorial Games...In high school, we read a story called "The Most Dangerous Game", about an island where people could, for a fee, hunt human prey--to the death.

    I don't have much doubt that if there were a way to do it without legal liability, someone would open such a facility, and at least one US network would happily show the hunts on live TV.

  11. Since you can find anything you want to watch on the internet (and I mean anything; i have come across live streaming of soccer games featuring teams from Africa), there is little point to having a television, in my humble opinion. I watch a decent amount of "TV" online or on DVD, and have never once felt compelled to buy a television.

    Most of what's on TV is junk, but I have found some good shows that are intriguing and thought-provoking. Of course, I can watch them all on hulu, so I still don't feel compelled to buy a TV or get a cable subscription.

  12. "I hardly ever watched because I'd flip through the channels and find nothing I was remotely interested in. I was much more entertained reading."

    Yes, same here. We initially got cable, because it provides comprehensive coverage of football matches (hubby and I being great fans of Oz footy rules- AFL.)

    We rarely watch the tv however. Nothing seems to interest me. I like the cooking shows and documentaries, but don't get that much time to watch them. Hubby would often watch the news because there was twentyfour hour coverage..But, he has been so busy with work lately, that after he finishes in his office he hits the sack..

    Thankfully my young autistic son, has little interest in television..He likes watching music videos, though.

    My daughter can go from one week to the next and not watch tv.. It's restricted in our household.
    When she does watch it I make sure the programmes are suitable ones.

    What really concerns me, though, is not television so much as computer use with regards to kids.

    My daughter is basically a good kid, but I would never allow her unsupervised access to the computer. As far as I am concerned the computer is a far greater tool for corruption of our youth, than is the television..

    With the television, you at least know what you will be getting on each channel.

    Not always so with the computer.

    Even I, on occasion have inadvertantly come across sites that have made me blush..

  13. "Know your enemy."....."Ignorance is bliss." Soooo?

  14. No TV here, either.

  15. great post Grerp. I agree with you, TV, and every form of it causes more harm than good. tv to me is anything where a story is being told visually on a screen, so watching no "TV" but spending hours and hours a week watching shows online, playing video games and watching one inane clip after another on youtube just does not count. imagine what could be done with that time. where the messages being absorbed supported good morals. i personally struggle with reducing and eliminating watching TV, and all it's forms, from my life. to me it almost feels like a substance I am addicted to, i love watching it, and there was a time when i couldn't imagine my life without is just so easy to watch. so thank you for this post, i will start trying again, i really want TV out of my system by the time i have kids.

    a helpful site fro anyone interested is it rates movies with a moral compass far more in tune with God than the one used in Hollywood.

    ideally i think TV should be watched less than once a month and only to be studied. so that we can be aware of the direction the world is heading. i know a devout man who watched Devil Wears Prada as almost a study, as a practice in knowing your enemy. It's just a lighthearted movie about a girl in the fashion world, but when watched critically much can be learned, things like how comfortable people are with premarital sex. i think messages like this is what make TV more dangerous than web surfing, because online if you come across an adult website or some disgusting advertisement, you are repulsed and start clicking frantically to get the hell out of there. but with tv it's often hard to tell good from bad. neither tv nor the internet should be available to children without parental supervision. for adults tv and internet should be used with limits and caution.

  16. No tv or radio (or any push media, period) in the house. I simply don't miss it at all - it's insane that people tolerate push media at all in this day and age.

    I used to work a job where I would spend large amounts of time away from home and would watch tv only in bursts after long is simply amazing how fast it is imploding and you really don't notice unless you step away for a half year or so.

  17. there's been recent discussion of "emotional porn", which includes but is not limited to romance novels, but also includes TV.

    I honestly want your opinion on this, and how to approach those dangerous waters.

  18. Bhetti - Are you talking about the piece at Roissy's? If the argument is that porn keeps men from forming normal, natural relationships with women which is bad for society, I think he (they?) have a point about romance novels and chick flicks. The point of romance novels is not (necessarily) to get off sexually. I say necessarily because romance has become more and more pornographic (and financially successful) over time and especially in the past two decades. I've said before that romance novels are addictive. Many readers read them and only them. They don't want stories with unhappy endings and they don't want stories written by men. They want to more or less inhabit through fiction a world where super alpha men are tamed by average women and worship at their feet while still staying sexy and dangerous. Many of the most loved heroes in romance novels employ game techniques and women love reading about them because they can vicariously have and keep a man like this, if only in a book. The pump and dump reality is ignored. Women come out ahead - not men.

    To make the argument equivalent, you'd have to prove that women participate less in natural, normal relationships with men because of the books they read and movies they watch. I think you could make a case for that. I've heard women "confess" that they are less satisfied with their husbands or boyfriends the more they read romance. We women already have a tendency to ignore less showy men. If we feed ourselves a steady diet of romances which are filled with men like this, is the guy next door or across the way going to look as attractive?

    I don't think romance novels are the same as porn. For one thing, porn exploits real live people, grinding them up for the viewing pleasure of others. I also think you can read love stories without suddenly becoming dissatisfied with men or your man. But a steady diet of romance or even a threshold level of romance for women who are unaware that romance isn't reality can damage your ability to see and appreciate life as it really. Or that's my opinion, at least. Hope that helps. :)

  19. Thanks for what you said; you're an expert in a way I'm not, given how relatively limited my interaction is with the romantic community and the genre in terms of my lifetime. I didn't refer specifically to roissy to keep it open-ended, but that was probably too open-ended.

    I did think it was about balance when it comes to emotional porn. It's difficult to analyse it, because it's not rare for to skip sex scenes (getting less and less rare as they're increasingly sexualised) but that doesn't mean the emotional story itself doesn't cause a sexual response. I don't think that's the sole attraction, but it is an appreciable one for many. It does depend on the content and the person.

    I do think romance novels and chick flicks when enjoyed in a balanced way are great for us; making us more creative, inspiring and enthusiastic about our love lives in all aspects. Abusing them -- an example is the way you said -- is a problem. Losing perspective to me is a problem of inbuilt ideology and training as well as encouraged by these flicks; that said, false expectations is a persvasive problem in the media.

  20. Porn is a much bigger money maker both locally and globally than romance novels.

  21. We have no TV due to most reasons already mentioned, but I also wanted to remove a temptation that would cost me, the adult male in the house, a lot of time.

  22. I don't watch TV because I believe that the thoughts I put in my mind are at least as important for my well-being as the food that I put in my body.

    I am always shocked how the content broadcast on TV never seems to be questioned by ANYONE! It seems to me that no one thinks that the thoughts and images you put into your mind have any influence on your actions. Yet, there are plenty of studies in the fields of education and psychology that indicate a connection. If TV has no power to persuade, then why would companies spend so much money on ads and product placements? If corporate America is banking on the fact that they can get you to drink a Coke by showing you one, why doesn't anyone pause to consider the psychological impact of watching repeated acts of gruesome violence? People seem to shrug it off casually and say "its just fiction" and "if you don't like it, don't watch it."

    Furthermore, it is strange that there is such little debate or introspection about the products of American popular culture and what they say about us as a nation, especially in a global society.

    Every time I engage with the mainstream media, be it TV, pop music, news...I am struck by the similarities to the decadence at the end of the Roman Empire! It was great to see that I am not totally alone. Thanks for this great post!