We got rid of our TV in early 2009. We were staging our house to put it on the market, and trying to make it feel as big and open as possible. So the TV and the table it was on were banished into storage. When we moved a few months later, we opted to leave the TV behind, and have been without it for the last 16 months.
Obviously, that means we don’t pay for cable or satellite TV. We have cable internet (a necessity since we work from home and do all of our work over the internet), and we also have a $9/month Netflix subscription. Between Netflix and a laptop, we have no need for a TV or traditional programming at all. There’s no hulking entertainment center in our living room. In fact, our living room only contains seating (a chair, couch, and loveseat that we got from my husband’s aunt when she replaced her furniture last year), a footstool, a big plant, a little cabinet to hold our son’s books, and a coffee table. It’s a relatively large room, and I love how open it feels. It’s very inviting – plenty of comfy places to sit – and encourages conversation and togetherness, since the seating all faces each other, rather than facing a TV.
When we want to watch a movie or a TV show, we set the laptop on the coffee table and either watch a DVD from the library or Netflix, or we watch something from the extensive Netflix streaming options. Yes, our screen is only 17 inches, but we thoroughly enjoy our setup, and especially like that we can take it down and put it away when we’re finished. Over the last year, we’ve seen all or part of a variety of shows: Dexter, Lost, Prison Break, Weeds, Bones…. all shows that would normally have required at least basic cable TV, and in some cases, premium channels like Showtime and HBO. And we haven’t seen a single commercial in over a year and a half. One of the major bonuses of watching TV shows via Netflix is that a show that normally takes an hour (like Lost) on regular TV only takes about 42 minutes on Netflix, because there are no commercials. I’m especially grateful for the lack of commercials lately, because I’m sure that every second one has been political mudslinging for the last couple months, and I can definitely do without that.
Our son has pretty much always lived without a TV. He was less than a year old when we got rid of our TV, and hadn’t yet figured out how to turn it on (we never turned it on when he was awake). But we have an iPod that we let him play with whenever he wants. We mostly use it as a music player and book reader, but we’ve also downloaded a bunch of free toddler games to it, and our son loves to play them. They require him to constantly interact with the game – usually they will hold his interest for about 15 minutes, and then he’s ready to move on to something else. But about a month ago, we added a Netflix app to our iPod. It allowed us to access the streaming Netflix library on the iPod anytime we had wi-fi internet access. Our son quickly figured out how to get into the Netflix app, scroll through to the kid movies, and watch whatever he wanted. We started noticing that instead of playing a game for15 minutes and then moving on to play with his blocks or read a book, he would sit and stare at the iPod, watching a movie, until we took it away from him. It was as if he was in a trance. He was glued to the screen, watching The Cat in the Hat and Dinosaur Train, over and over again. He didn’t have to think or do anything like he does with the games – there was no interaction required, so he would just sit there forever, watching movies.
I’ll admit, it did make my life easier. I was able to work without being interrupted every 3 minutes to come build a block city or read a book. I truly do understand how it gives parents a break to be able to plunk a kid down in front of a TV. And at least the Netflix movies didn’t have any commercials. But after about two weeks, both my husband and I realized that the Netflix app on the iPod had to go. Our son was never choosing to play the games anymore. Every time he picked up the iPod, he would immediately opt for a movie instead, and he rarely stopped watching until we took it away from him. So we removed the app. Our son was frustrated that day and the next, looking for the Netflix icon on the screen. But by the next day, he had forgotten about the movies. He went back to playing games on the iPod every once in a while. He stopped asking for it constantly. He went back to asking me to play with him all day long.
Our brief experiment with having quazi-TV available to our son proved to us that we made the right decision when we got rid of the TV. I know that if we had one in the living room, we would either be constantly monitoring to make sure he wasn’t watching TV, or else we would have just started to give in and let him watch it. The tiny screen on our iPod had a magnetic hold over him when it was playing a movie, and I have no doubt that a big TV screen would be the same way – probably worse. And it would have included commercials too. I’d much rather that he spend his early childhood playing in the backyard, going to the park, building cities out of blocks, and reading books. And in terms of money, our $9 Netflix subscription is definitely a lot cheaper than most cable or satellite TV packages. (No, Netflix is not paying me to write this post!)
Have any of you given up your TVs? If not, do your children seem to be hypnotized by the TV when it’s on? If you’ve kept your TV and have children, have you figured out a way to effectively limit them to little or no TV?