Wednesday, 27 December 2006

Life without television

My wife and I have not had a television in the house for the last seventeen years. Our oldest child is sixteen, so that means that all four of our children have grown up without television.

When I mention this to people, they express a variety of reactions, ranging from 'you must be nuts', through 'they're not really very expensive', to 'I wish I could…' A recent correspondent on an egroup wrote: "How do you do it? I would have withdrawal symptoms like Heroin withdrawals. What do you do with yourselfs? (sic) I mean my goodness! I'm in shock!! ;) "

So I propose to say a little about how we came to be such social oddities, the impact we believe it has on ourselves and others, and why acquiring a television would now seem like a very bizarre decision to us.

It all started when we moved house. Up till then we had hired a television, and watched the news, weather and current affairs, the occasional film, and so on. We also had a hired video recorder (remember them…?). When we came to move, we realized that we had recorded dozens of films over the last few years, many of them good, and yet never found the time to watch them. That led us to consider whether it was worth hiring either piece of kit in our new house. If we had such a backlog and had never found time to watch them, what was the point?

So we didn't bother, immediately after moving, just to see how we would get on without one. We have never looked back. I give that history to make it clear that we didn't give up TV because we were some kind of nutters. If anything, we have become more nutty since - if it is nutty to start to question the value of the television and the culture it helps to promote and perpetuate.

Our four children are not the social pariahs everyone warned us they would be if denied this most fundamental human right. On the contrary, because they have learned from an early age to entertain themselves and play with each other, to read books and create imaginary worlds, and so on, they are very popular with their peers. They make good play fellows and intelligent conversationalists. Friends love coming to our house because there is always something going on: dressing up and producing a show, making music, playing a game…

We do not restrict them from TV altogether - they watch at their gran's and at friends' houses. Moreover, we get DVDs of films that they will enjoy from the library and play them on the computer.

As for how we fill our time, I find there are never enough hours in the day anyway - how people would fit in watching TV is a total mystery to me (especially when I consider the number who tell me they can't find the time for prayer or even exercise…)

It's certainly true that we miss some aspects of TV - my wife loves films and I would like to watch sport, but the perspective of fifteen years without a TV makes me convinced that we are better off without one.

For example: we are not de-sensitised by the relentless barage of high-impact visual images that TV thrives on - when our kids go to a film at the cinema, they laugh or cry or shriek, while most other kids sit there looking comotose; we are not playing host to other peoples' values or need to 'push back the boundaries;' we sit down to meals together and talk to each other; we help each other with homework and chores; we play together; we make music together; we pray together.

If you ask our kids whether they'd like to have a TV, you'd get a split vote. The younger two would say yes, the older two no. I'm guessing that the younger two will decide we are right, too, as they mature a bit.

Above all, my wife and I are striving to bring our children up to dare to be different from the culture in which we live. We try to do that by making their lives more fun, more stimulating and more challenging than their friends'. And having no television is a fantastic starting point for that project.

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