What I learned from 30 days without TV and how it drastically changed our family:
Things at our house had begun to get more stressful than I ever dreamed it would be with three young girls, ages 2, 4, and 6. Their behavior was getting out of control at home. We had always tried to be very consistent with our discipline and stay on top of things before we lost control. We wanted our girls to have fun, enjoy life, and know that we were the best family ever! But somewhere in this we were starting to lose control quickly. We tried almost every parenting advice we found from friends who had already lived it and nothing seemed to be working. For several months I thought it might be good to cut out the number one distraction in our lives, the TV. But I often wondered if I could really do this or if my husband would even want to do this. Then to my surprise one evening after an extremely rough day with our girls he brought it up. He said and I quote, “ I just wonder how drastically would our family change if we stopped watching TV for 30 days?” He said it was an experiment or a challenge that he had been thinking about trying. I jumped right on board as long as I could still watch my shows after the girls went to bed. Ha! How fair was that going to be? So a little reluctantly I joined his decision to do this full speed ahead, which meant that whatever rules we set for the girls were the same rules that we were required to follow too.
No TV meant no antenna TV, no cable, no DVD’s, no internet TV or video’s on computer or iPods, no Netflix. The only exceptions were watching Club House which is weekly 5 minute video of a follow up to our children’s church programs and Xbox Connect games only when it had been raining all day. We did allow iPods for music and limited amount of game time. We also agreed that we could stay on Facebook and other social media sites as long as they didn’t become a replacement for our TV time. To us that basically meant when everyone was home we were together. Facebook was saved for quick checks for the pages we were maintaining for our jobs, or when no one else was home.
The whole point of this experiment/challenge was not only to see if the girls behavior got better but also to bring us back to the family life we had always dreamed of. We wanted our girls to grow up to be the best that God had created them to be and if we were all being honest most TV programs only take away from that. Spending time as a family and building into our girls lives was the best way we could think of to help them grow up into the beautiful young girls (inside and out) that God had intended them to be. We wanted to do this without any distractions.
In the beginning I was mostly worried that we would not be able to make it 30 days. If we were awake our TV was on. We had told a few people that we were doing this so now we couldn’t back down without others knowing we didn’t make it. It wasn’t about disappointing others or having people say “I told you so.” It was about us and our family. But I really did want to prove that we could do this. I wanted to show others it was possible and I wanted to prove it to myself. I really wanted to see how this could change us for the good and share that hope with others who may also be struggling. Honestly I was surprised how quickly things began to change!
I’d be lying to you if I told you that at first it was easy. It really was very difficult. Since TV was such a habit for our family we had to spend some time breaking that habit. The only thing I can compare it to was when we first switched from no home phone to only cell phones and we constantly came home and tried to check an answering machine that wasn’t there anymore. When I would first come home I headed straight to the TV to turn it on for the girls while made supper. When we first woke up in the morning I went to turn on the TV to watch a few morning cartoons with the girls. Or when I was trying to work from home I needed the TV to” babysit” for awhile. The joke between my husband and I was, “I need a cigarette!” While I’m sure quitting smoking would be much more difficult, TV watching for our family was still a nasty habit we needed to break and that’s exactly what we did. In just a few short days, except for a rare occasion, we were not even thinking about watching TV. We had already seen so much improvement in our girl’s behavior and our family time together was incredible. I began to learn so much of how this was going to drastically change my family. After 30 days with no TV here is what we learned:
With the exception of my 2 year old who was in serious Elmo withdraw, I missed the TV more than my kids did. After about 2 days they didn’t even notice the TV was gone and stopped asking to watch it. The TV at our house was always on, even when no one was watching it. I am also ashamed to admit that I had about 5 TV shows that I watched faithfully. Most of the time I actually saved them on our DVR and watched them after the girls went to bed but I never missed an episode. I also often used the TV to “babysit” while I folded laundry, did dishes, worked from home, or anything else that couldn’t wait till daddy got home. So letting go of the TV was much more difficult for us than the girls. I was surprised though how quickly I enjoyed the quite and stopped wondering what I was missing. The biggest surprise was how much more things I got done around the house and for work when I provided the girls with an activity to do rather than just sitting them in front of the TV. The activity seemed to help them to stay busier and help them get along and learn to work together. When the TV was on I seemed to break up more fights that caused my work to be interrupted and take twice as long for me to do. With the activity they actually got along better and learned how to resolve their own conflicts which allowed for less interruptions with what I was trying to get done.
Kids without TV are more creative and active. And this activity (even loud) is much less stressful without the background noise of the TV added to it. We really enjoyed seeing our girls play together more and use their imagination more. We spent lots of time outside playing when we could. But even playing inside was much more enjoyable without the distraction and the noise of the TV. About two weeks into it I asked my four year old if she liked it better with or without the TV. When she said without, I asked her why? Her response was priceless, “Because we play more games and do more things together. And she was right. We read more books, played board games, played outside, painted, baked. The list really is endless. We shared many moments that would have just passed wasted if we were watching TV.
Siblings play together better, learn to resolve conflict on their own, and their behavior will improve more than you could ever imagine in just a short time without TV. This was probably our biggest surprise! I honestly couldn’t believe after about two days how much my girl’s behavior changed for the better. They certainly were not perfect but it was a 100% change from what we had been dealing with. There were still arguments but they were less and there were even less that we had to help them resolve. They began to share ideas, toys, and their time with each other. Every day I heard them play house, school, and even pretend they were at their dance studio. They were building bonds that will last their lifetime. Sharing times like this now is building the foundation of what their relationships with each other will look like when they are older. I have been taking a parenting class and today was challenged with the questions, “Why did we have children”. One of the other families also taking the class responded with “We had children because we wanted to have a family.” That answer was perfect to me. I didn’t just want babies, or toddlers, because they were cute, but I wanted a family that as we all grew up would grow closer together. I want my girls to love to be together, love to be with us, and to love our family. This won’t happen on it’s own. We have to be very intentional with life now to make that be the future of our family.
Kids go to bed on time without arguing and sometimes even asking to go! When it came to bed time my girls were actually more tired. Using their imagination and staying active actually wore them out. We really did have nights where my 6 year old said “I’m tired can I go to bed?”. Most nights they went to bed without arguing and fell asleep fast.
We (especially me) love the quite! When we were at a place where there was TV I quickly learned that the noise made me crazy! I really did love just sitting in my living room listening to no noise, just being still and listening. I can’t say that I got any profound thoughts from God during this time, but I was learning to just be quite and still. I think this new found love for the quite will help me hear God’s voice easier when I need to hear it.
We were more patience, get frustrated less, and yelled much less! This one probably surprised me too. Raising three young girls can get very trying at times. Honestly someone is usually crying at our house. Girls have lots of drama as they are learning how to live life and that drama starts early! The TV added to that drama and without the distraction of the TV I found myself being more attentive to their needs. We began to talk things out better and learn how to deal with situations without losing our patients, getting frustrated and yelling.
Families communicate more and have better communication. One of the best things about the last 30 days was getting our girls to communicate with us better. When the TV is on it seems they are “glued” to it and when we would ask them a question we got nothing. Not even a blink our way. We often had to ask several times to get their attention which resulted in yelling to get them to stop watching TV and answer us. We eat supper at the table as a family but would sometimes forget to shut off the TV. So while we were eating it was still on. The girls would hear it and run out to see what they were missing. This meant our time to talk at the table was also interrupted. When the TV was just off we didn’t have to forget to turn it off and so our supper time talks became much more interactive with everyone involved in the conversations!
If you give time to your kids they will give you the time you need to get things done. This is another one that surprised me. One day I felt myself getting a little stressed because I had so much to get done for work but couldn’t find the time to break away from the girls to get it done. I wished I had the TV so I could just put in the never ending Peppa Pig DVD. But since I was determined not to break the 30 day challenge, I decided to try something. My youngest was napping and the oldest was at school. But our 4 year old was home and really wanted my attention. I asked her if I played with her for 30 minutes would she give me 30 minutes to get some work done. She agreed! So we played a board game and read some books and when her 30 minutes were up I provided her with an activity she could do on her own for 30 minutes. I got 30 minutes of uninterrupted time (literally) to do some things I needed done. She never once came in and distracted me during my 30 minutes. When my 30 minutes was up we did some more things together. I did this a couple of times during that day and believe it or not I was able to get my stuff done, play with her, and not be stressed out about either.
Homework time became more enjoyable and she even asked to do it! Homework had become a challenge at our house. It really wasn’t too hard to get our oldest to sit down and start it but it would inevitably end in a crying fit. I’m not sure what really changed with this or why it changed but home during the 30 days never ended in a crying fit. Every night we did homework just as before but now she was enjoying it, feeling confident doing it, and often times asking when we were going to get started on it.
There really is time for housework even with 3 young children. I often said and even complained that I could never get house work done because I was too busy taking care of kids. Well guess what come to find out it was never the kids, it was the distraction of the TV. During the 30 days the dishes where mostly kept up on. I did a load of laundry every day from start to finish. This meant I folded and put them away! I still wasn’t able to get to the “tough” cleaning but my house was picked up, laundry fairly kept done, and dishes were done after supper every night.
We can find rest and go to bed earlier. We were tired A LOT and would often think it was the kids who wore us out. But really we stayed up to late watching some of our shows. I have to say it has been really nice going to bed earlier. I feel more rested and ready for the day the next morning.
It was sometimes harder work (especially in the beginning) to find things for kids to do and spend time with them. But it was work well worth it! I’d be lying if I told you this was easy. This probably has been one of the more difficult things I have done as a parent. Changing a bad habit is hard work but it really was worth it. Investing in your children no matter how hard the work is always worth it!
Even with all the social media we still got most of our news from the TV. I found myself behind on some news. It wasn’t until I went to church and saw they were taking a special offering for Napal that I learned they had a devastating earth quake. There was even some local news that I wasn’t aware of until I went to work and heard them talking about it. There still wasn’t anything that important that couldn’t wait a few days to hear about. The news eventually got to us but sometimes we were a couple of days behind.
If you are not careful you can fill your TV time with other bad habits. To be completely honest we struggled with this one, especially after the girls went to bed. It was hard not to replace the TV time with Facebook, or work, or anything else. One thing I think my husband and I wish we would have done differently is be very intentional about our time together after the girls went to bed. We did find more time to talk about our day and share with each other. But I think we both agree we should have played more board games or card games together or maybe did a devotional book together. This is still a work in progress for us and I think it will be something we try to continue even after bringing TV back into our lives.
Well the TV is back in our lives again. I haven’t quite decided how I feel about this. We seriously were about 20 minutes back into the TV when the behavior went south again. There is certainly going to be some limits set on the TV watching. We came too far to give up what we have learned and the changes we have made. Probably the two biggest things we learned are: 1. As long as we are doing family movie night and we are all watching it together it goes well. But trying to use the TV as a “babysitter” while we get things done just doesn’t work out. The girls really need activities to keep them busy not just sitting in front of the TV. That’s when the bad behavior starts. 2. Our desire really is to build a family that loves being together. There are many things in life that can take away from that and redirect us on the wrong path. TV really can be one of those things. We just aren’t willing to let that happen. Which for us means when we see TV taking away our time together as a family it will be SHUT OFF. We are building an unshakable foundation for our family that will hold a home where love resides.