Why our family got a tv after 8 years without one

Why our family got a tv after 8 years without one

We haven’t always been tv-less. We got rid of our clunky big box 8 or 9 years ago, when our oldest child was 2 or 3. We didn’t mind getting rid of it, but we didn’t do it for ourselves–we did it for Jack.

Our firstborn is definitely an HSP, and he would perseverate for hours on whatever cartoon I’d let him watch on PBS Kids while I was folding laundry. He’d ask endless questions about what the characters did, and why.

The first time he repeated a huge chunk of cartoon dialog at the dinner table, we started talking about getting rid of it. It freaked me out how firmly Curious George was lodging in his little brain.

Within a week, the tv was out of sight. We hauled it out for a few big football games that fall, but it was so much trouble. Not long after we just gave it away.

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We’ve never been dogmatists about our tv-less life (although I loved stopping cable salesman short with my “we don’t have a tv” line). We’ve watched plenty of shows on Netflix and Amazon Prime (as my What I’m Into posts reflect), and my kids watch a short movie 3 or  times a week during rest time.

We’re not purists: in fact, for these 8 or 9 years I’ve thought regularly about what an older and wiser woman told me right after we gave away a tv. While our kids are tiny, she said, it may be best for our family to ditch the tv. But there may come a time when I want the biggest tv in the neighborhood.

Whose house did you like to hang out at when you were a teenager?” she asked me. “I’ll bet it wasn’t the one with no tv.

My kids aren’t teens yet, but we felt like it was time. We really want to watch sports, together. My oldest son is obsessed with baseball–though he loves any sport with a ball–and streaming games online was never satisfactory. My daughter loves college basketball (and so do Will and I!) The Olympics are around the corner. And a rare family movie is kind of tough to watch on my 13″ MacBook.

So on Saturday we headed to CostCo and picked one out. (Thanks again for the CostCo tips!) It’s not tiny; it’s definitely not the biggest tv in the neighborhood. But we did make a pile of snacks and watch the game on Sunday, and everyone loved it. (Well, the game was terrible, but still.) I think it’s likely that watching UL basketball games together will be something our family does.

Our intentions are good–sports and the occasional movie–but I know the tv thing is a slippery slope, and we’re trying to be intentional about the habits we form around it, especially while it’s new to us. I’d appreciate any advice, tips, or warnings you have about managing media at your house–I’m a little rusty after 8 or 9 years without!

Does your family have a tv? What are your personal and/or family guidelines for using it well?

57 comments | Comment

57 comments

  1. We have a love/hate relationship with our TV. Love sports and a good documentary, etc. Cannot stand the majority of the commercials and the vast majority of the prime-time shows are not something we would ever want to watch.

    When our satellite bill went up again, we discussed cancelling everything. We do not have an option for Netflix on-line, etc. because all we can get is DSL.

    I’m guessing by the end of winter, we will not have a satellite dish, but will have the tv for movies, etc.

  2. Ginger says:

    I’ll forgive you for watching UL games (as a big UK fan myself here). 🙂

    Love the idea to get rid of the tv when your kids are young, but bring it in as a social aspect when they are older. I think that’s our biggest trick — making it about social togetherness (as a family or with friends), rather than just a default, unwind, flip on the television mind(less)set.

    I grew up with television, but no cable, so tv was still rare for me. So when I moved in my first apartment with free cable, I sort of binged a lot (movies! HGTV! Gilmore Girl reruns!). I think the biggest thing that helped us was the DVR recorder. For one thing, it ensures that when we do have an hour or so to turn on the tv, what is recorded is something we’re really interested in watching, rather than just what’s on. Secondly, I noticed my grocery bills strangely went down after we started fast-forwarding through commercials. No longer was I tempted by that new brand of toothpaste or the must-try mascara. I have my favorites, and no one to talk me into experimenting.

    Another rule we just enacted this year was that we just don’t turn the television on until a certain hour. I now stay at home, and if I so much as flip on the morning news to see the forecast, I cannot tear myself away from four hours of the Today show. After dinner, we sit and read a bit, or talk, run an errand, whatever… but the television does not come on until at least 8 p.m., and only on certain evenings. Then, there’s only an hour or two before bed, so we’re only watching the things that are really important to us.

  3. Ana says:

    We have a TV–it’s older than both hubs and myself, in a wood box and sits on the floor. We just get the basic ‘regular’ channels, no cable/dish/Netflix/anything else. We got to where we hardly watched it at all, and then crazily enough, I started turning it on to help my eldest after school. We started having meltdown after meltdown, and I couldn’t figure out what the problem was. I think it was after reading The Spirited Child book, I realized he was overwhelmed after being in school all day with all the noise, talking, and stimulation. His brothers are extroverts, so they weren’t helping the situation any. We started watching 1 30 minute PBS show right after school, while they eat their snack, and that helped sooo much. This year they’ve all gotten really into sports too, so for the first time we’re watching sports games–which is fun for everyone (especially me–I usually keep one eye on the game while reading!!). They’ve watched a lot more movies this year than ever before with all the snow days, and with the Olympics coming up, we’ll watch plenty of that too.

  4. Christine says:

    We pretty much DVR everything and the children can only watch those recorded shows approved by us. That is mainly because the commercials between childrens’ programming are either obnoxious or pushing products the children don’t need to see. It also cuts viewing time down by 17 minutes for each 1 hour show. It’s sad. Even seasonal Charlie Brown shows have ED commercials! I recommend the science shows showing how something is made. They are truly interesting to both parents and children. Good luck!

  5. D says:

    I love using the “we don’t have a TV” line too!

    We DO have a projector that’s hooked up for (limited) movies and video games, and have been considering an antenna to get basic channels.

    • Faigie says:

      I also love stopping those salespeople in their tracks by saying “no we don’t want your TV service, cuz we don’t have a TV. They are always floored.

  6. Liza Lee Grace says:

    During the school year, we watch only on weekends or for special events during the week. We watch a bit more during the summer (baseball every night!), but usually we pick a specific show or two to watch. When that show is finished, we turn it off. Nowadays, we usually watch sports or the science channel. My boys are at an in-between age: too old for kids shows but not old enough for adult shows.

  7. Barbie says:

    We got a DVD/BluRay player somewhere in the range of $100 (also from Costco). It is hooked up to our wireless and plays streaming YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime movies. (Not sure if you have Amazon Prime, but it’s $80ish a year and you get two-day shipping on Prime products at no additional cost, tons of free streaming vids, and also can borrow many books on the Kindle). The player also does HuluPlus but we are not subscribed to that.

    • Anne says:

      Yep, I adore Prime. 🙂 We did the same thing–bought a blu-ray player that will stream Prime, Hulu, Netflix etc to the big screen.

  8. Leanne says:

    My family didn’t have a TV from when I was 8-10 (this was pre-internet, so we watched literally nothing, not even movies), and then we got one but didn’t have cable, so we just watched movies on the VCR. I read a LOT when we didn’t have TV, and I’m grateful it gave me a lifelong passion for books. I’d still rather read than watch TV. However, when I got to college, I kind of ended up bingeing on TV, because I hadn’t had it for so long. I think TV can be a good thing in moderation, and not as a substitute for other forms of play. I like your strategy of using it for social reasons.

      • Jodi says:

        Oh yeah – I remember borrowing a VCR from dad’s work for years before we got our own. Betamax or VHS? First microwave was also a big deal. (Guessing we’re close in age.)

  9. I grew up without a tv — and my parents still don’t have one. I have a lot of weird pop culture gaps, and I just can’t get into watching any type of cartoon or animated show or movie. I don’t ever remember missing it, even a little! Our house actually was very popular as a teenager without a tv. It probably helped that I was a girl and not into sports at all! Part of it was that my parents were the strictest and the least likely to let me hang out with my friends every day of the week, so they’d just come over! I married into a tv, but we didn’t get any channels at all until we started having internet problems and they gave it to us for free. So I’m excited to watch the Olympics for the first time at home!! I would be fine without a tv, but my husband does like to watch football so it’s nice for him.

  10. Becky R says:

    Our TV is in our finished basement and we don’t have cable. We have Netflix & Hulu plus. The focal point upstairs are our bookshelves. This has helped us minimize too much TV watching. When it was in our family room upstairs it was more of a temptation to mindlessly veg out too often. Now our vegging is more intentional. 😉

  11. Missy June says:

    We have TV – we use it daily, even as background noise. Then, it goes off at homework time (4 pm) until the children are in bed. We do not lack in reading, games or socializing because of our tv, although it does help me get through the monotony of folding laundry! I like local news, one sitcom, PBS and we are a European-soccer sports loving family. When we can’t run outdoors, we use a Nordic Track and watch tv, usually soccer. It works for us! We all get about two hours each day, although the teenagers often watch more on their laptops through Netflix. With cable, Netflix, Amazon Prime and large home movie collection, I can see we are not the norm here!

  12. Tim says:

    I watched a ton of TV when I was a kid. We were mindful of what our kids watched but never put time limits on it. We did use one of those converter boxes that blanked out bad language, though. Now that the kids are in their 20s we don’t have that hooked up any longer.

  13. Jessica says:

    We have at TV and we fluctuate between having cable and not. We haven’t had it in over a year because here in LA, we get pretty good signals over an antenna. This allows us to watch sports – which is really important to us http://www.ginandjuiceboxes.com/2012/06/an-argument-for-cable/. We don’t keep the TV on during the day because my little ones and I are too distracted by it. They’re not the type to play while a show plays behind them. They fixate on it! So basically, I let them watch a show or two from Netflix in the late afternoon (after quiet time if they’re feeling grumpy! they always wake up grumpy) or maybe for part of the dinner preparation. My husband and I typically watch one series – so we may watch an episode a night. And then sports on the weekends. We might back a background noise exception for the Olympics (which we’re considering getting cable for!!!) 🙂

    I love what your neighbor told you. I’ve never considered that – but it most certainly would be nice to be the house that the kids chose to hang out at!

  14. Julie says:

    I do remember growing up that my best friend’s family didn’t really have a tv. They had a small little 13 inch one that they were able to watch movies on once a week for family time.

    My parents got cable when I was 7. I don’t remember too many restrictions on it other than my homework had to be done before we watched in the afternoons. I am not too worried about my kids watching too much tv since I feel they do have a balance of tv and non tv times. And I figure my brother and I grew up watching tv and we are pretty well-rounded adults.

  15. Karlyne says:

    My parents were the original TV junkies. I think the TV was generally turned off when they went to bed, but I’m not even sure about that! As I grew up, it slowly dawned on me that I found it an annoyance, because it always talked AT me and never listened when I talked back. Bad relationship, right?!?

    We have over-the-air TV now and a Roku box for Netflix (for my husband, especially), and I generally watch sports (I get tempted at football season to sign up for satellite, but then I smack myself and cool off) and, yes, I confess it, The Voice and/or American Idol. I’ve always been a sucker for talent shows!

    I notice that no one’s mentioned watching the news on TV, and I never do. I find reading the news to be much more intelligent and a whole lot less irritating!

  16. Anna says:

    It can be a slippery slope, but as long as you have limits and evaluate from time to time, I don’t think it has to be a problem. We have one currently, but just use it for some sports, the occasional DVD, and Downton Abbey. (Our kids are 14, 10, & 8). We don’t have cable, so that is part of it. There’s not as much temptation.

  17. We had cable when I was growing up, but we didn’t watch many shows – my parents were super mindful of what we did watch. I’m still not a big TV-watcher. We just have the rabbit ears these days, so we can watch sports on the major networks, Castle on ABC, and Masterpiece on PBS. (And DVDs.) My husband jokes that having ESPN would be bad for our marriage – because he is a huge sports fan and he’d watch a ton of sports on TV if he could. We don’t have children, but I’m sure our viewing habits will shift if/when we do have them.

  18. Jen says:

    We just recently got cable after being without for 7 years, although we kept our tv hooked up to Netflix during that time. My advice would be to do your best to keep it off during the day. At our house, the kids only watch a short recorded show while I’m making dinner. Other than that, it is only on during the day for special occasions, documentaries related to what we’re learning in HS and the upcoming Olympics will be an exception too.

  19. We have one TV in our house. Basically, we only watch educational television and DVDs. There are only a few shows/sitcoms we watch after the kids go to bed. (Sherlock, Psych, Sleepy Hollow, etc.). The kids will occasionally watch nickelodeon sitcoms.

  20. Joslyn says:

    We have never gone without a TV, but we have cut the cable cord and only have Hulu and Netflix which helps. It really helps that we have a Smart TV which was the wisest TV decision ever, because now we don’t have to pay $50 a year to Microsoft to get the internet access on our Xbox. When we want to watch sports we hook the computer up, wireless or wired, to the TV and watch it on the big screen. The other thing to prevent that slippery slope, we have instituted “No TV Tuesdays.” Of course we will be suspending these for the Olympics which we can stream mostly.

  21. Gabrielle says:

    My boys are screen obsessed! I’ve tried many different things but really we just have a very simple, one hour of screen time a day rule. This includes video games, tv watching, and free computer time. They are responsible for setting the timer and keeping to their time, if they abuse the rule, they loose screen time the next day. We are a techy home though so I frequently include online videos during school time, throw in an extra Reading Rainbow here and there and my oldest is currently using Khan Academy online for math. I work in the morning/early afternoon and during that time my boys get screen time as well as free play. I’m not terribly picky about what they watch but I do put my foot down on certain shows (Sponge Bob is strictly forbidden at our house). I do reserve the right for full out movie nights and sick days ;). Also, we have never missed “tv” and have been without it for more than 10 years. We use Netflix on a regular basis and stream movies through our Amazon Prime account. You might check into Roku, or something similar as it allows you certain features (like a sports channel and news station), and runs Pandora and Netflix.

  22. Misty says:

    Nickelodeon is my least favorite channels for ANY age… ANY. not a fan…

    We got rid of television when our kids were younger and it made their childhoods so much easier. Now our youngest is 14 and we have a huge cable package but we keep password protected out of channels she doesn’t need to browse. Thankfully she doesn’t want to sit around and watch tv a lot. She doesn’t have a desire to sit on the computer/ipad… I’m really grateful. She is the exception among today’s youth…

  23. Katie says:

    We went a few years without a TV – actually before we had kids. I’ve been without one for short periods for most of my adult life, so regulating myself is not at all a problem. I’m just not really a TV person. Our trick for keeping it under control for the rest of the clan (husband and two kids ages 3 and 5)…We don’t actually have television service. No cable, no Netflix, and not even local channels. We bought our set before the whole transfer to digital and we just simply never bought the converter. You turn on our set and get a blue screen. But we have an Apple TV hooked up to it so we can stream anything we want from our computer or from the internet. That means that we can’t ever just flip the switch and get sucked in. We have to make the extra effort to actually select what we want to watch. And we have special movie nights once or twice a month all together as well.

  24. Katherine says:

    We don’t have a t.v. and we’ve had a few friends of my daughter ask where we are hiding it. I can easily feel good and self-righteous about it, but I’m pretty sure my kids watch more than their fair share of shows, just on my ipad. 🙂

    Occasionally we go on a show/screen fast because the kids just won’t stop asking about it. After a couple of days without it they forget to ask and we all enjoy life so much more.

  25. Dorothy K. says:

    Wow-8 years is a long time! We did without a t.v. for about 5 years when our children were young and it was great! When we did purchase one, we bought one that could be put on a rolling cart and brought out only for specific viewing times. Well, recently my husband got the idea that a “smart” t.v. that could receive wi-fi was the only way to fly. So, now we have a “smart” t.v. that receives most of the local channels (about 20 different ones) and we use it to watch movies through Netflix and Youtube. We really love it! BTW, my kids grew up watching only intentional t.v. and now as adults, they get annoyed whenever we go to other people’s homes and they t.v. is on, but no one is actively watching it. Seems bizarre to them that people have developed this habit!

    • Karlyne says:

      It IS a bizarre habit, but, at the same time, it’s a very prevalent one! I wish people would at least turn the sound off when they’re not watching. By the way, we started turning the sound off during most football games, and they’re much more fun that way!

  26. Ana says:

    We don’t have a TV—we actually just got rid of it, but for 6 years we haven’t had cable nor did we have one of those converter boxes to access network television so it basically just took up space in our living room (it was really heavy and it took a lot of coordination for me to find someone to take it!). We have a projector/screen set-up in the basement, which my kids watch movies (once a week usually, much more with sick and snow days recently!) and we watch shows or movies on after they go to bed. We really got rid of cable to save money and then got hooked on netflix and didn’t miss it, and now we love our projector set up so much, and love watching shows at our own pace on our own time. We don’t watch sports at all, so there is ZERO draw to watching shows with commercials for us, (and having to wait a week or two between episodes of something!).
    I like how you are using TV to foster family togetherness, though.
    I also agree with someone above who mentioned binging on TV when living on her own because she was limited in TV watching as a kid. See, I watched TONS of TV as a kid, and I rebelled against that by going through a “TV is for little kids, I would rather go DO something” as a teen/young adult. On the other hand, once I went to college I went a little nuts with the sweet cereal, chocolate milk, and soda that we were never allowed to have at home….

  27. Claire says:

    We’ve always had a tv; it does require some self-control, though. I watch the news when I’m on the treadmill and in the fall, we watch a lot of college football, but I never watch sitcoms or network tv (though I do watch Downton and Sherlock). My kids are now 15, 13 and 10. They don’t watch tv at all on weeknights…their time is taken up with homework, reading and activities like soccer. Since my kids are older, the bigger issue for me was whether to allow my son to have video games. 2 years ago, we got our son (the now 15-hr-old) an Xbox, along with an Xbox live subscription for Christmas. With Xbox live, he can play with any friends via the internet plus his cousins who live in Atlanta and Raleigh. My husband bought a home theater system (projector, a 10-ft screen and sound system) for about $1200. His argument was exactly what your friend said…we want to have something like this, so that our home is where our son and his friends want to be. Though I fought allowing him to get video games for years, I realized that even if he doesn’t play video games, most other boys do…it’s just what boys do today when they’re together. At the same time, my son spends plenty of time outdoors…we back up to woods and a creek and his friends enjoy doing that, too.

    By the way, my 2 daughters really couldn’t care less how big the screen is!!!

  28. Marilyn says:

    We don’t really have any stated guidelines/goals with our TV watching, but as a household comprised of two adults, we manage to self-moderate pretty well. 🙂

  29. Good for you for getting rid of it! And good for you for deciding purposefully when, why, and how to bring it back. My family had no tv from when I was 4 until I was 14. And really the only reason we ended up getting one was because my little brother (10 at the time) found one in a dumpster and my mom paid $30 to fix it. He and my mom would watch hockey together. I’m a bit of a screen junkie. If there is a tv on within sight, I’m watching it. I don’t know if that is because I grew up without it (a fellow tv-less friend says it is, at least for him). But because of that, we’ve made the decision to have no TV on our main floor. It stays in the partially-finished basement. Now I’m just struggling with what kind of rules to have regarding screen time for the kids. I’m leaning toward “no tv on school days”, but it is Oh! so hard to stick to that with my 4-year-old.

    • Karlyne says:

      There’s a scientific reason for why our eyes keep returning to the screen, but don’t ask me to explain it! But, if you watch people who are apparently engrossed in other tasks or conversations, you’ll see their eyes drawn to that flickering light over and over. (I’ve noticed it in myself, too) It’s a bit creepy to think of such power in such a small box…

  30. Kate says:

    We have one tv (an oddity in an area where people have several!), it is in the basement family room well away from the main household traffic. Turning it on is a conscious decision and we goes days without watching it. I never wanted to have a house where the tv was always on in the background and it was the default form of entertainment. My 8 year old will almost always choose crafting over tv. We do family movie night once a week and occasionally watch other shows but I am happy that our life is not centered around it.

  31. My husband and I decided not to own a television our 1st year of marriage and have so far never felt the need to buy one. Computers and services like Nerflick makes not owning a television pretty easy. We still watch things it’s just more planned out – no vegging. Our kids are young and we like that they can go several days without shows. Like you though, we think we’ll want a television when our kids become closer to the preteen age. We want a home were our kids and others like to hang out & we want to enjoy things like sports as a family.

  32. Celeste says:

    You’re singing our song! We’re going on 7 years without a tv. We’ve really enjoyed the peace and extra creative time as a family. (We also enjoy our fair share of shows online.) We’ve anticipated getting a tv once the kids were older, so we could hopefully become “friend central”. But with two little currently budding sports fans and the upcoming Olympics and March Madness, we’re thinking this could be some good tradition making and family bonding time. But are ages 4 and 1.5 the “older” we had in mind? Would we regret it?…? Thanks for your thoughts! Look forward to hearing others’ advice.

  33. Kerry says:

    We just got a TV this Christmas after a few years without. We learned that, for us, avoiding the slippery slope means having only the very basic 8 channels. The tv is a smart tv, so we primarily use netflix and amazon prime for our watching. It makes the watching more planned and intentional, and the bonus is no commercials! After years away, I find that I just cannot stand to watch any commercials at all anymore. I have no tolerance for them!

  34. Janssen says:

    My mom had this exact same experience. We’d never had video games, but as my brother got older, she wanted his friends to come to OUR house, rather than always having his friends resist coming over.

    • Anne says:

      No comprendo. Did Dawn and I also have this conversation at one point? I know I had this conversation with someone my mom’s age! You can bet I wouldn’t mix those two up. 🙂

      (And a big CONGRATS on the new gig!)

  35. yes! we have a tv. several of our friends don’t and I admit their kids don’t seem to crave “screen time” as much as ours. One thing my husband and I talk about changing eventually is moving the TV from the living room to a less central location–perhaps the basement or a (future) family room. So its less visually tempting day to day for the kids. Personally I don’t turn it on much for myself, I prefer netflix/amazon prime.

  36. PA Anna says:

    We have one TV that is mainly used for Nintendo Wii or Wii U 🙂 We do watch the Steelers. I also use my Amazon Prime account for TV/movie watching once or twice a week.

  37. Melissa says:

    We have a tv but its used for dvds/blurays and Netflix 99% of the time. It is not hooked to an antenna(no tv) and we do not have cable. We did for a while but found we didn’t really use it much.

    I like watching tv sometimes but my life does not depend on it.

  38. Melissa says:

    Oh and I forgot the game systems. Playstation which we only really play guitar hero and the Wii are hooked to them.

  39. Melissa says:

    I don’t honestly think just moving it to the basement will deter kids from wanting constant screen time. When I was growing up my dad and step mom had the tv in the basement and it was where we all hung out in general. It wasn’t always to watch tv but we spent most our time inside down there. We did spend a lot of time outside, playing board games and pool(on the pool table also in the basement) mostly outside roaming when people worried less about “society being so bad”.

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