Monday, January 28, 2008

Giving Up TV

Do you watch your kid’s shows with them? That Dora really freaks me out. Honestly, my girls only got in one or two episodes of Dora before we got rid of our TV service and relegated it to monitor status. Honestly, since getting rid of TV—at least in the conventional sense—we’ve never been happier. Heck, we even try talking to each other once in a while.

That freaky little girl Dora really gets under my skin. Some characters in kid’s shows are made out of a creative or artistic vision. But Dora and many of her compatriots are made by marketers for marketing reasons. She appeals to a very broad market because she is fashioned to reach across racial and ethnic barriers. Surely there’s nothing wrong with that by itself. What’s wrong with that picture is that under the guise of multiculturalism, she’s really preaching homogenization; her all-powerful ubiquity is bringing hours of common experience into millions of homes every day.

She’s nice. She’s sweet. But the girl doesn’t blink. Not at all. Not even once. Watch an episode and check it out. Her bright little eyes stare out at you unforgivingly. She begs your child’s attention not only through the use of hypnotic eyes, but by screaming every word she says. The pitch of her voice is specially designed to keep your kids attention. And that’s what we want when we sit our kids down in front of the TV, right? We want them to be absorbed.

Dora is one of the new characters of children’s TV. Forged by the sterile minds of marketing psychologists, she’s designed to be loved by children. Her brother, or cousin or whoever Diego is, is the same way, but with a slightly more, well, boy slant. Everything from how she looks to how she talks, to the colors used in the show are researched and computed. She’s not meant to just be a passing character during Saturday morning cartoons, she’s specially engineered to stay with your kids in their minds, to occupy space, like any good commercial jingle.

You may point out that there are no commercials during a Dora episode. This is true. Except that Dora is a 30-minute commercial for all things Dora. If you do a quick product search of Dora on Amazon, here are the places you’ll find Dora products: Toys and game; books; home and garden; apparel; sports and outdoors; baby; health and personal care; office products; VHS; DVD; electronics; home improvement; software; jewelry and watches; gourmet food; music; beauty; grocery; and, amazingly automotive. I don’t think that Amazon has any departments absent her presence.

Taking kids to the store is a tough job. We do our shopping on the weekends most of the time. And, usually, I try to take the kids by myself in order to give my wife—who is primarily a stay-at-home mom—a little bit of alone time. Wrestling the girls through the aisle can be a pleasure or a burden, depending on any number of a myriad of factors. But I have experienced the same things that many of you have—the power of nagging. Researchers have found that nagging is responsible for 40% of purchases related to children. And every single section of the stores that I frequent has something branded by Dora. I can’t imagine facing the already-hostile isles of Wal-Mart or Target (two stores we’re trying to cut back on) with my girls begging for Dora apples and Dora car mats. It’s hard enough when they want you to buy things that they actually want, without throwing in things that they’ve been told they want.

Last Spring, my wife clued me in to National Turn Off Your TV Week. I was skeptical at first, but we gave it a shot. Within a few days of not having the TV on, we got bored. It was raining outside. The urge to turn that thing on was amazing. But that afternoon, after painting, playing with clay, and introducing the toddlers to hide-and-seek, it was obvious that the boredom had done its job—it had forced us to become creative. The next day there was still rain, and we found an indoor bounce-house playground that is half-priced on Tuesdays. I’d never been in a bounce house before, but it was great. When the weather cleared up, we found hikes near our house and then made plans to go camping that weekend.

I called the satellite network and cancelled our subscription to their service the next week. The salesman tried to get a hold on what I was saying. “You mean, you’re getting rid of your TV?”

“Well,” I said. “Not physically. I mean, we will still watch movies once in a while, I suppose.”

“I can upgrade your package at no cost for three months.”

“No, thank you,” I said. “We don’t want your service.”

“You’ll have nine movie channels at no charge for three months.”

“I’d rather not have any channels at no charge. We’re getting rid of TV.”

Still, my students don’t believe me. It’s been 10 months since I’ve seen a commercial. It’s been 10 months since I’ve seen Fox News. It’s been 10 wonderfully quiet months. And we've found lots of alternatives.

There are other benefits, too. When Christmas rolled around, all the little girls in our neighborhood had elaborate plans for what they wanted. All 2-5 years old, they wanted Polly Pocket, Bratz, and Barbie. They knew how to ask for every single product by name. When I asked my daughters what they wanted for Christmas, Solstice looked up at me and said, “Umm, presents.” When I asked what kind of present, she answered, “A blue one. With a bow.”

There is a little more asked of a father who decides to give up TV. There are no games to watch, no late-night talk shows, no easy way out of parenting for the day. But what we gain by making the decision is the reward of creativity, fresh air, and the knowledge that your kid doesn’t have to compete with noise and hypnotic stares to make their own decisions.

Not Willing to Give Up TV? 10 Ways to Tame it.
10 Alternatives to Conventional TV
Marketing TV to Children


Wynnie said...

“Umm, presents.” When I asked what kind of present, she answered, “A blue one. With a bow.”

We've gotten that same answer for years. Only when she finds a flyer for something or realizes she can have her own iPod does her answer change. I shudder when I talk to moms lamenting their daughters' desires for a $250 electronic pony. I adore being a video only house for the sole reason that my daughter thinks those are just statues in the toy aisle. She has no clue that she could have one of her own.

Luke Marrott said...

Loved the post! We have two TVs and unfortunately one is hooked up to a basic cable service, but that TV is normally unplugged. The other TV is only for watching movies together as a family or up late as a couple. People can't believe it when we tell them we don't watch TV. "Did you see that show, did you see that add, did you watch this...?" The answers is always, "I don't watch TV." Great job!

Anonymous said...

In my house we've been nearly two years without TV. It is the best thing ever! We have Netflix, but tend to read more than anything. The best part is seeing people's expressions when I tell them I have no idea what happened on Grey's Anatomy. However, I can usually give them an in-depth summarization of a book. Without our TV we've managed to keep our house cleaner, make family dinners, and enjoy one another a lot more.
When we first got rid of the TV, I was shocked how much I desired the ability to simply "veg out". The major problem now for me? When I go to a friend's house and the TV is on....I am immediately comatose.

Thanks for the great post!

Star of Oryan said...

We are also a video only household and it is wonderful. We never had cable until a little while ago and then we canceled as soon as our contract was over. I found myself covering my son's eyes during some commercial because they were just inappropriate for him. (This was while watching cartoons.)
Right now instead of watching tv my kids are chasing each other around the house, laughing and playing and having a great time.

Lin said...

Cheers! We gave up our TV about 3 years ago, and it's been awesome ever since. I'm glad to hear that it works wonders in a household with kids, as we don't plan to sign up again when we start reproducing!

We watch movies and download or rent the occasional TV show that we enjoy, but it really is nice to have SO much time back! It definitely does make you creative.

I'm sure you've already done this, but try starting a few great kids' series with your kids. Read a chapter with them each night (or have an older child read to you and the younger ones). My favourite memories as a child are of my mom reading the Little House on the Prairie books to us before bed. Definitely a great family tradition to keep (or start!)

Sol Smith said...

I'm so glad to see that no tv (or at least no conventional tv) has worked out for so many people. It'd be great if we could turn this thing around and all stop being such media drones. It's very hard for my family to understand, but it is very important to us. Thank you all for the support. You all qualify as parenting badasses.

Now. Go buy badassdad t-shirts in the badass store.

Matthew said...

I grew up in a TV-free home. Our grandparents gave mom and dad money to buy a TV when I was around 10, before then we'd used a 13" b&w tv for our halloween movie watching nights.

With the new color TV we'd watch the Lawrence Welk show on Saturday nights and the occasional movie.

The family still does not have Cable and uses the TV for movies and school (BJU HomeSat).

We'd play outside or legos or fort or house or read (I used to wake up at 4am or earlier and read sitting on top of the heater vent, from the time I was six).

Now I have cable TV in my apartment, and it's a black hole. A big black hole.

Anonymous said...

My family of four (Mom, Dad and two sons) have been with out T.V. for almost 3 years. I see no point in paying a company to tell us all how to think and dress and eat and what to wear and what to buy.
I agree totally about the Christmas tableau. My sons asked for one thing to share between them. And that is only because they had previously played with one and loved it, not because network T.V. told them they had to have it.

Jenny said...

My niece loves her but every time she brings out the doll I wanna rip its ugly little head off. I HATE Dora with a passioN!

Anonymous said...

I think i might try this i don't know kind of scary not being able to veg out in front of the tv plus my wife is addicted. Wish me luck.

shinyribs said...

Only good can come from not watching TV. But, you can balance everything. There are lots of good shows on TV. And Dora is just another character. Really, your reactionary hatred of that cartoon is laughable. No matter what you, the parents, influence yer children more than a thousand TV shows. Humans like TV. Just don't sit in front of it for hours. Don't use it to baby sit while you do chores or whatever. And just turning off yer TV is not gonna magically save yer children from the march of materialism. I grew up with TV and I came out all right. Don't beat yerself up, relax, enjoy life. TV is just entertainment. Use as such and it is no problem. Making a "scapegoat" out of anything like that can lead to an artificial sense of well being. Yer children can then , in turn, employ that in their rebellion when they reach that age.

Sweetakorfa said...

Hi all! I live in Ghana - West Africa with my husband and four children. I stumbled upon this article and I'm so glad i did! We do not have cable tv or anything like that but even regular tv here is something else! The first and last time the children requested for it, i turned it down with such passion they couldn't ask again. I said 'if regular tv is full of such filth then i can imagine the endless channels of filth I'll be exposing you to if i got cable tv or dstv for you. At the end of my life, i'd have to answer to God as to how i raised you, and I'm in no mood to have to defend something like that.' It was enough to mention the God factor because i have continually reminded them that when one dies, he will have to go before God who created him and give an account of everything he thought, said and did. In my family, this reality is very well understood. Kids programmes here are interrupted with sexually suggestive ads or music videos. Maybe i should use the word 'pornographic'. I decided to start my own war against tv programmes by using the same tv programmes as weapons. I knew my strategy will be more effective if i introduced it slowly. So, as we sit as a family watching tv, I'd air my thoughts on a particular ad or cartoon or music video until everyone started feeling uncomfortable whenever such things were being shown. I'd say something like 'Okay, so in effect they're saying that the yellow team won because they drunk that alcoholic beverage - isn't that stupid? How could they have scored after getting themselves drunk? And they're using cartoon characters when they know that is what will appeal to children' At this point all the children would have stopped enjoying it and would be listening to me somehow regretting the fact that they were actually enjoying it and even singing along. Then I'd ask my husband what he thinks about it and he would usually agree with me! And i would continue my lecture on how they could get children desiring to drink alcohol too and what the effects of drinking alcohol are and on and on and on. What this strategy did was to teach my children how to think for themselves - how to determine what's right for them to watch and what's not.This strategy worked so effectively not just when it comes to tv but also in many other aspects of our lives. They would by themselves quickly change channels as soon as something 'uncomfortable' was being showed. You'd usually hear from the kitchen one person deciding that a particular ad or programme was not right and they would quickly change it to something safer to watch. Whenever they are'nt too sure about something they'd come asking our views. When they go to other people's homes where such things are not regulated, they would state clearly to adults and all that this was bad material and if nothing is done about it, they usually would find something else to do or simply walk out. My husband and i now buy lots of dvd's that have stuff that we think they should know - usually Christian material or cartoons that we've all watched together and found safe enough. Now, it hardly occurs to them to watch regular tv. If they're not watching some dvd with our approval, they're creating their own games to play or reading books or drawing. A friend came in to play with them outdoors yesterday. At a certain point our eldest son comes in to say 'Mommy can you believe Paa uses swear words? Do you know he's only seven? I told him no one uses that language in my house and that he's going to get into real big trouble if he doesn't stop saying things like that. Mommy he's only seven years!' I told him he'd done the right thing and to keep it up. Made me laugh though, the way he kept stressing the fact that his friend was only seven years old and how he found it so strange and so wrong. Believe me, some time ago my children were also the same. By letting them know the goods and bads in life and what they come with, these children are able to judge for themselves which is the right decision to make in any given situation - they always realize they have a choice and they're usually biased towards the 'good'!

JHS said...

Thanks for contributing this post to this week’s Carnival of Family Life, hosted at A Child Chosen. The Carnival will be live on Monday, February 5, 2008, so I hope you and your readers will stop by and check out all of the fabulous entries included this week!

Jason Sheedy said...

Great post. I couldn't agree more. Prior to getting married I excluded most TV from my life and found I had more free time and a much more balanced and peaceful state of mind. Unfortunately, my wife insists on having TV and despite my best efforts to convince her of the perils, we continue to waste hour after hour in front of the box. There are some good programs on TV, but the amount of mind altering smut and advertising you have to sit through hardly justifies it.

The problem I think for most people is that it is enjoyable, but there in lies the danger. It's addictive. It's designed to be enjoyable and to put you into a hypnotic trance like state. People like shinyribs say it's harmless and that you should have the self control to limit it's usage, but how many 2 year olds do you know with self control? And how many adults do you know that act like 2 year olds? Clearly we can be our own worst enemies.

Valina said...

I am an educationalist, i live in Austria. My family doesn't have a tv either, we dont miss it. I worked once with a family where the children were allowed to watch just 60 mins tv a day (30 after lunch, 30 before supper). It was awful.they started to believe what the ads said was what they had to have/to do. In my opinion information and communication is more important than forbidding something and pretending it doesn't exist. As a parent i would try to explain my children what ads are, who work for advertising and why they always try to sell us stuff. It is unbelievable how much children can understand and how supportive they are with people they trust.

Hyman Rosen said...

I had TV taken away from me in my childhood, and as I always take pains to say, I have never for one moment been grateful for the experience. As soon as I scraped some money together from a summer job I bought myself a TV set and never looked back. A 52" LCD TV now sits prominently in my living room, and my son enjoys watching TV as much as I do (and we like some of the same shows too - we just watched the premiere of Power Rangers - Jungle Fury. We also enjoy Monk and Bones - he covers his eyes for the scary bits, but really likes the characters).

We don't have any problem with commercials. My son has understood for a while now that commercials are designed to get him to want stuff, and he's perfectly capable of distinguishing senseless junk from stuff he really wants (some of which is senseless junk too, but everyone is entitled to some vice - most of what he wants is perfectly reasonable).

Tonight he was watching the primary results and speeches with great interest, and after I explained a bit about how one goes about running for president, he mentioned a couple of rick friends who he thought he could hit up for campaign contributions :-) He's not eight yet - I told him he had plenty of time to work his way up.

Simon said...

We went without TV for 2 years when my boys were 1 & 4. We didn't really miss it. But since then we have turned it back on , little by little. At that time I was afraid I was being a bad parent for letting them watch TV. But this did get them out of the habit of watching blankly. I have not since had to control the TV. They often watch 1 show and turn it off. Now at 10 and 14 they are still only watching what they really want to watch. ie) a few minutes of Sports center in the morning to catch up on the hockey scores and then we might watch Amazing Race or Myth Busters as a family. I feel good they can make their own choices about TV.

Tom said...

Wow. I've heard of this being done before. I'm just afraid I'd acquire some sort of video-related DTs or something if I went cold turkey. I stand in awe of you and your resolve, sir.

Bloggrrl said...

Right on! We don't watch it either. My students are incredulous. My kiddo enjoys reading much more than he would otherwise. Product placement is everywhere, though...I saw some in a novel I was reading...gak!

Anonymous said...

While we are currently a video only family and I was just remarking today that I enjoy it, I find it interesting that you are disdainful of the consumerism on TV yet, your blog is filled with all kinds of ads telling readers what to buy. I'm all for bloggers making a buck, but to put down TV ads and then use multiple ads on your blog seems a bit hypocritical to me.

It's perfectly ok for you to not want your children to be told what to buy...but shouldn't you then extend to your readers the same courtesy?

TV isn't the issue. It's letting your kids be glued to it. It's not talking about what they see and hear. Before we dropped the TV, my son watched a ton. And he seldom asked for things he saw in commercials. This Christmas, long after we got rid of cable, he circled darn near everything in the Toys R Us book. So, it's not a clear cut thing of what turns kids into greedy lil monsters.

My son is 6. We still watch some shows together as a family on the web. The shows he likes: Bones, House, CSI. Do we let him watch every episode? None with major sexual scenes but pretty much any thing else yes. And we discuss how that's TV and not real. And how a lot of the shows he does like have storylines with a tinge of reality to them. Hey watching those is better than watching the news sometimes.

But then again, I'd also rather him watch "violent" old cartoons like Tom and Jerry" or even some of the more "adultish" "Looney Tunes" than some of the so-called edutainment of today. Again, he knows the difference between real vs fiction. Maybe because we talk a lot?

Anonymous said...

Great post. Our kids have always been TV free. Well, I check the weather forecast on the TV in front of the kids. They are rarely bored even when I have no planned activities in the day. For a short time I let my daughter watch Sesame Street while doing her breathing treatments. This was a total of 20 minutes of TV a day. She kept demanding more Elmo throughout the day. It drove me crazy and we quickly went back to no TV. TV only makes parenting hard for me.

I, on the other hand, am completely addicted to TV. It goes on the second the kids go to bed. TV does frequently drain me of my time. I am inspired to try no TV for myself.

sarah jane said... did she get the blue present with a bow? that was so adorable.

we're a video-only house as well. we had no tV for years and years, then some person who felt 'sorry for us' kind of thrust one on us, and we probably would have been better off without it! my kids watch little of anything, ask for little, and earn most of what they get by doing major chores. we love it this way, and when we go to the homes where everything is themed to some creepy Nickelodeon character and the TV drones continuously in the background, we actually can't concentrate on a conversation! its like reverse ADD or somethin....

anyhow- love the blog! keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

We have gone periods without tv and it is a good thing but we also try to teach our children about marketing. We let them know that the TV is a basically trying to trick them into wanting things. That commercials lie and the difference between needs and wants. My oldest is 5 and she ,surprisingly, get's it.

Matt said...

Hey, reading about all these people giving up or cutting down on TV is great. Basically, what I hate about TV is that it totally engages your sight and hearing and turns off your imagination, say when compared to reading a book or listening to the radio or music. When families watch TV together, communication is stuffed up. How I wish I could convince my wife to give it up!!

Jon said...

No way I could give up my TV. How else could I watch my beloved ESPN and Sci-Fi channel. That said, we can't let our 2 yr old daughter watch Dora. It's like crack for her or something... when it's over she screams and crys because she wants to watch more. She doesn't do that for any other cartoon... well, except for Go Diego Go.

Scott Clous, chief Artist said...

Giving up cable has been pretty easy. I did dvr stuff off cable, but with the child needing to earn the privilege to watch, and netflix without the commercials, and the ability to pause/stop/resume at will it no longer controls our schedule.

It becomes increasingly easy to regain one's life and control of time if needed.


Ariel Tindolph said...

Thank you for your wonderful post. We have been TV free for about 8 years and don't miss it at all. I have a 13 year old, an 11 year old, and a 2 year old. My kids never ask for TV or for things marketed to kids. Nor do they suffer socially from not having TV. In fact, because they don't watch TV, they have time to be "A" students, musicians, boy scouts, athletes and non-stop readers. It was the best parenting decision I ever made. You might enjoy a book I just discovered about this subject called "The Big Turnoff: Confessions of a TV-Addicted Mom Trying to Raise a TV-Free Kid" by Ellen Currey-Wilson. There is also a Yahoo group for TV-Free Parenting. It is a great support.

nebo987 said...

Shortly after my first daughters birth, my wife and I moved into a new home. However with this move we did not to take a Television with us. It was very awkward at first. I liked watching the evening news, not local but the national and international news, much like my father. However with this move things were different. I watched my daughter grow and played with her when I had the chance. Now days, my daughter loves to mimics me gardening. But what is truly astonishing is that my daughter is able to swim over 25 meters unassisted in a pool. She is now a talented two and a half year old that swims using the breast stroke. She learned by playing in the water and seeing love of swimming. I have spent about four hundred dollars playing with her at a local pool. However, it brings me so much joy watching her swim so freely in the water, wanting to dive after water rings, jumping off of a one meter diving board, and shooting down water slides. That is something a four-hundred dollar television and cable network can never give me. I wish more people could have there own experiences much like these.

nebo987 said...

Shortly after my first daughters birth, my wife and I moved into a new home. However with this move we did not to take a Television with us. It was very awkward at first. I liked watching the evening news, not local but the national and international news, much like my father. However with this move things were different. I watched my daughter grow and played with her when I had the chance. Now days, my daughter loves to mimics me gardening. But what is truly astonishing is that my daughter is able to swim over 25 meters unassisted in a pool. She is now a talented two and a half year old that swims using the breast stroke. She learned by playing in the water and seeing love of swimming. I have spent about four hundred dollars playing with her at a local pool. However, it brings me so much joy watching her swim so freely in the water, wanting to dive after water rings, jumping off of a one meter diving board, and shooting down water slides. That is something a four-hundred dollar television and cable network can never give me. I wish more people could have there own experiences much like these.

Tumblemoose said...


Good stuff. I work in a public library and more and more folks are replacing television with great vids from the library.

Also Turn Your TV Off Week is April 19 - 25!

Whaa? No Twitter? I wanna follow!

Brandi said...
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Brandi said...
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