At the end of June, as summer vacation dawned and endless days of childhood romping loomed, we made what I will self-congratulatorily call the brave decision to unplug the television and hide away all video games for two full weeks.
Our three sons were initially shocked and more than a little dismayed, but they soon got into the spirit of it–reaching for books and puzzles and board games to such an extent that their childhoods were beginning to look more like their parents’ and less like the plugged-in experiences of their generation.
My eight-year-old son read, among other titles, an adapted version of Moby Dick, and together with his seven- and four-year-old brothers mastered the nuances of Twister and Perfection. And all of them have been outside–a lot. Their imaginations have always been, shall we say, fertile; but removing the electronics brought their collective storytelling abilities to a whole new level.
On the day television was reintroduced, we had a chat. What always concerned us as parents was the utter passivity that comes with television–not the viewing of it per se but rather how they decide–or don’t decide–what to watch. They were accustomed to simply turning on the television at approved times during the day and viewing whatever was on. It didn’t matter if they liked the show or not; they simply watched whatever the network chose for them. It was disheartening and more than a little concerning.
I was raised in front of the television and probably garnered my social conscience from Michael Stivic on All in the Family, my belief in happily-ever-afters from The Love Boat, and my sass from Flo on Alice. Name any show produced from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, and I’ve seen it. And though I don’t really watch television anymore, it’s due less to any lingering animosity and more to my propensity to fall asleep once I sit down to watch.
And while I know there is plenty on television today that is not worth even my cat’s time, there is much that is good. Couple that with the fact that our children have to engage with their peers and should possess at least a modicum of knowledge of SpongeBob to carry on a decent playground conversation, and we decided to allow them to watch.
But only thirty minutes a day.
And they have to be selective.
We go online and check the day’s schedule for their favorite stations, and they each choose one show. No longer passive receptacles but critical thinkers and active participants in their viewing, we hope we are sowing the seeds of lifelong savvy media consumers.
Yesterday my eight-year-old announced that there might be some days when he chooses to watch no television if there is nothing on he wants to see and asked if that would “okay.”
It sounds as though he’s on his way.