The video is eye-opening.
Six months ago we did the unthinkable: we killed our TV.
Gasp! ——-> I know!
I still can’t believe we actually did it.
We didn’t just unplug it. We didn’t just turn it off, or hide the remote controls. We took it off life support – we called Comcast and jumped through their labyrinth of poodle hoops to get the cable disconnected. This was an odyssey in itself, since Comcast hardly receives any requests to disconnect from the Mothership, so they weren’t sure how to process our request. In the end, they transferred us to the ironically-named Customer Loyalty Department.
I can’t pinpoint exactly what made me finally summon the courage to shut the whole thing down. We had even bought a new flat-screen. I loved my late-night TV habit, which I unapologetically referred to as “me-time.” I did not want to get rid of the TV, which is why it took me a year to finally come to terms with the idea. Our decision came out of the cumulative experiences that had been collecting and settling themselves on my mommy-consciousness during that final year.
My oldest daughter was 9 and morphing into a tween – and tween TV programming is a far cry from PBS Kids. It’s one thing to be in the room with your child, controlling which program they’re watching, fast-forwarding through the commercials – watching shows like Zaboomafoo, Sesame Street, or (my favorite) Little Bear. All good.
But when your tween begins to wield the remote without you, television becomes a different experience entirely. I started grappling with the uncomfortable feeling that someone else was in the house with my children. Influencing them.
Making them want things.
Hard-wiring their developing brains into little capitalist shoppers.
I am against the commercialization of childhood and marketing to children, yet suddenly there were commercials in our house. I had assumed Disney was age-appropriate, then one day I sat with my tween to watch an episode of iCarly (her favorite show) and to my amazement saw a 14-year-old girl on a couch making out with a 17-year-old boy. Then I watched an episode of Hannah Montana. Go ahead and call me prude, but as a parent the ‘adultification’ of the Disney girls unnerved me. The look of admiration on my tween’s face as she watched these shows unnerved me, too.
In my world, a 14-year-old is still a child. When I was 14, I had only just stopped playing – secretly – with dolls. I know that times have changed, but one thing I’m not going to do is give advertisers free reign in my home to influence how my daughters think.
Soon after the iCarly episode, Ella, 6, said:
- “I know how you can get that stain out of the carpet – you need to buy some Oxyclean!” and,
- “Can we go to 1-800-Beaches?”
I ran to call Comcast. Suddenly I couldn’t get it disconnected fast enough. Something in the way she repeated the ads – with such conviction – disturbed me.
Aside from programming kids to robotically want stuff, my other fears about TV are:
- how girls and women are valued for being pin-thin stick insects,
- how much gratuitous violence there is,
- how violence is normalized,
- how aging is portrayed as something bad to be avoided,
- how drug companies have free reign to push drugs during the primetime news,
- how the brain becomes a receptacle when a child watches TV and stops functioning – eyes glaze over, and real thinking slows to a trickle.
So I disconnected our cable.
It wasn’t easy – I loved TV. But I’d gotten into the habit of turning it on at night after the girls fell asleep. I’d watch low-end, late-night tabloid news – stuff that makes you phobic about being in underground parking garages after dark. I watched murder and abduction stories on Nancy Grace.
I couldn’t be trusted to turn on NatGEO or The Discovery Channel – like a bottom feeder, I’d go straight for the low-end shows, Celebrity Rehab and Teen Mom. I could feel myself dumbing down, my brain cells atrophying while I sat like a troll in the dark, glued to the box.
So we got rid of it. It was one of the best parenting decisions we have made.
The kids adjusted fine – but I went through Idol withdrawals.
I get my commercial-free news from NPR and BBC in the car. And I need to say that I’m really not parsimonious and judgmental about families who watch TV. It’s just that I was getting to the point where I was unable to moderate it – so I did something about it.
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