Monday, April 5, 2010

Being There

I'm sure my Media Monday and TV Tuesday posts frequently sound like Luddite tirades. I'll grant that my personal preference leans towards a "less is more" approach to technology and television (not that I live up to that in my real life, mind). But I do think technology has a valuable role in our society, including in the lives of our children.

These posts can seem like an overwhelming to-do list for parents who are all too often already struggling to keep up with the daily demands of life, but it's not intended to be that way. They are intended as a record of ideas and suggestions. I've heard far too many parents complain that they don't know how to control the role of digital media in their lives or that of their children, and it can be especially difficult for those parents whose children are prone to obsession.

It's your life. It's your children's upbringing. You control it. Not your computer. Not your cell phone. Not the TV. Not your cable package. And certainly not the gaming console.

I have frequently allowed myself to use the television for background noise, especially when I have been the only adult at home. Having something going keeps away the temptation to shirk my daily chores and go out to Starbucks. But I find, time and again, that when I do that I also allow unnecessary stressors into my life. I end up watching shows I find annoying or listening to people I find offensive. Finding something "worth" watching can interrupt an hour of my life and raise my blood pressure with frustration. I don't need that. Life is stressful enough without letting the remote be my master. I was allowed into that trap as a child, too, and it was stressful then.

I've heard many people sing the praises of living cable free. They say it's easier to keep the kids away from consumerism and bad behavioral habits, that their children are more intellectually inclined, more imaginative, more active. I believe they may take it a little too far, as I think it's important for kids to grow up with some exposure to pop culture. It makes social interaction much easier. I also think the television can be a valuable learning tool (the recent Planet Earth documentary series is an excellent example). What I want for my life and that of my son is to strike a balance in which we can enjoy quality viewing time that adds richness to our lives, but does not control us.

As you and your child enjoy different programming ask yourself the following:
  • Does the show you are watching/talking about really engage your interest?
  • Do you feel good while/after watching it?
  • If you couldn't watch this show, would you miss it?
  • What do you gain by watching this show?
Now, these questions shouldn't be used to limit your viewing to period film and documentaries unless that's what you really enjoy. If you find real enjoyment in watching the afternoon soaps or the latest reality program, that's good too! It's about making sure that your entertainment is actually entertaining and not burdensome.

While I have my doubts about going cable free or TV free, I do think going on occasional fasts from the television can be useful. The first day or two can be difficult, but after that you may find yourself exploring a new interest, doing things you haven't gotten around to for a while, or simply spending more quality time with family. It's important to make sure that the TV is not the central theme of your life. It's also important for kids to know how to enjoy life without a screen in front of their faces.

So, all that said, I encourage you to participate in TV-Turnoff Week this month (April 19-25). If you are interested, visit this website for details.

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