Why I’m Raising My Kids Without TV

It's not about screen time. It’s about sheltering them — in moderation.

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We don’t have a TV, and we’re not getting one.

I could pretend it’s about cutting out “screen-time” (a bugaboo raised by science, now giving way to fresh studies that suggest screens aren’t so bad). I could claim it’s about avoiding violent scenes or sexual innuendos in Disney films. I’d have no trouble explaining to millennials that, in the era of Netflix and YouTube, television is obsolete. But none of those are the reasons why there will never be a television in my home, and that’s not why I’m raising my kids without TV.

I’m raising my kids without TV because they should be sheltered — in moderation.

Look, I get it. We live in a college town and the internet exists. For those two reasons alone, my son and daughter are likely to encounter everything I did (and a lot more) before their tenth birthdays. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sanitizing your children’s lives so they don’t first find out about sex, violence, or drugs until they’re 18 is unrealistic, and studies suggest such strict parenting often leaves children ill-equipped to respond to vices and challenges as adults.

But as much as I’m opposed to the idea of locking the world away from my kids, I’m similarly opposed to the “better if they try it with us” parenting camp. Studies have shown that kids whose parents introduce them to alcohol in moderation at home are just as likely to become alcoholics as anyone else. And anyway, the whole notion of being the one to expose your kids to vices you’d prefer they avoid never made any sense to me. If I don’t want my kids to be violent, making sure they encounter violence only in our home isn’t a good idea. If I don’t want my kids to smoke weed, passing them a blunt can’t possibly be the best way to convey that message.

I’ve discovered a middle ground, and it involves raising my kids without TV. To wit: I won’t set draconian limits on what my kids encounter outside our home. When they’re in school, they’ll see and hear things I don’t approve of. That’s fine — it’s how they’ll grow. But when they cross the threshold of our home, they’ll find a refuge from all of those questionable influences.

My home should be idealistic — and intentionally artificial.

I want my kids to associate home with utopia. Out there, people hurt one another, engage in behaviors they’re not ready for, and experiment with substances that are illegal. But that’s only out there. In here, at home, the family gathers. The real world and its ideals (which are sometimes noble but often at odds with my own) wait patiently on the other side of the door. In this way, my kids are sheltered selectively. They’ll encounter all of the things their friends encounter, and, hopefully, develop a good sense of how to respond to tricky situations. But unlike their friends, they’ll have a time-out from those harsh realities whenever they come home.     

One of the great, wasted gifts of parenthood is the ability to craft your own private utopia and raise your kids within that pretend bubble. You can’t control what happens in the schoolyard, nor should you per se. But you can control what happens within the walls of your house. Your pretend world can be a center of intellect, with books instead of DVDs. It can be a dinner table laden with delicacies and complemented by good conversation, instead of four cold TV dinners.

My home will never have a TV, because television by its very nature kills the idealistic, artificial utopia of home. Here sits a box that lets the outside into my family’s sanctum. The intentionally perfect world I’ve built for my kids to come home to — a mindful refuge from reality that they’ll spend less and less time playing pretend within as they grow older — is marred. A television in my living room won’t offer my son and daughter anything they haven’t already seen outside. All it will do is remind them that there’s no escape from reality. Not even here, at home.

As my kids grow older they’ll encounter negative influences just about everywhere they go, and I hope they’ll have the strength of character to combat them. Regardless, they’ll know that these influences never had any place in our home — even for just one show. Because I decided that my children deserve one space that’s free from the challenges of the outside world. And because I realized that, if that one space is going to be our home, it simply cannot include a television set.

Perhaps this decision will inspire my kids to make better decisions out there. Perhaps it won’t — the ubiquity of smartphones certainly makes it hard to imagine that cracking down on TV alone will ensure that my home remains “outside-proof”. But it’s a start. And perhaps my stab at building an idealistic home will inspire my kids to build similar havens for their own children one day.

If they’re smart, they’ll keep TVs out of their utopias too.   

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