Giving up television may seem impossible in today’s over-information age, but it really isn’t that difficult.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mean throw your TV out the window—just use it only as a movie screen. If you watch just one hour less of TV per day you would get two extra weeks each year do something outdoors with your family.
More than 13 years ago, my wife and I canceled cable and unplugged the antenna of our TV. Actually, it was her idea and I reluctantly agreed. Since then, we have had absolutely no TV channels, just a television set attached to a DVD and VHS player.
We moved the TV to a corner of our basement family room and set it up to be a movie-watching device. I was surprised that our son and daughter immediately turned to other entertainment, mostly books, board games and outdoor activities.
Here are four practical steps you can take to eliminate television from your family diet:
1. Write down the reasons you and your children watch television and find realistic alternatives for each. Baseball and football games were the hardest thing for me to give up. Now, I pick one or maybe two games that you really “can’t miss” and go to a Del Ray restaurant or bar and make an event of it. Have some appetizers or lunch and enjoy the game with others. You could even invite yourself to a friend’s house, if you are so bold.
2. Try a week without TV and see how it feels. Since “Screen-Free Week” was the first week of May, you may have already tried it. If not, see how you adjust to life without TV for one week. I bet that within a week you will have used your TV time for something more useful or fun. Order DVD movies or get them at the library for “Family Movie Night” on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. At the end of the trial week, cancel your cable before you get back into the TV habit!
3. Listen to the radio and read the newspaper for your news. There are two kinds of news: (1) news upon which you need to take immediate action (like emergencies or school closings); and (2) everything else. Use the radio, phone or Internet for your emergency news source. Read the newspaper, read a magazine or check the Internet for other news you want to catch up on. This gives you the choice of what news you want to let into your head.
4. Move your TV to a room where it is not the center of attention. Hide your TV and make its use a special occasion. We pay more attention (and money) to configuring a room around our TV than we do to more important things, like a piano, music, books or even a fireplace. Whereas the Internet can be an important research tool and a way to communicate with friends and family, the TV is a dead end—filling your head with ads for stuff you don’t need.
As with most of our important family decisions, my wife was right. We don’t watch TV while eating dinner. Our kids are noticeably less materialistic—they don’t know the latest TV commercial products. Most importantly, we each have two more weeks together as a family that we can spend outdoors.