Thursday, June 01, 2006

Not Lost in TV-Land

I grew up in a house in which the television was on, how should I say this -- a lot. Which is to say,it was on most of the time when someone was home, except perhaps in the early morning, when my homemaker mother whistled and was always in a very good mood (I may never forgive her), and did her housecleaning.

The point is that I was determined, as an adult and someday a mom, not to live is such a house. I wanted peace and quiet and a place and space to read, think, and have actual conversations that do not feature lines like, Shh, wait till the commercial, or my personal favorite, when asked what was being watched, “There’s nothing else on.” I always wanted to shout back: Then how about just turning it the *%&*&%^$# off?

And so now I do live in a house where, about 80 percent of the time, the TV is actually turned off, and the VCR and DVD player are not running much either. We read a lot, my boys and I. They play outside and play inside and make stuff up and play jokes on one another and do dopey “science” experiments. But sometimes, they do watch TV. And when one of my sons does happen to watch TV, and it’s time to set the table, and he utters this gem: I’ll do it on the next commercial, well, I am completely and incontrovertibly LIVID.

Now let me explain about the TV habits of my two sons. The older, at 12, is a NASCAR junkie, but may not watch more than 4 hours per week of cars going in circles and crashing, sometimes on purpose. Beyond that, as a future meteorologist, his favorite network is The Weather Channel and his all time favorite show is Storm Stories, a mixture of documentary narration, actual news footage and the meteorological science behind hurricanes, tornadoes, flash floods, mudslides, tsunamis, and blizzards. From September to January, he watches one NFL game a week. When he is home sick, he gravitates toward the History Channel, or Animal Planet, or Discovery, or PBS. If our cable system carried National Geographic, I am sure he would watch that too. That is about it. He has never – not once – seem The Simpsons or Ed, Edd and Eddy, or anything remotely resembling a cop, crime, or forensic show. Amazing, I know. My younger child is still in thrall to a smattering of PBS and Nickelodeon offerings, but only to the tune of about 3 hours a week. Oh, and America’s Funniest Home Videos, especially if they have anything at all to do with farting or burping. Well, he is eight.

I explain all this to illustrate that, on average, my kids, even on a week when they are home sick for a day or two, or snowbound, still watch at least 15 and possibly as many as 20 hours less TV than the average American child. (I checked). Frankly, I can’t imagine when all these other kids have the time to watch – don’t they do homework, play sports, go to religious classes, belong to clubs or organizations, attend birthday parties, play outdoors, do chores, read and occasionally wrestle with their siblings in the living room and break a lamp now and then?

So why do I go absolutely ballistic when the TV is running -- even if I’m in another room where I could close doors and still read my Sunday New York Times? Vestiges of childhood I suppose, when I knew that if I wanted my parents' attention I would certainly need to wait till the commercial, and probably even have to (as I did on several occasions), stand in front of the low-on-the-floor TV/radio/piece of ugly furniture console unit and block their view of Mannix?

I should relax, one friend says, noting that my children’s viewing parameters and their evolving viewing choices and habits, for the most part, already mirror what I set out to do – raise kids who know how to entertain themselves without television and who, when “there’s nothing good on” know how easy it is to just turn it off.

But one thing still bothers me and it’s this: If I am doing the right thing, the best thing, the wholesome thing, then when my kids are in their 30s or beyond and they lose at whatever turns out to be that era’s equivalent of Trivial Pursuit, will they really, really hate me?


Ebun said...

I don't think they will hate you, you're doing the best you can and few hours of TV will not harm anybody as long as they're watching with parental guidance.

MamaZuzi said...

Yup. I agree with ebun. I too would love to take the TV and throw it out the window (or at least out of the house) but having grown up with it and sometimes out of sheer exhaustion or for Saturday night British comedies, I like having it around. I wish my kids had never watched it but they still don't generally watch tons and we do the best we can. T'ain't easy! Keep doing what you are doing - sounds like you are making conscious decisions and that is a good thing.