All of my best ideas come from books… books that, uh, well, books that other people read. That’s right. I’m literate, and fairly well spoken most of the time, and I struggle to read more than two books a year. My mom will be crushed, as she reads about two books a day. Oh well. Blogs and email are a sort of reading too.
I love finding some contrarian concepts and defending them on their merits… something like eating cookies every night as a form of diet (a story for another time). This one, though, comes from my wife.
I can remember coming home from work a while after Aspen was born and being completely obsessed with this new show I had discovered called The West Wing. OK, really, it had come out at least a year prior, but I’m behind on these things sometimes. I’m totally into Lost right now as well, but I’m mired in Season 2, not Season 5 (which starts tonight, I hear). I’d been so obsessed with catching up on the show via my VCR that I put it in for two hours every night when I got home. Ultimately, after a few weeks of this, Jenn called me on it. I was watching TV instead of playing with the girls, and she was tired of it.
Somewhere around this time, Jenn read a book called The Read Aloud Handbook, by Jim Trelease. This book as much as anything else is why our children basically don’t watch television. Seriously. I know other parents who “limit screen time” or “only let their kids watch a little bit”. I don’t begrudge anyone their choices, but our kids really don’t watch TV on their own at all. They will, if I am really into something, come down from a nap and finish a Titans’ game with me or something, but that might be 5 times a year.
The degree to which our kids don’t watch TV is something I would have never predicted years ago. I like TV. I watched it growing up, I watch it today. But, as Jim Trelease (or Jenn) would tell you, it does things to kids. It changes them.
The decision to not watch TV has had an incredibly positive impact on my daughters’ lives. Their ability to concentrate, speak, read, spell… their collective intelligence, they all amaze me. While I can’t scientifically prove that the absence of TV is the reason for their success, I believe these things have had huge impacts on them. Aspen and Oakley both, in 2nd grade and kindergarten respectively, read at levels far beyond their peers. You know why? ‘Cause they read all the time. Some of the time they read on their own, other times they listen while we read. All of it helps.
Will my kids ever watch TV? I suspect they will. It will be allowed, in doses, over time. They’ll pick up things. I actually have a firm believe that comprehension of popular culture is an important communication skill, it’s a fluency. They’ll have to learn who Simon Cowell is at some point, right? I mean, that is important. So the time will come, but it will be after a foundation of sorts is in place.
If you’re pondering the subject thinking, “But I need time to do such and such,” I can certainly understand. Were it me, alone, taking care of these girls, the TV would have undoubtedly been a part of our lives. I don’t have the patience to go without it all the time. I would have used it for a break. But my wife is committed and tireless. These words, coming from me, are a high compliment to her. Jenn’s commitment to a given cause is unwavering, and she literally has never turned the TV on for the girls. Amazing.
And you know what? There’s a payoff to all this. Aspen and Oakley, at this point, are so able to entertain themselves… it’s marvelous. (Well, it’s marvelous except when that entertainment includes pestering each other endlessly… with big vocabularies…) School? Homework? So far, they’ve been unequivocal successes. I give the girls credit, they both put forth proper efforts at school, but I have no doubt that their foundation has a lot to do with their success. Their ability to absorb is so different from kids who have learned to sit in front of a TV and have it wash over them. (I do this at night… I know what it’s like. There’s a state of mind where you don’t catch anything. My girls are unfamiliar with this state of mind. Sponges, they are.)
Aspen, certainly, is aware that she’s different. Her friends ask her if she’s allowed to watch TV… they know she isn’t, and she answers as much. Does it bother her? I’m not convinced that it does. When she talks about it, she does so matter-of-factly. Aspen and Oakley both are pretty free with telling me things they don’t like, things that should be different. (Aspen has made it clear that she should not be obligated to eat cashews. I, in turn, have made it clear that her mother will disown her if she disrespects that fine nut one more time.) Neither of them has ever said to me, “Daddy, can we watch ________ show?”
Why’d we do that to you? Well, Mommy read a book once, and so we started reading to you at night instead of turning on the TV. And, really, you seemed to like it, so we kept doing it. The reading became a habit, and the TV didn’t mind, so we kept going. Suddenly, it became apparent that you girls were smart and that you didn’t really miss the TV. The silence in the house lets us hear each other and learn from that.
I never would have suggested it, or even gone for it, eight years ago. It’s just too extreme. But would I go back and turn the TV on in retrospect? Not a chance.