Day One -- A Groggy Morning
The first morning of our TV-free week didn't go exactly as planned. Despite extensive preparations -- including several new books from the library, audio books, kid-friendly podcasts, art projects, and bowls of cereal set out the night before -- my husband and I still did not get the sleeping-in time that comes with Saturday morning cartoons.
While the kids' initial reaction to screen-free week had been filled with mournful sobs and emphatic declarations of "That's a bad plan!" -- they soon built up excitement around the idea. I think that might have had something to do with how early they woke up.
6:14 a.m. As I stumbled through the dining room to hook up the iPod for my son, my daughter was already engrossed in a book. "I love reading!" she said. If the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood had been there filming a reality show, this would have been their golden moment.
6:17 a.m. Back in bed, the covers pulled over my head, when my son -- who's 4 years old -- comes in to ask for help putting his headphones on. He puts the Pinky Doo podcast on and goes back to the living room, this time leaving the door open so my husband and I can hear everything the kids say to each other.
6:32 a.m. My daughter comes in for help with her finger-knitting project. She can't get the yarn tied around her finger. I help. She leaves.
6:33 a.m. She comes back in because she's forgotten how exactly to finger knit. I show her how to wrap the yarn around her finger and pull one loop over the other. She gets the hang of it, but decides she wants to sit on top of me while she finishes her project. My husband and I urge her to go back to her room. She protests. We insist, etc.
6:40 a.m. My daughter finally leaves the room. I pull the covers back over my head. I drift off.
6:45 a.m. My son comes in to get help opening up the CD case for one of the audio books. He leaves.
6:46 a.m. He comes back in to ask which book goes with the CD. I tell him. He leaves. The morning continues like this, though we eventually get a blissful 20 minutes of peace when both kids are building a spider web of yarn in their bedroom. But since my son has left our bedroom door open, we can hear every word they say to each other, including arguments. Still, it's better than nothing.
7:11 a.m. I finally get up. There's only so much choppy sleep I can handle before it feels like absolute torture.
My husband and I definitely miss the more peaceful TV-filled Saturday morning. But seeing the kids so excited about books and creative projects is rewarding. Also, this experience may have inspired my son to quit a bad habit. He's been saying "weird" non-stop -- about everything from what we serve for breakfast to pretty much anything his sister says. But this morning he tells me this is also "weird-free week."
With the rest of the day filled with out-of-the-house plans, we don't miss the TV much. Our next challenge will be how we deal with the early evening, when my husband and I often use the TV to deflect any pre-dinner meltdowns.
Day Two -- High-Intensity Parenting
4:19 p.m. Sunday afternoon has been the toughest so far -- and it's only day two of our TV-free week. My husband awoke early with the kids to let me sleep in a bit and by 4 o'clock, he's discovered that no TV means a lot more hands-on parenting. And he's been a busy man: drawing with one kid or another, digging in the garden with our daughter, wrestling laundry and dishes in between it all while I video-chat with the grandparents and do the grocery shopping.
At this point in the weekend, we could all use some downtime. Yes, it would be nice if the kids could find things to occupy themselves quietly, but it's not a sure thing like TV is. When we turn on Word Girl or Sid the Science Kid on a normal Sunday afternoon, my husband and I both exhale a giant breath that we've been holding in for what feels like two days.
Here's the thing: My kids could care less if it's screen-free week, it's us parents who are suffering. I'm sure if we threw the TV out the window we'd eventually fall into a workable rhythm, but honestly, I'm not sure the sacrifice is worth it. What's 30 minutes of a vocabulary-building superhero going to do to our kids besides make their parents happier?
Out of desperation, I review the TV-alternatives offered by the supporters of Screen-Free Week. But alas, they are no help. Here are their suggestions, among others, for what to do instead of watching TV:
Walk the dog.
Put on a play.
Ride a bike.
Play a board game.
Visit a park.
Now, these are all great activities to do with kids, but we do these things already (well, except for the dog walking...). It's not like we're sitting home with the television on wondering, "What else could we be doing right now?" Actually, if the kids are watching TV, we are either:
Taking a shower.
Cleaning the kitchen.
Managing our finances.
For parents, a weekend with no TV is no less busy, just more stressful. On the positive side, I'm happy to have found some great podcasts (the audio version of Pinky Dinky Doo) and audio books for the kids that I'm sure we'll use even when our screen-free experiment is over.
In other news, my son's "weird-free week" is going surprisingly well. He's slipped a few times, but I think he feels bolstered by our family experiment to do his own self-improvement, and that - knowing how hard that can be - makes me proud.
Tomorrow we'll find out what it's like to get ready for work without the electronic babysitter.
Day Three -- Why Do We Watch TV?
Whew ! Now that the weekend's over, I predict smooth sailing for the rest of the Screen-Free Week. We don't watch that much TV on weekdays. Compared to the national average of 34 hours per week of TV viewing (for adults) and 7.5 hours of screen-time per day for kids (over 8), we are on the very low end of the scale.
Today -- day 3 -- we were able to get ready for work and school with only minor adjustments to the morning routine. And my daughter has already adapted to TV-free mornings by tearing through her new library books (new favorite: Mouse and Mole). While we appreciate WordGirl for her dictionary-decoding efforts, consistent reading is by far a better vocab-builder.
This experiment has been an excellent excuse to really analyze how and why we use television in our family. With our kids at 4 and 6 years old, we acknowledge that TV watching is purely a parenting choice. The kids -- as much as they may adore H.R. Pufnstuf and Jake and the Never Land Pirates and Kiki's Delivery Service -- would much rather be engaging directly with us, or with a book, or with a pile of clay. We let them watch TV because it makes life easier for us, plain and simple.
As the kids get older, I'm sure they'll ask to watch the shows their friends are watching. But part of the benefit of this experience isthat they're learning how to occupy themselves without constant parent attention. I predict we will struggle with balance, but I'm confident we will find it.
After our grueling weekend, I'm more than ever a proponent of media in moderation. Teaching our kids, and ourselves, how to understand and regulate our engagement with TV (and Facebook, texting, and Angry Birds, for that matter) has been a valuable lesson.
Tomorrow I'll round up some of the great tips from readers on ways to limit TV, plus I''ll update you on how many chapter books my daughter has read since this project began. (Three so far!)