My husband and I have, mostly, parented our daughters as a team. While we each have different strengths and priorities (I make sure they practice piano in the evening, he’s fun), for the big decisions we strive to be on the same page.
So you can imagine my surprise when he announced to our 9 year olds one evening “If you don’t watch TV for one year I’ll rent you a horse.” [insert sound of record scratch here] He immediately looked over at me very sheepishly and said “Well, I haven’t talked to mom about this yet….”
It’s known in our family that my husband can sometimes, just occasionally, overreact. When our oldest daughter was 5 years old he grounded her for a year. “Honey,” I said to him, “you’ve got to start with something smaller, like a weekend, and work up to a year.”
But in this case the gauntlet had been thrown.
The following half hour entailed terms and negotiation.
“We can still watch TV on the weekend.” “No, no TV for a year.”
“What about special occasions?” “You can watch TV if you have a babysitter or we decide to have family movie night.”
“You and mom can’t watch TV either then.” “No, this deal is just for you.”
Now, although I’d been caught off-guard, it’s true that our daughters’ TV watching habit had gotten out of control. And we’d gotten lazy. Once our daughters figured out how to use the cable TV remote control, and learned which channels were Disney and Nickelodeon, they no longer woke us at 6:30am on Saturday. They could quietly creep downstairs, turn on TV, and we could sleep in until 8:30, 9:00, sometimes 9:30. And if we were really lazy, we could hang out in bed talking or reading until 11am, giving them almost 5 straight hours of TV watching before we noticed.
We’ve always had a rule of no TV watching during the week, but come Friday afternoon the girls were eager to get home and start their TV marathon. And let’s face it, Disney was a cheap babysitter, allowing me to squeeze in a few more hours of work at the end of a busy week.
My husband and I knew things were out of control, and that TV had become far too important to the girls, but we felt old and tired. And guilty.
Then one evening our 17 year old texted me, while babysitting for another family, to say we shouldn’t let the younger girls watch their favorite shows because they were filled with racial stereotypes and age inappropriate. A few nights later she shared her opinion with her sisters at dinner.
Now, when my husband made the pony promise, he never expected the girls would make it through the first weekend. Well, the joke is on us because with the exception of a few family movie nights, we’re into the third month!
Yes, our children have gone for almost 3 months without TV!
We’ve noticed some amazing and unexpected benefits:
- They sleep in later on the weekend. Where before their internal body clocks were awakening them before daybreak because TV awaited, they now sometimes sleep until 8am!
- They’ve formed a team – they’re in this together. I’ve heard one in the morning reminding the other who was heading downstairs “remember, don’t turn on the TV!”
- They’re playing together more. While I thought they’d outgrown their Zhu Zhu pets and Barbies, I now hear them playing together – the imaginative play they used to do that I loved so much. One warm fall evening they came home from school and said “Let’s play Peter Pan!” and they fashioned costumes and swords while I made dinner.
- They’re reading like crazy. On several occasions I’ve realized the house is completely quiet. I’ve called out to the girls to find they’re laying on their beds reading.
- They fight less. Sure, there’s still some bickering – they’re competitive twin girls who share a bedroom, not angels – but our house is noticeably calmer.
Will they make it a year? I don’t know, 12 months is a long time and we have some rainy days ahead. I hope they do. It will be fun to see them experience the reward and we will gladly put up with the expense and inconvenience. In fact, my husband has already been checking out stables!
And if they don’t? Well, I don’t think we’ll ever go back to where we were.