Quitting Television Cold Turkey

I have the sweetest baby boy in the world. Okay, so he’s more of a toddler than a baby, but he’ll always be my sweet baby love. Josiah, now almost eighteen months, had my heart from the very beginning. I read that some mommas don’t experience that immediate bond with their children, but it was completely natural for me. Like breathing.

So anyway, although Josiah is “all boy,” he has always been a compassionate little soul. I think it’s a beautiful mix of DNA and our commitment to attachment parenting. He is gentle with smaller children, he is incredible at sharing, giving of his toys, even, and being an excellent communicator, he’s usually mild mannered and happy. Such a sweet spirit…

Until the last two weeks. Suddenly, my sweet boy is crying and whining…all the time. Okay, so maybe that’s an exaggeration, but when you’re used to a child who rarely cries, who entertains himself, who is generally pleasant, you feel very overwhelmed by a whiner. He was simply unsatisfied. Nothing was good enough. No toy, no book (which he usually loved), no activity, no food. Nothing made him happy for more than a few minutes…except “shows.” Yep, that’s right. Television.

Dustin and I have intentionally lived without cable since we lived in Ohio, over 3 years ago. For both of us, it was a crutch during times of sadness, fear, and laziness. So we got rid of it. But we still watched DVD’s and shows on Hulu or Netflix. That’s been Josiah’s experience with television. Until the last month, his “shows” we’re few and far between. He mainly watched “Baby Signing Time” DVDs that we borrowed from the library, which were 28 minutes long (I highly recommend these if you are going to allow your children to watch any television). He usually watched them once per day, occasionally more if we were super busy or he was sick. But we had committed to not allowing television to be a crutch for parenting or an overly regular part of our children’s lives (I’m pretty sure that’s a commitment we made when we were dating. Yeah, we talked about stuff like that).

Until about a month ago, Josiah’s television experience was very educational, and it showed. His signing and verbal language flourished past expectations. But when internal and external stressors got the best of his daddy and I, we fell down the slippery slope of convenience. He went from dancing and learning to one show per day, to becoming a glazed over television junkie. Now don’t get me wrong, he did not watch television all day. He still did all of his other activities, but because television was becoming a more regular part of his life, he asked for it constantly.

Suddenly, he was unsatisified with the activities that once once brought him joy. He stopped pulling out piles of books (that should have been my first clue), he didn’t want music, but television, he cried when we weren’t on the floor with him, and when we were, nothing entertained him for long. We were all getting frustrated. I usually stay on top of behavioral and developmental issues, but nothing made sense. Until I started thinking about the effects of television on our culture.

Just as with my tiny man, television makes us all unsatisfied. In a very obvious way, commercials, “reality shows”, music videos, and the news tell us that we are not enough unless we are constantly consuming, changing, upgrading. Consider the commercial for HTC Droid DNA that literally says, “It’s not an upgrade to your phone; it’s an upgrade to yourself.” Companies aren’t even trying to be sly anymore. They are coming right out and saying that you are better if you buy this or that product. We’ve been brainwashed for so long that they don’t even have to be creative anymore. And the sad part is, we sit and watch this garbage until we run out and buy more things, only to go home and repeat the cycle.

In the less obvious way, the one that sneaks past you as you stare wide, glossy eyed in front of the glowing box, is the way television makes you unsatisfied with actual life experiences. This is the one that creeped into our family this month before we were able to confront it. Television allows you to do absolutely nothing, while still receiving enough stimulation to the pleasure centers of your brain to make you think you’re happy. It allows us to “experience” things without any real effort. Therefore, when it comes to actually living, we’d rather not. Too much work. Why read when you can watch? Why travel when you can get all that “adventure” from the Discovery Channel? Why invest in relationships when you can peek into the “lives” of other people and pretend you’re there? Escape reality. Rather than live, watch. Get without putting forth any effort.

I believe that cultural norm is why kids can no longer learn from teachers. Now they “need” computers and tablets (she says as she types on her iPad). That’s why children no longer know how to sit in church. They need to have their own service that caters to them. Why not? They are conditioned to expect someone or something else to provide them entertainment, so sitting through a class or service that doesn’t serve their interests is too much to handle.

And it’s sad really. Because our culture is so used to “experiencing” the world from the comfort of home, we’ve forgotten what it really means to live. We go on vacation, and our hotel rooms must have cable. It’s like the teenager who ignores the majesty of the mountains, because she’s stewing over missing American Idol for a “stupid” family vacation. Television is like over salting your food. Before long, you’ve forgotten how to taste the real flavors on your plate. And before we knew it, our son had forgotten how to enjoy life around him.

Shame on us. We pulled the “shows” cold turkey. Three days of television fasting, and he’s already back to being my sweet boy. Lesson learned.

Don’t watch. Go out and live.

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