No TV

by: 

Sara Hamilton (guest blogger)

I don’t have a TV. There. I said it. I can picture your face, blank stare, uncomprehending.  I’ve seen it hundreds of times. And then I have to launch into explanations. No, no television anywhere in my house. No, I’m not Amish. No, my parents aren’t hippies or Quakers or Nazis. Yes, I know what a TV is. And on and on and on. But the real explanation is not even really an explanation. I simply don’t have one, never have, maybe never will. I just looked it up—99% of Americans own at least one television set. Along with this statistic I found several articles, all speculating about the true nature of those radical enough to go TV-less, one even going as far to say that TV occupies a spot among food and shelter as one of the basic necessities of life. Yet somehow, I do not feel at all extreme, and definitely not deprived.

As a kid, I never knew I was missing anything. Instead of watching TV I read. And read, and read, and read. My mom would take me to the library once a week and I would return home with the library’s limit of 20 books per visit, my worn tote bag bursting at the seams. Instead of watching Hey Arnold or playing N64, I spent my time immersed in the fantastical worlds that books created for me. I solved mysteries alongside the Boxcar Children and sipped tea with Alice and the Mad Hatter, rode in a flying Ford Anglia with Harry and Ron and braved the frontier with Laura Ingalls, battled a dragon with Bilbo the hobbit, and helped Matilda take down the evil Ms. Trunchbull.

But when I got to middle school, I suddenly realized that I was different, and I was ashamed. For years I tried to skirt around the fact that I was TV-less. I just wanted to be a normal kid, one who went home and laid on the couch channel surfing or playing Mario Kart, bag of potato chips in hand. I would beg and plead with my parents to give in and get a television, but they never caved.

As I got older, I slowly became less and less embarrassed by my lack of a TV.  Gradually, I have come to realize that living without TV has been more of a blessing than a curse. I easily avoid the “I tried to finish my homework but then that one show came on…” trap that so many of my friends complain of falling into. A lifetime of painting my own mental pictures rather than having them drawn for me has given me a daydreaming capacity unlike any other, and I can sit and think for hours without fear of boredom. However, most importantly, through not having a TV I discovered words, and came to love them.  I am constantly in awe of the power they have, and I don’t think beautifully crafted sentences, with the power to tug heartstrings, paint beauty, or make the impossible into something nearly tangible, will ever fail to amaze me.

Sara Hamilton was raised TV-Free in West Virginia.  She is a Freshman at Yale, where she writes for Yaleepicurean.com and works part time for The Yale Center for British Art.

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Comments

What a lovely article! Thanks

What a lovely article! Thanks for sharing. I also grew up without a television, and found myself often embarassed by my lack of popular culture. However, as a parent, I now find myself battling with the bad habit of plunking my own children in front of the TV to try and get projects done around the house. Looking forward to a week free (and hopefully continue it on!)
Hooray for the power of the written word!

Like you, I have always been

Like you, I have always been a prolific reader and never had a TV in my adult life, nor allowed my kids one. When I moved to Paris 20 years ago, I met many similar people. Now, alas, France has apparently caught up to the US. It is considered strange not to have an Iphone (and all similar i-products.), almost cruel to deprive your children of video games, and just plain archaic not to have a TV I stand my ground and my children fit in fine with their tv’d peers but here's the problem--TV trickles in through the internet and I feel powerless to prevent my older child from wasting time watching the new breed of series that has cropped up on youtube. Yes, I am home to keep an eye on him but you can’t exactly glue yourself to your teen. I do possess parental filters but you can’t screen out insipidness. As this website duly notes, screens are omnipresent, in schools, on planes, and restaurants, and even the post office, in every room of every house. I feel powerless to shield my children from them, however desperately I try. I tell my 8-year-old that “screens make you fat and stupid” and he still believes me—but for how long?

Life Without TV

Thank you for your comments on life without TV. I grew up with multiple TV's in my home and can empathize with the time traps noted by your friends. I am working on limiting my own TV time, especially in terms of entertainment, as there are many other educational and satisfying activities I could engage in during that time.

However, I wonder what your thoughts are on other forms of media and use of TV for non-entertainment purposes. While I could do without the constant influx of commercials, I also use the TV and other forms of media for updates on local and global events. Do you gather this information from sources like this blog? Or from on-line journals and newspapers?

I appreciate that many of these forms of media allow for or encourage dialogue more than the passive presentation of the same material on TV. However, I do think we do need to be engaged as some level. How do you balance limiting screen time and engagement in your own life?

Thank you again for your post!

Congratulations -- and arguments for you

Hi, Sara,
you could be my granddaughter (my oldest daughter is 47 years old). I never had a TV at home until my youngest daughter (now 38) became adult. It was the best gift I and my wife could give our children. I have it, but rarely watch it -- I think the last time was about months ago. I don't know if your parents had no TV due to an intuition that it was not good, or they had concrete arguments against it. I have them. Look at my web site at http://www.ime.usp.br~vwsetzer for some articles I wrote on the subject of electronic media and education (involving also video games, computers and the Internet). Besides your considerations, you will find many other arguments. In particular, there is a paper I have not translated yet into English, but you may take advantage of its extensive references of scientific papers concerning the ill effects of the media: http://www.ime.usp.br/~vwsetzer/efeitos-negativos-meios.html Anyone that is in favor of using the media, mainly with children and adolescents, simply ignores the scientific evidences against them. There are obviously some benefits of using the media, but in my opinion the ill effects surpass infinitely the few benefits. We are in urgent need of changing our way of thinking and our habits, because the usual ones are destroying nature and ourselves. I think one of the first changes is our way of regarding and using electronic media. You have done it in terms of TV, congratulations!
All the best, Val. (São Paulo, Brazil)

Blank Stare

Oh, how I can relate to this article!! While I grew up with a TV, I never really cared for it. Instead, I read immensely and built forts and mud pies outside. When my now-husband and I moved in together, we simply didn't buy a TV. Neither of us watched it. We would occasionally watch DVDs on a laptop, but that was ample. In the working world, I started out feeling left out and regretful since the vast majority of lunchtime conversations were about TV and the shows the night prior. Eventually, as I realized how dependent my coworkers were to "their shows", I began to revel in my freedom. I'll never forget the first year my husband had his review, when he got a good raise & bonus. Upon hearing about his successes, a friend & coworker of his said, "I know someone who's going our and buying a TV tonight!!" That was the last thing we would spend the bonus on, but I guess this guy figured that the only possible reason someone would go without TV is if he couldn't afford it. Hah! Oh, this world!

Great lesson...

My husband and I have been discussing disconnecting for several weeks. We note a major difference in our daughter and ourselves when the TV is off and are thinking of making that permanent. Thank you for your input and showing you can grow up perfectly normal (well above average, in my opinion) with media raising you and telling you what to think!

no tv in the home...

I commend those who have opted not to have television in the home. I realize that some feel that this is an inferior way of living. When I grew up, we eventually did have a television in our home...and it belonged to someone who was upgrading to colour. My parents enjoyed the news and we were allowed to watch The Ed Sullivan show. At first, we felt that this was a huge step forward for our family. We read, played outside, did volunteer work, visited family, took day trips etc. In time, we eventually became a fixture in front of the one eyed monster. Kids shows after school, Saturday morning cartoons. Looking back on it, we were like most, wanting everything we saw, and it is like today...we display little self control and the tv is on without anyone watching...just for the company. No need to read...just for the enjoyment of it...we have tv, so why read the book if you can get the movie?.

Thank You!

Sara,
My Wife and I have raised are raising our family with no TV and our story echos yours. No big religious or isolationist convictions here; it just seems that our short time on this Earth can be better spent. Our oldest is just entering high school, and it is reassuring that you navigated those years so well and have no trouble engaging the "Real World." Funny how some think the "Real World" is found on TV! Thank you for your story.

Annoying foxtel salespeople

Here in Australia not that many people have cable, and in shopping centres people trying to sell you foxtel basically block your path as you walk by to try to get you to sign up. We've also had them come to our door. The look on their faces when I say I don't watch TV is absolutely priceless!!
Ok...to be honest...I actually do have a tv, but we almost never watch it - just the odd DVD or documentary maybe once a fortnight.

Another TV free Home

I have raised my daughter without TV or much screen time and as she reached middle school she began to thank me, for all the hours she spent drawing, painting, making music, gardening, doing science, writing, climbing trees, looking at bugs, etc, etc.
We have found like-minded friends which has made it much easier.

I have the quote on my fridge from Groucho Marx: No one looks back on their life and wishes they had watched more TV.

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