from Live Free Learn Free
TV-Free Family for a
by Rachel Johnson
Our family decided to unplug our two
televisions for a week. It’s not that we don’t believe in the entertainment and
educational value of TV or that we dislike watching it. We find value in having a television
(or two) in our home. However, we all agreed to find out what it would be like to be without
that media for a week – a chance to examine our priorities, find ways to broaden our
horizons, rediscover creativity and maybe change some habits. We’re a very busy family
so we don’t watch tons of programs, but we do use TV for relaxation in the evenings,
learning new information, recreation and as background noise for the girls as they fall
When all is said and done, the viewing hours add up more quickly than you’d
think. It had started to seem that at least one television was on every second we were home.
If I wasn’t watching a movie, then my husband was watching the History Channel or
sports, or the girls were watching Disney or Nickelodeon. I started to feel like my life
happened inside a box of cartoons, wars and sitcoms with nonstop background noise.
I suggested the idea of a TV-free week to my family. I wanted it to happen before the new
season premieres, and my husband wanted to be sure not to miss the Kansas City Chiefs
football games, even the preseason games that begin in early August. Thus, we needed to do
it immediately, but we didn’t want to force it on our children. We wanted it to be
their choice as well, so we all discussed it. Laina, our six-year-old, jumped on board
immediately, but Lexi, age nine and a half, took some convincing. She still wasn’t
completely sure she wanted to join us. Eventually, she agreed.
When I woke up that
morning, I unplugged both our televisions. We did set some rules for ourselves. For one
week, we agreed:
• not to watch TV at home or at anyone else’s
• to limit computer time
• not to read books individually
We realized that anything, including television, computers and books, could become a
way to escape reality, hide from others and numb our minds. For one week, we wanted to go
beyond that. We could read books together, for example, but not on our own. With no other
preparation, we plunged into this program.
Day One: July 26, 2004
day, we didn’t miss TV at all because we were busy. After spending the morning at the
zoo viewing the new reptile exhibit, we met a friend at the park for a picnic lunch and
playdate. On the way home, however, we became anxious. What would we do after an active day,
if not relax in front of the television? We discussed the possibility of going to a dollar
theatre and felt relieved to have an out. Once we got home, however, we couldn’t find
a movie we all wanted to see. We decided to fix dinner and talk more. After having chicken
stir-fry, we decided to forgo the movie. Instead, we found a new gluten-free, dairy-free
recipe for chocolate angel food cake, and made it. We even completely cleaned up the kitchen
rather than leaving the dishes for later. Then, the girls went swimming in our two and a
half foot pool while I wrote. Later, we read some of the fifth book in A Series of
Unfortunate Events together. The day ended on a positive note for all concerned.
Day Two: July 27, 2004
several errands during the day, which made it easy not to watch the dreaded box. When we got
home, we made chicken curry for supper and ate. Then, I went to work (I teach ESL a few
evenings a week). When I arrived home, the TV was on because the girls had convinced Daddy I
wouldn’t mind; I guess they’d just had it on for about an hour. I was upset
because we’d made the decision as a family, and I wished they’d waited to change
the decision together as well. We turned it off and all talked for an hour, sharing our
thoughts and feelings about keeping the television off for the remainder of the week. I
enjoyed the intense conversation, because we were all honest and took the time to listen to
each other. We were amazed to discover that we were more connected than when we simply
watched the tube. Afterwards, we played card games together before going to bed. Okay, there
had been a slight setback, but we all pulled together in the end. Habitual behavior is
difficult to break.
Day Three: July 28, 2004
to be taken to the ER, and we had little choice but to watch TV, because all the waiting
rooms had television sets. It’s difficult to get away from TV for a week. In the end,
Lexi was fine but needed to rest at home. Since she didn’t feel well, we turned on the
television for the day. All Lexi could do was lie on the couch and watch TV. Of course,
Laina and I just happened to watch with her. I’m okay with our joint decision. When
your child is ill, nothing matters but helping them heal.
Day Four: July 29, 2004
television-free day. I’ve come to the conclusion that we can do a week of no TV, but
that it just won’t be seven sequential days. In the morning, I caught up with a lot of
chores at home – email, writing, paying bills, cleaning the house, and making phone
calls – while the girls played together. There is a marked difference in how they
interact with each other since we unplugged our televisions. For instance, they have fewer
arguments. Maybe they just needed a break from the tube? The girls and I played Cranium and
read books together this afternoon. Then, we went to pick veggies from the garden. For the
first year (this is our third attempt), our corn grew, so we finally had fresh corn-on-the
cob. The stalks were short, so the corn was short too, but at least we had corn! We ate some
of it raw, and the ears tasted sweet and delicious.
Day Five: July 30, 2004
took a field trip with some unschooling friends. We piled into two minivans and drove to
Lawrence, Kansas to engage in a Survival Science activity. The kids had a great time with
all the learning experiments and projects, their favorite being the scavenger hunt. We
relaxed at home tonight, reading and catching up with email.
Day Six: July 31, 2004
day at home reading books (we moved on to the sixth book of A Series of Unfortunate Events),
playing Scrabble and chess, talking, and laughing together. We even put on an Avril Lavigne
CD and danced around the living room.
Day Seven: August 1, 2004
packed a dinner and drove an hour north to meet homeschooling friends at a camp for the day.
For three wonderful hours we swam in the lake. Afterward, we consumed roasted hot dogs and
marshmallows, took a hayride, played sand volleyball and talked around a bonfire. The day
was gorgeous and relaxing. I love long summer days like today, where we hang out with
friends, both children and adults mingling and sharing. It’s easy not to watch TV when
you’re outside all day!
What We Learned:
This expulsion of the television has certain
advantages when wisely applied. Modern technological aids like the television and computers
play an important part in our lives. We want to have them available to use when the need or
desire arises for education, entertainment, or connection. However, we don’t want to
let them rule our lives; we don’t want them to become habits that disrupt connection
with others, dealing with reality or critical thinking. Balance and moderation are key, and
for our family, allowing each member the opportunity to find his or her own balance and
moderation is important. Over the course of this week, I think we connected more, tried new
experiences, experimented and explored more, and basically reawakened some parts of us that
were dormant. If you want to find out what a TV-free learning experience can do for your
family, I highly recommend the experiment. We enjoyed it so much that I’d like to do
it at least once a year.
I’m glad that I can choose what I want
to watch, because I choose not to watch it as much. Sometimes I’d rather read a book,
listen to music or play a game with my whole family. Other times I do like to watch TV, but
most of the time I like to watch educational shows like the Discovery Channel and Animal
Planet. There are times when I like watching cartoons or movies like The Lord of the Rings
and Harry Potter. I’m glad my parents give me the choice.
Rachel writes poetry, children’s
stories and narratives, including Wake Up Running. She also teaches English as a
second language, tutors online and homeschools her two daughters. She loves to read,
explore nature and train for marathons. Rachel lives with her husband and children in
Kansas City, Missouri.