Why I Choose To Not Have a Television

In my house growing up, we had two televisions. One in the basement, in the TV/playroom, and one in the kitchen. Every day, during breakfast, my dad would have the news on, and then when he left for work, the station would switch and we'd have some kids' show, like Arthur. My little brother and sister got to the point that they'd only eat breakfast when there was Arthur or Telletubbies on, and since my mother was concerned about them not eating enough, we always had TV on during breakfast.
On Sundays, we'd watch Magic School bus. My mom would record educational TV shows like Bill Nye the Science Guy, Reading Rainbow, and other similar shows when I was younger. I'd look forward to a sick day when I could lie down on the couch in the basement and just watch TV non-stop. Big Comfy Couch, Arthur, Price is Right- anything- so long as it was TV. I would lie there, eyes glued to the screen, from morning until evening.
When I wasn't sick, I used to watch TV when I got back from school when my mom was out (I was in love with Dawson's Creek when I was in high school). We'd have to earn TV time, and mom only wanted us to watch educational stuff. (And Star Trek. Because she was a Trekkie, and she watched it, so we ended up watching it with her.)

I was in love with TV growing up. As you can see, whenever I could watch, I would.

And yet, as an adult, I choose not to have a TV in my house. No, I don't mean that I don't have cable. No TV whatsoever, cable or no.
Yes, we do watch movies on Youtube, etc... but no TV.
I have lots of issues with TV, which is why I don't bring it into my house.

Here's why I choose to have no TV and to raise my kids with no TV, even though TV was a big part of my life growing up.

TV is addicting.
I remember sitting in front of the TV for so long, eyed glued to the screen, simply unable to turn it off. And as soon as one show was over, immediately another would come on. And when that was over, another would come on. And another! It never was over! Getting up from the TV took a lot of self control, or mom yelling at us.
It is very hard for most people to say "Ok, I've had enough TV" because they want to see what comes next. And what is after that. It's a vicious cycle. At least with a movie, when it's over, it's over.

TV hooks you in. 
Because you know that certain shows are only on at certain times, you end up scheduling your life around the TV show, because otherwise you'd miss it. Instead of having life and scheduling relaxing breaks with TV into it, TV ends up dictating what you do with your life and when.
And because of series that have continuations, and wanting to keep up with the plot line, even if you wouldn't mind doing something other than watch TV, you end up feeling that you need to watch, otherwise you'll miss out and won't be able to keep up with the story.

Watching the unknown.
I will never watch a movie without first knowing the title, the rating, the plot line, the genre, etc... I don't want to watch gory movies, nor do I want to watch movies with nudity or heavily sex based. I hate horror movies and depressing movies. I always check out these details about movies before even considering watching them. And that's just for me- even more so for my kids! There are certainly things that I don't want them seeing at ages 5 and 3, and yes, that includes things that are on kids' TV channels.
When you watch TV, things just come on, without telling you what it's rated, what the plot line is, what genre it is. And you watch the unknown. And you can end up being very much surprised...
Last time I was watching TV was when I was visiting my mother in law. My husband, Lee, and I were watching a movie, seemed like a nice family movie... and then part way through it turned out it was a horror movie. Bad idea. I like to know before something comes on what it will be about, whether or not it is appropriate, and whether or not I want to watch it or want my kids to see it. TV doesn't usually give you that choice.

This is a biggie for me. It's one of the main reasons I don't want a TV.
You know how TV companies make money? Usually it is because of advertising. Commercials.
Companies know that you and your kids will be sitting in front of the TV, absorbing any and all messages being broadcast. They want to convince you to buy their product, so they make commercials showing how amazing your life will be if you have that item they're trying to get you to buy.
The first time you see this, ok, you may or may not be affected, but the more you see the same commercial, the more it sinks into your brain that your life isn't good without this item, that only once you have this item, can you be truly content. Companies are paying big bucks to broadcast these messages, and the reason they do so is because it works! People see things in commercials, and they develop an insatiable desire to get this item, usually an item that they hadn't even known about before seeing the commercial, and were perfectly happy to live without until the constant bombardment of the message that only x product will make you truly happy.
As someone who is raising kids to be happy with what they have, and not be obsessed with materialistic pursuits, I think having a TV is completely counterproductive. Because when you watch so many commercials, you either end up being miserable because you don't have all these things you want, or broke because you spent all your money on these things the commercials convinced you that you needed.
This goes for adults as well, not just kids. The more you watch something, the more it seeps into your brain. And this isn't something that you necessarily want seeping into your brain.

On top of the issues with TV itself, there are also issues that are there also with TV and also with watching movies, whether on the computer or DVD, etc... While not having a TV doesn't eliminate these issues, because of the previously mentioned factors, without a TV you're less likely to watch as much and as frequent as you would if you had TV.

Sedentary activity.
Kids (and adults) need to be active. Plopping in front of a movie or show encourages sedateness. We need exercise and not to be lazy couch potatoes to keep healthy and be strong.

Little brain development.
Kids learn a lot from playing games and interacting with others. They watch adults and older kids and learn to model their actions. This teaches them good behavior as well as how to get things done.
Kids have such wonderful imaginations, full of endless ideas and creativity. When not sitting in front of a TV, and when not given specific instructions what to do, they come up with such wonderful ideas and ways to entertain themselves. This is a great way to learn to think creatively instead of being spoon fed info.
When plopped in front of a TV, instead of being dynamic and learning and doing and thinking, they're passively absorbing whatever it is that is on TV. I'm not saying this is all bad- there is lots of knowledge that my kids have picked up from movies they've seen, lots good, but also lots I didn't need them to know. But one thing for sure- it's not as good for their development as thinking up new imaginative games...

So yes, no TV in our house, and we aren't planning on raising kids with a TV. We don't think it's good for them, or for us. And it's not just about cost.

Do you have a TV? Do you specifically choose not to have a TV? If you choose to go without a TV, what are your reasons? If you have a TV, do you have any concerns about negative effects? Are there any rules that you make about TV time? What are they?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. I love this post! I grew up watching many of the same shows as you; my siblings and I were limited to an hour a day. Now in my mid-20s, I choose not to have a TV, mostly because so much of it is simply drivel. I haven't watched TV regularly in years, and now when I go home to my parents', I can hardly sit through an entire show, mostly because of the awful advertisements. I do have Netflix because I enjoy some documentaries and movies-- it's cheaper, and the ads on there are different/more tolerable. Cable seems to be on the downturn, and I hope online media subscriptions don't end up swamped with the types of ads we see on TV!

    1. I hope so, but youtube now has commercial breaks in it as well!

  2. We chose not to have tv in our home when we married 35 years ago! There is just too much garbage to wade thru to find anything decent to watch. Even the Disney movies have spirits and magic in them. Our children learned to use their imaginations and never were bored because they couldn't sit in front of a tv. I did child care in my home and the parents were thankful that we did not have one to fit their children in front of. On fact, one parent told me their electricity went out one evening and they actually sat snd talked together more than they had on weeks!!! They said they decided to turn it off more and spend time together as a family.

    1. Too true. But computers can be just as problematic in terms of causing people to ignore each other... When we went camping and had no computers, we talked more than we ever do.

  3. I've thought about getting rid of the tv many times and still do for all of the reasons you've listed above. It is major drain on time and brain power.

  4. We do have a television but only watch it 3 out of 7 days. And only in the evening.
    If my little girl is sick she can watch 2 movies on it spread over the day. We read books with her and play games. But usually she only watches tv is she isn't able to do anything but lie on the couch and she always falls asleep watching tv ;)

    But here comes the BIG BUT. Now we have computers. Watching youtube is as much an addiction as it was watching TV. We don't have to wait for the news to be broadcasted we can watch it instantly as it comes online.
    We can do anything on the pc which is just as brain killing as watching TV is.

    So we have a read night once a week. We both have 1 night we get to spend playing games on the computer. And the other adult watches something the other one wont watch on tv.
    We also watch at least one movie together, to spend time together. Other than that we have to combine our time behind the computer. That means fun things but also administration etc.

    1. Youtube definitely is almost as problematic as TV, because there's always something else to choose from!

  5. We've been TV-free for several years, for the same reasons as you. But I find that the internet is just as addicting...

  6. I also watched a lot of TV as a kid. The only rule was we were not allowed to watch "All in the Family" because racism isn't funny or "Hogan's Heroes" because war isn't funny. ("M*A*S*H was okay because the humor was used to save sanity.) Of course I did watch both of those shows out of curiosity, but didn't like them.

    Then in college there was no TV at all. I didn't miss it one bit. Going back home for vacations, I was surprised at how horrible commercials are.

    After that I always had a roommate with a TV. Eventually I developed this rule: no TV in the living room except for special events (like to invite people over to watch a movie). So they could have a TV in their room, but I wouldn't be sucked in.

    Now the rule is only pre-recorded stuff with no commercials (Netflix is good for this). We actually watch plenty of TV, but we never get sucked in watching whatever's on after our favorite show. We try out TV shows talked up by our friends and also watch movies. We have better sound than movie theatres do, and if the volume range is huge or we have trouble with the accents, we can turn on subtitles. Also, we can talk through the shows and pause them to use the bathroom.

    How this stacks up against your ideals:

    Addiction - Some shows are addicting and we'll get sucked into watching too many of them too quickly. But we never get sucked into watching stuff we don't even want to watch. And we never just sit there slowly turning into zombies until we're too sleepy to want to get up and go to bed. So I'll give us a B there.

    TV hooks you in - because it's pre-recorded, we can watch whenever it's convenient. A+

    Watching the unknown - because we watch only recommended stuff, we do pretty well, but we sometimes end up watching stuff we don't like. If one of us doesn't like it, we just leave the room and do something else. If we both don't, we'll just turn it off. So I'd give us a B+. We don't have kids to worry about--we can each trust the other's judgment on what they should watch.

    Commercials - None. A+

    Sedentary activity - We are quite sedentary, though we sometimes do foot rubs or mending or knitting. F

    Brain development - The TV we watch is above average, and we do talk about things--what parts of the plot don't make sense, what we think is going to happen next, etc. However, it's still quite passive. D

    That averages out to about a B- or C+. So not the ideal activity. But I love movies and good TV.

    1. Debbie, I love how your posts are always so well thought out. I like the rating system you gave. No, TV's aren't terrible, they're entertaining, its just our choice as a family to not have TV.

  7. Like many, I grew up on t.v, as did my kids. Because of the expense, I finally decided to forgo cable and gave my t.v. away. Like any addiction, it was painful:)to let go. BUT, my electic bill dropped, along with no cable bill! Now, I have an invalid uncle in the house and his t.v., in his room, runs from morning until night and my electric bill has tripled. Fortunately he pays that and cable. He also gifted me with a t.v. for the living room. It sits in a cupboard with the doors shut. If my grandkids want to watch t.v., or play video games...GO HOME! They never do. My house is cleaner, I'm more active, and I interact with my family and friends, all without media.

    1. When my family moved when I was 16, we left our TV behind. It was a hard adjustment, but one that was really worth it!

  8. I actually didn't watch TV as a kid. And now I work at a television station!
    Much like Debbie, we only watch pre-recorded stuff now. We have a Tivo, so it automatically records only new episodes of what we tell it to, and then we watch it whenever we want, or not. We have a two year old, and she loves to watch a few programs, but with our Tivo, we set it to only record those programs we approve of, and we can also set it to never record (in kidZone) anything over an x rating in the TV rating system. When we turn KidZone on (she's too young yet for us to do this) it will only show her the list of stuff approved by us for her view to pick from, and no live tv if that's what we want. Or live TV, but only our selected channels. We do have netflix as well, and can watch that through the Tivo as well.
    I'd love to no longer watch it, but I have to have cable for my job. So we just eliminate shows as they are cancelled, and new ones have a very high bar to reach in order for us to add it to our list to record. Eventually we'll get there.

    1. Is it fun working at a television station?
      I'm so not used to the concept of Tivo- it wasnt around when I was a kid.... :-D

    2. I work at a non-commercial station, so actually yeah, I really like it. This Thursday is actually my last day though. Due to funding restrictions on stations like ours, my position is being eliminated. I like the fact that the work I do actually is useful and helps people, it's not just about ratings and commercials. I think that's a big difference. If I worked in commercial television I'm not sure I'd like it so much.
      My proudest thing is that I worked with our local CrimeStoppers unit to produce a show of their bulletins and people they were searching for. We got them lots of tips, several people turned themselves in rather than be on TV, and we were the most requested show at the county jail. (People rated out their buddies for the reward money.)

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  11. This is a really great post! You listed a lot of the shows I watched with my siblings as a kid. PBS's Nova was my personal favorite :-) When we first got married, we moved to a remote area in the Oklahoma Panhandle. The only way to get reception was if you had cable. Being cheapskates, we just did with out. That trend carried through until we moved back to the "City" and my husband started school full time. I quickly became addicted to my favorite shows again, and my two toddlers did as well. Then, about 4 years ago, all the programing went digital and once again we were too cheap to buy the equipment that would have allowed us to watch anything. And we were totally happy! We did finally upgrade to a small (will fit in our coat closet) flat screen TV that we use for library videos, tornado warnings and national elections. And it is the perfect fit for our family. :-)

    1. Never heard of Nova...
      Other shows I watched as a kid-
      Lamb chop

    2. Nova was on at night on PBS, around the same time as Star Trek TNG where we lived. It's a science/documentary show. I used to love to watch it.

      And I'm threadjacking (sorry), but I loved the same shows you did as a kid. The theme song to Big Comfy Couch immediately popped into my head as soon as I read the words.

  12. Great post Penny.

    We don't have a TV and I don't miss it one bit. Whenever we visit my parents (who have every available channel known to mankind), I'm amazed at how these two intelligent people can watch so much drivel! Don't get me started on all those darn cooking shows...And the amount of people who talk about TV shows! 'Did you see such and such last night?" etc

    My husband and I are movie buffs, so we'll maybe watch a movie once a week. And maybe one night a week we'll watch a TV show that we've downloaded.

    I have a four-month old who won't be allowed to watch TV until she's around 2 (I have looked at research and evidence is stacking up to show that little brains can't handle it until that age), and even then we plan to place limits on her viewing.

    I do find that using the internet can be just as addictive and time-wasting, so I impose time limits on myself.

    1. I'll agree that the internet is just as addicting as TV, but the difference is that the internet isn't passive, you're at least doing something usually...

  13. I had a sick day yesterday and spent 80% of my awake time in front of a television, watching shows I probably wouldn't normally watch simply because I couldn't bring myself to do anything else or even to grab a movie off the shelf!
    As I am still living at home and have very television addicted parents, I do watch a deal of television, about 1-2 hours a day. But normally while I am watching television I am playing a video game on an individual machine (my big stress relief of playing Dr. Mario and getting past level 23 on medium speed!) or I am busy knitting or working on a quilt or another project.
    My boyfriend and myself (eventually we'll get married and live in mostly one house- he plans on becoming a doctor and I will be a teacher so I will be in a small town while he is in school) have discussed the idea of television and have both come to the conclusion that cable is useless. We would still have a television but would use it more for our video game nights (a stress relief for both of us) or a movie here and there. We have compared our television childhoods and for him and his three siblings, the television caused them to remain in the house a lot more than my experience as a child. I wasn't really interested in television so I spent most of my time outside playing with the other kids on my block.
    As for current parents with children who go to other children's houses to play, make sure you and the other parents have the same guidelines when it comes to television viewing. I remember as a nine-year-old child watching Chucky at a friend's house! And I don't watch that sort of thing even as a twenty-year-old!

    1. My parents wouldnt let us play video games at all...
      I hope you're feeling better now!

  14. I grew up with way too many TVs in one house - and yet we had rules and structure around it. We could only watch an hour on a school night (and with my stay at home mom, we were home by like 3) and only if our homework was done first. This also provided an opportunity for negotiation, because my favorite show for a while was "Full House" which came on at 3:30 and 4:00, so there was no way I could do my homework before. I asked if I could watch Full House and then immediately do my homework, and my parents said yes, if I could follow through with that. I did, and by 4:00 I was done with TV for the day.

    On a weekend, we were kicked out of the house to play outside shortly after breakfast, and could only watch TV at night. We also only had a TV in the playroom (not in our bedrooms) until we were in high school, so the three of us had to learn to compromise and share. "First we'll watch Gummy Bears for you, and then I want to watch Full House, then he can watch Saved By the Bell."

    On weekdays, it helped me prioritize what was important enough to me to see, because I couldn't just watch everything and anything all day long. On weekends, I had to learn to share and negotiate. I didn't have unrestricted access.

    Now in the beautiful age of DVR, two of your points are nearly obsolete. I don't schedule my life around shows, and I don't watch commercials. I couldn't even tell you when the shows I watch air because I never watch them live. I watch them when I am so brain-drained from my emotionally exhausting job in foster care and want a mindless escape to keep me sane. And then I go through my DVR and choose something I'm in the mood for and fast forward the commercials.

    I do think when we have children, we will have to be more careful with it. I don't want them to have a TV in their room, which means we have to compromise with what we watch as a family, and I think that will keep us in check with a lot of stuff. (If I don't want to watch iCarly all night, then I'm more encouraged to engage my kids in play instead!) But I don't want to eliminate it altogether. I think it's not very sustainable, as they will at some point come into contact with TV, whether it's at a friend's house during a sleepover or when they become young adults. I don't want it to hold such an appeal as something that they weren't allowed to have as kids that they then overly fixate on it. I'd rather teach them healthy moderation like my own parents did. I want my message to be that it's one form of entertainment and there's nothing wrong with it, but that it needs to stay ONE form and be balanced with other ways of entertaining yourself, like playing or listening to music or going to the movies or riding your bike.

    My parents did some all-or-nothing parenting in other areas that I am still struggling to have healthy relationships with, so that's where it comes from for me. But I know and respect several people who are choosing not to have TV in their homes, as well as those who have a TV in their toddler's room. To each their own!

    1. Personally, the balance that we have in our home is that kids do watch videos, etc... just not a TV with constant entertainment at the flick of the button...

  15. Great article! I really admire your stance.

    We did not let our child watch television before 2 years old. After that, we began to allow some. He is 8 now and may have up to 90 minutes of screen time per day, which includes computer time. Once in a while we watch a movie as a family. I think it's reasonable, but I think not watching TV at all would be even better for him.

    I grew up in a very conformist town where most families watched lots and lots of TV. My family watched some PBS, but that was about it until I was around 10, and even then we averaged only an hour or two a day--unless I was sick, in which case I watched "Love Connection" (so silly!!) and very old episodes of "Perry Mason". I often felt left out of conversations at school about TV, but on the other hand I felt like my classmates were missing out on a lot of good books!

    At almost all stages of my life, I've spent more time reading than watching TV, and I think that's a good choice. I read to my son about 2 hours a day when he was little, and I still read to him every night even now that he can read; my dad read me bedtime stories through 8th grade, and I think it was a wonderful time to spend together.

  16. We have 1 TV in our house. The TV is on in the mornings and only on educational TV.It is usually on while I make breakfast, run around, getting everyone up and dressed, dishes cleaned and some laundry going. Over all time its on? about 2 hours. It goes off as soon as we sit down to eat and it stays that way for the rest of the day. My son can "earn" TV time by helping out with chores around the house, taking boxes to the recycling etc. Or he can have money. Not very much money mind you- he's only 4. He usually chooses TV. About once a week if he has been especially good and helped me out when I have asked we will sit down and watch a movie of his choosing. It works for us. If he is being naughty, TV is the first thing to go, and my daughter who is 9 months old won't be sitting down to watch tv or even be allowed to focus on the TV until well after she is 2. I hate TV. I especially hate the commercials that talk about "male enlargement" that come on after 8pm. Seriously. 8pm. Drives me crazy. If I sit down to watch something its on my DVR and its only on until I finish folding my laundry, it helps me keep pace and I can fold a lot more when I'm not nagging myself about how much there is to fold. Like I said, it works for my family, but I could be perfectly happy without TV or a cell phone. I think they both take too much time away from spending quality time with friends and family. I even have cell phone rules in my house along with my TV rules. Unplugging is a great thing. It used to be the only thing.

  17. We did not have a t.v. for years but gave into an offer for a free one and a vcr/dvd player because we now live so rural (closest minimart/gas station is 20 min.) It would cost us an arm and a leg! Our house is over 100years old and the phone lines don't support dsl. So we check movies out from the library and that is all. There never is a next thing coming on! Well unless you count the next episode of the same show when we get t.v. shows on dvd! We have been working our way through little house on the prairie for months!

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