Saturday, January 18, 2014

To Tube or Not to Tube

Boob tube, that is.

And that is the question. Or at least the question of the day.

Some time ago, I received this email from a reader who wanted to know my thoughts on "screen time."
I am interested to hear your views on this and how you make decisions on what to watch, when, how much, etc.  Also what your thoughts are on educational videos vs videos that are purely for entertainment.  I have been thinking a lot about this lately as I have twin girls that will be two in December.  They haven't been exposed to screen time thus far and have a great love for books already.  Also, if you allow movies, videos, tv shows, etc. in your home, how does it fit into your homeschooling routine?  
It's an excellent question, and while I'm no expert in child psychology, I do have some thoughts on this much-talked-about topic.

First, I applaud this mama for managing her twins to two years of age without screen time! I'll admit, I wasn't that disciplined, though television has never been a regular fixture in our home.


Experts do recommend that children under the age of two avoid a passive screen time as much as possible. While they don't entirely discourage some of the learning-based apps and games, this has never been something I wanted to invest in.

I think young children receive enough learning stimulus from their natural environment and, most especially, from interactions with their family members and other human beings. On top of that, cell phones and iPads are expensive. I don't want to hand over such a pricey investment to someone who sticks every movable object into her slimy little gums. Companies like Leap Frog and VTech build "kiddie" versions of some of these products, but again, the price was too high for this mama.


This is probably the biggest "screen time" contender in most people's homes. We have too, but incidentally, they are not hooked up to any cables. We don't pay for cable, even basic, and so have no television unless we want to break out the bunny ears.

The choice to go TV-free stems back to my college years, when Brian and I were both to poor to afford cable service. So, we didn't get it. Turns out, I didn't miss it. I was too busy with rehearsals, research papers,!

One of my best friends in high school had no television growing up. At the time, I'd thought she was a little weird. After all, what was life if you didn't know the names of the three sisters on Full House or who Steve Urkle was? But, after pulling the proverbial plug myself, I found it freeing not to be concerned with which Friends were getting married, or who was Lost. It was a burden off my brain--and a lot of hours back on my never-long-enough daily clock.

Plus, no more commercials!!

Can I rant for just a moment about how much I hate commercials? I didn't realize it until my forced TV-fast in college, but when I came home and would watch TV with my parents during breaks, I suddenly felt completely drained by the commercials! The constantly changing stimulus was irritating, not to mention the content usually left me feeling bad about myself, my sex, and my society. Blah. Who needs that? Ditching commercials alone was enough of a reason for me to abandon television. Call it throwing out the baby with the bathwater (which normally I'm not a fan of).

So in any case, when Brian and I got married, we decided to leave the TV unplugged. However, we didn't ditch the thing entirely...


I'm no movie buff, but I'll come right out and say that watching movies is probably my favorite way to unwind and one of my favorite things to share with my family. However, I can be picky about what I choose to put on.

I consider film the way I consider other artistic media. Story is a fabulous medium for conveying the human experience. Documentaries are fabulous teaching tools. I do not consider one superior to the other, but I do judge based on the quality of individual works.

I don't let my kids read junky paperbacks, the sort of books my mother refers to as "popcorn novels." I don't let them watch junky films. Whether "fiction" or "nonfiction," I want to use movies to enhance their artistic sensibilities, not dull them. So, we won't be watching the latest "Barbie" flick, but we have enjoyed movies in a variety of genres, ranging from Wreck it Ralph to Veggie Tales to documentaries on chocolate making!

I'll also make it perfectly clear that I will not allow films into my home which exhibit profane or unwholesome material. Even my husband and I are very selective about what we choose to put before our eyes on those nights when we get to snuggle up without the kids to share a blanket and a bowl of popcorn.


Some people don't realize that the Catechism actually has a whole section on media. It falls under Part III, Section 2, Chapter 2, Article V. In particular, I wanted to focus on this from CCC 2496:
Users should practice moderation and discipline in their approach to the mass media. They will want to form enlightened and correct consciences the more easily to resist unwholesome influences.
So, not only do I moderate the content of the media we consume in our home (as mentioned above), I am diligent about moderating the amount of media we consume.

This means, for my children, that we get one family movie night a week. This is a social event, usually on Friday night. I make a special snack after dinner, and we all cuddle up together. Occasionally, we may watch a film for school, but usually, I will save it until this special movie night. For example, while studying the Roman conquest of Britain, we watched Disney's Brave.

If my youngest is awake, she does stay in the room with us, but normally, she's only up for the first half hour or so of the movie, and she spends most of it playing in other parts of the room.

My husband and I usually have an "at home" date night once a week, and often we will choose to watch a movie together. That means we sometimes watch two movies a week, and our children typically watch only one. Because we don't consume much, we really look forward to these special times.


This is where I personally struggle the most with moderation.

To be honest, there have been days (weeks) where I seem to be conjoined to my phone, my computer, or both. I've had to work hard to discipline myself to put the devices away (literally away, where I can't easily get at them) and take them out only during designated times of the day.

I do use my computer for narrations in school, and I have set times of the day where I allow myself to blog and to work on my novel and other writing. My cell phone stays on the kitchen counter or in my purse, and I try not to "check" it, only use it when I need to answer or make a call or send a text.

Personally, I think my children are too young to be using either device. Sophia and James do, on a Saturday morning, sit down with Brian to work on a computer coding program they enjoy playing together. In public school, Sophia was exposed to much more computer usage than I was comfortable with. The rationale of the district is that children should be exposed to computers so they will feel comfortable using them when they're older and need to type reports and such. In my opinion, they will pick it up quickly enough when they need to. I learned to type when I was in fifth grade and had some minimal computer exposure before that. I was typing fine by middle school. I'm not worried.


We have a lot of game consoles. A lot. It's kind of ridiculous. They're all various incarnations of the Xbox, which my husband builds for a living. To be honest, we don't play them all that much. Sometimes Brian likes to unwind with one late at night when the rest of us have hit the hay. He also will play (usually for half an hour every week or two) some children's games with the kids. They are very fond of Zoo Tycoon at the moment.

Like movies, we think of video games as "social time." (The aberration being Brian, whose games are too mature for the kids.) Our children are not permitted to play games solo. They can share and do interactive games, cheering each other one and calling out ideas, but they are not permitted to plop themselves down to whittle away the hours in their own little Xbox bubbles. We may become a bit more flexible on this as they get older, but I don't anticipate we'll change that much.


I write during afternoon quiet times and in the evenings.

We watch movies in the evenings.

We sometimes play video games or allow computer "fun" time for the kids on a Saturday morning.

We don't consume media on Sundays, typically. This is time we spend with the family and our faith family. I make it a point never to write on Sundays.

In general, our media consumption does not effect our homeschool day because, well, we don't consume media during school. As the kids get older, obviously, they will start doing some of their work (publishing and research) on the computer. They may, also, participate in online or DVD courses at some juncture. Occasionally, we do get a "school" video. Everyone needs a "fun" day every now and then.

But, as in everything, moderation.

1 comment:

  1. Bethany, I love what you shared here!  Thanks for taking the time to put down your thoughts on this issue! I too have thought a great deal about what role media, and technology, should play in education when (God willing) I homeschool my own children.  

    I so want my children to have a great, classic education and childhood - I want them to learn by catching bugs and keeping nature journals, building with popsicle sticks and rubber bands and paper clips, reading from loved and well-worn books, baking cookies and cooking up chemistry experiments, creating music and art and stories.  I don't want to stunt their imagination with things that cause their learning to be passive.  I want them to learn to think.  I don't want them to develop such a taste for bright, entertaining, fast-paced media that they fail to develop a love for the printed word.

    As it is, my husband and I don't even own a TV, and find that we don't miss it one bit. We do have a projector, which works wonderfully for an occasional movie night (we both really enjoy good movies). No time for video games now, but my husband's career if very computer based. I'm sure he would love to play fun games in the future with older kids and teach them coding and how to use databases for research (as would I).

    Like you, I feel I need to be more disciplined with my phone/internet, set time limits and stick to them - and not read so many blogs! :) I'm sure my habits will inform my own children's habits, so I want to be a good example in that area. Sorry for the long comment - you brought up a subject that I have spent a lot of time mulling over.



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