Friday, February 1, 2013

Trips and Television

I'm going to issue a challenge today. A presumptuous, opinionated, bossy challenge. It's a television challenge. Whenever I pick up my kids in the carpool line at school, I see televisions on in the cars around me. I'm assuming younger children are already in those cars, or perhaps parents are just getting things primed so when their child pops in the car after a long day at school, they can relax and watch some TV. No need for conversation or a small discussion of their day. A break is already needed for all.

Okay, that was sarcastic. Sorry. But here is my challenge for you: Try turning off the television or video games or iphones in your car. Try it for an entire week—zero screen time while traveling. Try it for your next vacation. No screen time for a good five hour car ride. Bring books on tape. Bring books. Give it a try! I promise you. I PROMISE you, it will be a good experience. I PROMISE you, this experiment is something you will not regret. And I PROMISE you, you and your children can do it.

Let me begin with a miniature history of television in the Eyre household.

I grew up watching a lot of TV. A lot. Sam grew up watching a lot of TV. A lot. When we had our first child, we decided we wanted to limit how much TV she watched. She was limited to the equivalent of one disney movie per day. That's an hour and a half a day of television. I was proud of myself for this accomplishment. Very proud. She wasn't sitting in front of the television all day long, and I tried to make sure what she watched was: (da da da dum!)  "educational."

Then one day I walked into the room (she was watching the educational movie Cinderella) and I saw my child. Her eyes were glazed over. Her stomach was hanging over her diaper (she had nothing else on). Her mouth was slightly open. She looked like a fat, zombie baby whose brains had been removed and replaced with Disney.

This had a profound effect on me, so I decided more limits were in order. Only a half hour of TV per day and it HAD to be educational. PBS educational.

We began watching Between the Lions regularly (or whatever that show is called). I don't know how long this went on, I only know we were living in Maryland for the summer, and I was sitting by Mary watching our educational TV show together (she was two almost three) when I decided to quiz her after the show, just a bit, to see what she had learned.

Oh my goodness.

She had learned nothing. NOTHING. She couldn't recall anything, and it wasn't because she was trying to jet away from me and just didn't want to answer. Nothing from that show—not the letters floating across on clouds, not whatever topic they were teaching—got through to her brain.

I did this several more times with several different shows, all with different results.

At this point in my life, I was getting burned out on television for myself. Sam was watching NBA games every night when he got home. We suddenly had cable (because we were renting someone else's condo), and I was trying to find shows that were truly entertaining, but most of them were just stupid. I was also beginning to feel and understand television's effect on me. Watching television was effecting my ability to concentrate, to do hard mental work.

So I called a moratorium on television. No TV. Anymore. Except for maybe one or two movie nights per week. Sam skeptically agreed.

We have stuck with that ever since, and we love it. Love it. Love it. Love it. Love it. Haven't missed it for a minute. Not one teeny, tiny, little bitty minute. My kids get an average of two hours a week of screen time of any kind (except for the kids going to school, because they spend time every day playing some sort of computer game).

But just a few months into our moratorium, we decided to drive down to Florida to visit family, and we made a TV exception. We knew we'd have a twelve to fourteen hour drive on our hands with a two-year old and a one-year old, and we thought TV was the only way we would survive the situation. This was before the days of ipads or cheap laptops, so we bought a small television/DVD player for the trip. We went to ridiculous lengths to get the TV plugged into the cigarette lighter and strapped onto something so it wouldn't kill anyone in an accident, and the girls watched twelve straight hours of television on our way down to Florida. They were perfectly quiet. It seemed a dream, and we had television to thank for it. But that was the last time that television (which we still own and occasionally pull out for family movie night) ever went into our car.

Fast forward to our trip down to Florida last week. My father-in-law called while we were in the middle of our long drive home and asked how it could possibly be so quiet. The kids were listening to a book on tape. They were super interested in it, and they were being very, very quiet. My father-in-law asked if we had a television running, and Sam said no, laughing a bit, because his wife (me) would never allow that. And I wouldn't have, because we don't need it.

There's a story I love very much about a fantastic family, the Marjorie and Gordon B. Hinckley family (the family that first introduced to me the idea of a room devoted only to books). Long before the days of televisions small enough to fit inside a car, this family would take long car trips every summer all over the state of Utah. Their mother always read to the family as they drove. On one of these drives, the mother's reading of the final chapter of Where the Red Fern Grows coincided with the family's arrival at an aunt's home in Nevada. Mr. Hinckley had to drive the car around the block several times for the family to gather themselves together and stop crying, they were so moved by the story.

I love that story. I love the image of a parent reading aloud in the car as the family drives and drives and drives.

So here's the question. Just because this technology is available, just because televisions now hang down from the ceilings of our cars, does that mean we need them? That we should use them? That we have to have them? Long ago, children would sit in the car for long car rides and just listen or read or  stare at the window and watch the world pass by. Are they incapable of that now? Or is it us, the parents, that are incapable of that level of patience? Do we want a perfectly quiet car ride, so we numb our children for hours rather than taking that opportunity to expand them? To grow their minds? Do we really think that twelve hours in a child's life is so unimportant we can fill it with nothing just to have a little peace?

These are the books on tape we listened to this vacation in order of greatest success:

Hank the Cowdog the Original Story. It's read by the author, and I cannot tell you how funny this recording is. We were all in hysterics. I thought Calvin would lose a lung, he was laughing so hard. We listened to this twice.

The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech. They did not want to listen to this. They moaned and complained when I put it in, but, by golly, this is a good story and the moaning quickly turned into, "Hurry up, Mom and put in the next CD!"

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. The narrator of this is incredible. His French accent is divine. This is an odd tale that I happen to love, but the audio version of this transcends the book itself.

Happy listening!!!

Below are the most recent statistics on television watching in America. Read and be horrified.

Total Use of Television Data
Average time spent watching television (U.S.)5:11 hours
Years the average person will have spent watching TV: 9 years
Family Television Statistics 
Percentage of households that possess at least one television: 99 %
Number of TV sets in the average U.S. household: 2.24
Percentage of U.S. homes with three or more TV sets: 65 %
Percentage of Americans that regularly watch television while eating dinner: 67 %
Percentage of Americans who pay for cable TV: 56 %
Number of videos rented daily in the U.S.: 6 million
Percentage of Americans who say they watch too much TV: 49 %
Child Television Statistics
Number of minutes per week that the average child watches television: 1,480
Percent of 4-6 year-olds who, when asked to choose between watching TV and spending time with their fathers, preferred television: 54 %
Hours per year the average American youth spends in school: 900 hours
Hours per year the average American youth watches television: 1,200
Number of violent acts seen on TV by age 18: 150,000
Number of 30 second TV commercials seen in a year by an average child: 16,000

1 comment:

  1. I've never commented before. But wanted to thank you for the effort you put into it. I always look forward to your recommendation for kids (and myself)! Great post. We discovered books on tape this year and have loved traveling long distances listening to them.