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Television: The Path of Least Resistance

We humans love our path of least resistance.  When there’s an easier road, we naturally want to take it. In my opinion, zoning out to the TV is one of those easier roads.

Although we don’t have cable in our house, we do have Netflix. At first, it was a great way to distract the kids and let me have some peace and quiet. I justified the mind-numbing activity with reasons like, “well, someone’s gotta clean the house and I can’t do it with them bugging me!” and “how else am I suppose to finish dinner?”.

But after a few months of this, Tim and I realized that the only topics of conversation coming out of the boys had to do with Johnny Test giving his friend a cytonic wedgie (which I still have no idea what that even means?!) and Patrick and Sponge Bob going door-to-door selling chocolate bars so they could make enough money to experience “fancy living” (okay, I’ll admit that episode was hilarious… “CHOOOOOOOCLAAAAAATE!!!”).

But hilarity aside, at what point do you stop and say, my six-year-old needs to have conversations that are more stimulating than just cartoon sitcoms. We knew the TV had to go.

Although we still have Netflix around, the boys get to watch 2-4 shows a week, instead of 2-4 shows a day.  And within days, we saw a huge change in their demeanor, general attitude, and far fewer smart-alec comments that they had picked up from shows. Although they complained about being bored at first, kids are creative. If they know you won’t budge on the matter, they’ll quickly lose the motivation to complain and go find something to do. And chances are, it will be something that actually enriches their life. We were thrilled to see that once the boys figured out Mom wasn’t joking about this no-TV thing, they began sitting at their desks drawing, building Lego and playing make-believe. And wouldn’t you know it, the house still got cleaned and dinner still found it’s way to the table.

Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised to discover that TV time increases the chance of children developing depression. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Harvard Medical School looked at the media habits of 4,142 healthy adolescents and calculated that each additional hour of TV watched per day boosted the odds of becoming depressed by 8%.¹

But what about adults?

A few years ago, I was all caught up in the Bachelor. I watched every episode and was totally engrossed in these people’s lives. I had emotional attachments to them!

And now I don’t even know their names.

So how important really was it — to reschedule my real life and make sure I never missed an episode of watching someone else’s real life when just a few months later, I couldn’t remember a thing about the entire season!

How much did I gain from that?

NOTHING.

I can already hear someone arguing with me that getting together to watch their favorite show is a weekly girls’ night and important in building and maintaining their friendships. To which I will slap you silly and say, “seriously?! Sitting on your butt watching smut-tv and filling your face with junk food is the best way you can think to build friendships?!”  How about getting together to go for a walk and then sitting down to have tea and a real conversation afterward?!  Now that is how you build relationships (and a healthier physique!). And if your girlfriends aren’t up for that kind of thing then I suggest you start making some new friends. You are the company you keep, after all…

What other “good reasons” to watch TV do we often come up with?

I deserve to sit and chill after a hard day.

In their study using the Experience Sampling Method, researchers Robert Kubey, a professor at Rutgers University and director of the Center for Media Studies, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Professor of Psychology at Claremont Graduate University discovered that watching TV left people in a slightly depressed state. “As one might expect, people who were watching TV…reported feeling relaxed and passive. What is more surprising is that the sense of relaxation ends when the set is turned off, but the feelings of passivity and lowered alertness continue.” ²

So if you’ve had a hard day at work, zoning out to the latest episode of The Real Housewives is actually one of the worst things you could do. You’ll come away with the same foul mood you started, or even worse!  In fact, that same study showed that when people engaged themselves in a book or other enjoyable activity, their mood was elevated. “After playing sports or engaging in hobbies, people report improvements in mood.”

I watch a few TV shows each week. At least I don’t play video games!

Guess what? The majority of people that spend hours on end playing video games are unhealthy, overweight, and have relationships that are coming apart at the seams. So let’s not compare apples with moldy oranges. If you compare yourself to someone worse off than you, you’ll always come out ahead and have little motivation to improve yourself.  Instead, think about all the productive free time a non-TV watcher has to do things that enrich their lives and make them better, stronger people.

My point is, if you stop vegging out in front of the TV as an escape from the real world, you’ll start to hear that real world calling to you. You’ll have new-found time to take on activities that strengthen your relationships with your children, your spouse, your friends and you might even get through that pile of laundry for once. Or for those of you hiding away in your La-Z-Boy, you might actually make friends.

I don’t buy the “I’m too tired to do those types of things. The TV is my way of recuperating from a long day” excuse. Nonsense.  Turn your TV off for 2 weeks and you come back here and tell me that your life was worse because of it. I DARE YOU.

Domestically Yours,
Natasha Kay

¹ Study links TV and depression
² “Television Addiction Is No Mere Metaphor,” (Scientific American, February 2002) Kubey and Csikszentmihalyi

Discussion

6 thoughts on “Television: The Path of Least Resistance

  1. I am so with you on this. We have no cable TV and haven’t had for a while. I love our TV free life and honestly I have read 57 books so far this year and made my child a bunch of Christmas gifts with my time. Down with time wasters I say. I have actually started to turn off the computer throughout the day periodically to totally unplug!

    We won’t ever get cable again, we do however watch the occasional movie but it’s always something age appropriate and is considered a privilege not a right. WE read, use our imaginations, create and LIVE.

    Thanks for this post Tash!

    Posted by Melissa | December 6, 2011, 1:09 pm
  2. We love our mostly tv free life too! We also use netflix sometimes, but most often we like to have our tv packed up and we have to haul it out and hook it up to watch something. We find if it’s out the kids will watch a show a day, so we just pack it up! Out of sight, out of mind! And it makes watching a show more of treat to have to haul out the tv.

    My kids are AMAZING at playing make believe! And we love to snuggle and read together on the couch, especially when it’s -30 celcius! and now that they are all reading, they can practice showing off their skills to each other. We’ve had some incredible discussions on some of the things we’ve learned together from reading. Tough topics even.

    I’m a bit of a dork and do enjoy a good documentary(also bbc’s top gear……) here and there 🙂 (Netflix has a great one on Dietrich Bonhoeffer called Hanged on a Twisted Cross) But I think the key is, “here and there”.

    Posted by Charis | December 6, 2011, 8:50 pm
  3. Love, love, love that you quoted a research study ad that you listed references! This is my kind of argument! I think you make an excellent point. Since I’ve been home with baby my tv watching has increasesd. To be honest, during the first two months when we were packing in the hours of breastfeeding and he really wasn’t that interactive (and I wasn’t getting much sleep), it was a god-send. I mean, I was a zombie anywas so what was re difference? But now we’re close to the four month mark, I’m getting more sleep and he’s way more alert and interactive and also highly distractable. Whenever the tv is on he whips his head around to watch it (ooo look, flashing lights!). Not something I particularly want to be a big part of his life so I try to have the tv off as much as possible now. However, I still watch it in the evening, and I think you’re right about the not-so-relaxing thing. Aside from the once in a while actually funny show or interesting documentary, it really is just one huge distraction. I think I may try your challenge (or at least a modified version of it).

    Posted by Natalie B | December 8, 2011, 12:15 pm
  4. Couldn’t agree more (but I’m Swiss ;-)). My kids are allowed to watch 3 cartoon movies (10′ each) per week. And just to cite another study: “‎Every hour of television, after the age of 25, shortens the viewer’s life expectancy by 22 minutes” (http://t.co/CjIfy9K).

    We don’t even have a TV, but the real challenge is to not surf the web instead 😉

    Posted by Rahel Lüthy | December 8, 2011, 12:52 pm
  5. Hi Natasha! Wow I am inspired to do this….I have been considering disconnecting our cable for awhile…maybe this is a “sign”. What made you disconnet the cable initially, was it because of the reasons you mentioned above?

    Posted by marlena | December 8, 2011, 1:18 pm
    • We started to see that when the boys watched tv, they had crappy attitudes, fought more often, and were generally less fun to be around! As soon as cut the tv (and the Wii), their attitudes improved tremendously and they were just better all-around. We still let them watch tv but it’s a treat, not a right. If you’re going to make the change, it might help to lay out the ground rules from the get-go — so the kids know what to expect and they will be less likely to nag you if they know the parameters (i.e. 2 shows on Saturday morning and that’s it for the week).

      Posted by Natasha (Domestica) | December 8, 2011, 3:19 pm