To TV or no TV.  That is the question.  This has been a flip flop discussion in our house for some time.  I grew up with no TV.  My husband also did not have the luxury of extended channel surfing.

When he left for college his parents signed up for a small satellite.  Before that it was local channels by antenna.  (For you younger generations, satellites were originally the size of a small SUV and cemented into your yard. It looked like a NASA/CIA outpost.  To have one was a statement of your commitment of having a TV in your home. Most people did not have one. Anyway, I digress.)

But now that I have kids of my own. I want to make the decision of whether TV is part of our family life.  I hate seeing my kids glued to the TV watching endlessly.  For some time, I have been telling myself that it is educational.  They teach situational complexity, math, and reading skills.

The realization is though,  it is a time sink for my children where they are not learning who they are as a person.  Of who they are in Christ.

Influence is a word that gets tossed around often.  We are told to positively influence our coworkers, friends, children, and even strangers.  It is brow beaten into us to be a good influence.   That’s what I have told myself to justify TV. It is a good influence.  They are learning something.  But it is me who has had the whammy experience.

By letting them watch TV they are immortalizing these characters.  To allow influence in one area of their lives with learning language makes a path for those same people or characters to influence later in life when I cannot control the remote.

Case and point – Miley Cyrus.  Now I am not passing judgment on Miley.  I am just using her as an extreme example.  Miley, I love you.  What you do does not affect who I am at all.  I hope your life comes full circle and you can have a good time with your clothes on.  Maybe pick up a great hobby. Like hiking.  Or baking.  Or Triathlon.  Either way, I know you will get your stuff sorted out one day.

When I was teaching, my little 8-12 year old girls LOVED Hannah Montana.  They would sing her precious songs about “Nobody’s Perfect” and finding the “One in a million”.  Very Disney.  Very cute.  I even watched a few episodes to see what all the hubba baloo was all about.  We all know the show was ok.  And they kept the message clean.

My husband, always the comedic cynic, will always speculate on how long it will take before these teen stars are off to a wild life.  Well, with Ms. Cyrus, he was correct.  Her 2013 VMA performance was… what are the best words… eye opening.  For clarity, she gets an A+.    I think she made her point quite well as her message came across loud and clear.   She is making her statement about who she is and her beliefs.  She wants to empower.  Though I would have picked a different, possibly more subtle approach, she is using her influence to say, “Be who you are.  Love – don’t hate.”  She placed herself at the front of a youthful army fighting for freedom of expression and no condemnation.  I am sure she will look back in 20 years (or 1) and see how her message could have been more effective with a fractional amount of crotch gyration.  But live and learn.

Now back to the TV dilemma.

By allowing my kids to watch Martha Speaks on PBS now, am I opening up permissible influence down the road for Martha.  What if Martha becomes a puppy smuggler and gets 5-10 days in the local pound.  Can I take the chance that she will grow as a canine and contribute to society in a positive way with her celebrity?  What if she does nothing with the rest of her life?  Will that teach my kids to do nothing with their time?  Will they be waiting to see what her next move is before they make their next move?  What influence will Martha have on my kids by me championing her virtues as a food loving, talking dog?

A few months ago, I read a blog post about being careful about who we allow to spend time with our children.   All exposures carry influence with them.  The truth is, TV is a revolving door of characters that we place in front of our children. These are the people my kids are spending time when they aren’t even leaving the house.  Even though most of the shows my kids watch have positive messages, their characters have real unscripted lives that no one can control.

I am not sure I need that stress in my life.

But let’s face it.  Influence is tricky.  When we make a mistake, it can be said that others and ourselves should learn from it.  And we can be made an example of by use of punishment or judgment.  Isn’t that positive influence through viewed consequence?  Is it right to see what I would view as a moment of regrettable, public, self-embarrassment, and live a life less in the spotlight of regret.  Is it sheltering my children to lock out the outside world via electronic sources?  Will they grow up ill equipped to handle life’s pressures if they do not have the opportunity to explore the world inside the mystery box?   Will they see a downward spiral from Martha as a wakeup call in their own life? I will never know.

Because…

For now, we have made a decision on behalf of our family.  No more TV in the family spaces.   Cartoons have been a crutch for me. When I needed to do something and wanted to keep the little ones busy, the easiest thing to do is turn on Bubble Guppies.  While I don’t feel they have contributed negatively to my children’s lives, it is better to stop this as a habit now.  It really has nothing to teach them anyway.  I would say no more TV in the house, but I would like to see my husband at least some of the time during football season.

To Miley –

When your adrenaline high wears off from putting on a memorable show, give me a call and I will hook you up with something that can really juice your life. Apparently, your current assistants are not showing what great opportunities are available to you in this vast world. We can go zip lining in Costa Rica, help starving homeless children in Africa, and build schools in Guatemala.   I know all that “twerking” will get old soon, so don’t wait too long to get in touch.  

With Love and coffee,

Shanda

Update August 2019: For the first time EVER we have cable TV in our living room.  We have maintained a cable box in the bedroom for my husband’s sanity during football season.  But we have found lots of great programs to watch as a family over time.  My kids love watching bot fights and Good Eats.  Now that my son is in flag football he also wants to watch the SEC with his father.  It was time to relent.  Luckily the kids don’t realize yet they can turn the TV on themselves.  I will keep you posted on how this goes!