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Screen control has moved way beyond TV. And as screens have exploded – they are everywhere, aren’t they? – parents are faced with ever greater challenges in controlling them. Perhaps the best place to start is with the basics: learn how to tame the TV and then move on to other screens!
There is no easy way to do this. And part of the reason is that you must always begin with yourself! Yes – step one in controlling the TV and other assorted screens for your kids is learning to master those screens for yourself.
Taking control of our own television viewing is a must if we are going to meet goals, read books, and train our children to do things other than sit in front of a TV set and be entertained. Read this article for more ideas on setting boundaries with screens for your kids. But this article is directed at you: moms and dads, adults who need to get control of the TV and all screens.
NOTE: For the remainder of this article, I’ll be using “TV” to refer to any and all screens.
Why You Need to Learn How to Tame the TV – and Other Screens
TV Wastes Time
Time is a limited and precious commodity. You only have 24 hours a day just like everyone else. In that 24 hours, you probably have many obligations such as a job, sleeping, eating, and keeping small humans alive.
Beyond those things you have to do, you likely have many items on your want-to-do list. Things like reading for fun, exercising, trying new recipes, sewing, gardening, or playing the piano.
Then there are the in-between items – you don’t have to do them, but you really should. Things like Bible study, pursuing that degree you’ve always desired, building a business, and maintaining the family finances.
All this adds up to way too much to do for a measly 24 hours a day. And yet, when you or I don’t control the TV, we waste what little time we do have.
TV Gives Us Unrealistic Expectations
A short list of the unrealistic expectations you can find on TV:
- Twenty-somethings living in upscale apartments in New York City
- Everyone is super thin and gorgeous
- Home makeovers that take 2 weeks, include the highest quality appliances and decorating and have no budget concerns
- Family problems are solved in 45 minutes or less
- Love at first sight that lasts forever
- And, of course, the worst people in any series are always the Christians
A steady diet of the unrealistic life of TV will breed discontent in your heart.
TV Takes You Away From Important Relationships
Trust me on this – when your kids are grown and you’re left with an empty nest and/or an empty marriage, you won’t remember any of those TV shows you just had to watch instead of reading to your kids or talking to your husband. Everything in life is a trade-off. Are you trading the make-believe world of TV (and yes, I’m including sports, news, and ‘reality’ shows in that) for the real-life world God has blessed you with?
All that time spent in front of the TV is time taken away from your spouse, your children, your grandchildren, your friends, and your church. Here’s the hard truth: you cannot nurture relationships and engage in meaningful conversations while watching TV.
TV Influences Your Spending Habits
All those unrealistically beautiful homes, designer fashions, and even fast-food commercials breed discontent. “If only I had a nicer home, a better car, or a pizza, life would be better.” So people spend – often on credit – to get the things they think will satisfy and make life grand. It doesn’t work but instead sets up a spiral of more and more spending to find that perfect life.
Remember – if you are completely content with your life, businesses won’t be able to sell you anything. Their survival depends on your discontent. Every ad, commercial, and show is designed to breed discontent and get you to spend your money.
TV Saps Personal Discipline
How do you feel after you watch three or four hours of TV? Energized or lethargic? Ready to run a 5K or ready for bed? Most people feel lethargic and unwilling to spend the effort to do what is needed. Tomorrow, they say. But tomorrow a new show is on.
If you doubt this about yourself, do an experiment: instead of turning on the TV in the evening or after work, play music (or nothing – learn to enjoy silence!). Journal your thoughts and feelings before bed. Notice any changes, good or bad. Do this for at least a week – because TV withdrawal is a real thing and one or two days isn’t enough!
TV Negatively Impacts Your Health
There is substantial research indicating a link between TV watching and obesity with its host of associated ills. If you want to be healthier, turn the TV off and put on your walking shoes.
If that’s not enough motivation, think of your kids. Do you want them to grow up to be couch potatoes or young men and women energized by living life, pursuing dreams, and building relationships?
TV Influences Your Worldview
The real lives of doctors, nurses, lawyers, police officers, psychiatrists, and scientists do not resemble what we see on TV. Yet what we see influences our expectations of these and other people whom we may meet. There is even some question about whether watching crime shows influences jury decisions. This is referred to as The CSI Effect, named after the popular forensic crime drama. Although some evidence suggests that such shows don’t influence juries, more research needs to be done.
But beyond these views about various professions, TV shows are full of anti-Biblical activity, storylines, characters, and behavior. And most of these are shown in a positive light – think anything sexual outside of a committed, married, monogamous relationship for starters. Throw in the intentional deceit in almost every show, the portrayal of men as weaklings or villains, and the obligatory “Christians are the bad guys” subtext, and your worldview is destined for a worldly overhaul.
TV Harms Your Ability to Problem Solve
The unreal world of television wraps up all problems in a neat 60-minute or less package. When we come to expect that problems of life can be solved easily and quickly, we are less willing to expend the mental and emotional energy to work through problems over the long term.
The truth is that most problems in real life do not have neat, easy answers. And – being human – when solutions take longer than we’d like (more than a few hours!), we tend to give up or give in or just go along with whatever is easiest no matter how unbiblical that is.
The Big Question: How Do You Tame the TV?
Like most problems – or any issue dealing with self-discipline – there aren’t any easy answers. And what works for you might not work for your sister or neighbor. What works for them might not work for you. But don’t give up! The five tips below will get you started. And as you go, you’ll learn more about what works for you and your family.
Tip #1: Monitor How Much You (or Family Members) Watch
You can’t really get a handle on your TV watching unless you know how much you’re watching. Start by keeping a record of everything you and your family watch: Netflix and other streaming services, DVDs, network TV, sports, and news. Everything that appears on your TV, goes on your list.
Keep your record for at least 1 week. Then, once you have this information, do some simple math to motivate yourself. Figure out how much time each year you waste on TV and other screens. Multiply the number of hours you recorded on your 1-week log by 52 to discover how much of your life TV takes.
For example, If you recorded 10 hours of TV during your week of logging, which is not much, you would multiply that by 52. The yearly total of 520 hours is almost 22 days. That’s 3 weeks of your life gone, stolen by TV.
BTW – 10 hours is very conservative. Most families watch around 3 – 5 hours a day! Which would be 21 – 35 hours a week. Or 1092 to 1820 hours every year – otherwise known as 45 to 75 days. That one and half to 2 and a half months of your life every year! Gone. Wasted. Nothing to show for it.
Now ask yourself if you’re ready to do something about it.
Tip #2: Have Only 1 TV
I can hear the whining now. “But what if we don’t agree on what to watch?” “But we watch TV in bed.” “But I don’t want to watch Moana a hundred times a week!”
Here’s the truth: Having only one TV will cut down on how much you watch simply because you are now sharing the one TV with the entire family – even if the entire family is only your husband. You will learn to cooperate, compromise, and plan ahead. If you let the preschoolers watch Bluey for 30 minutes, that’s 30 minutes you’ll be doing something else.
Even better, you’ll be more discerning about what you do watch because you’ll be protecting your kids. And what your kids need protection from, you probably do also. Yes, you’re an adult but sin is still sin.
Tip #3: Make TV Watching Inconvenient
You could move the one TV to a guest bedroom or home office to make watching more inconvenient. Or, if moving the TV is not practical, how about hiding it in a cabinet instead of always having it out on display? Maybe you could arrange the furniture in your family room so that you must turn chairs around to see the TV.
One big challenge here is that every phone and tablet is now a miniature TV, so this tip is only good for the one main TV in the home. Even so, use your imagination and see what you can come up with to make TV less convenient.
Tip #4: Cut Down or Eliminate Cable and Streaming Services
The bottom line here is that if there are fewer choices of what to watch, you are less likely to watch too much. If you live in a large metro area you may be able to get most local channels with an antenna. It’s old-fashioned but effective. If you’re out in the country, this won’t work for you.
Besides cutting the cable cord, cut down on streaming services. There are so many available, you might not even know how many you subscribe to! Think about the needs and wants of the entire family and choose just two services to subscribe to. Maybe only one if you’re a Prime member since you’ll already have access to that.
Tip #5: Read
Although this really could be listed as an alternative to TV, it is so much healthier for your brain than TV that I decided to include it here. Make a daily commitment to reading at least one chapter each evening. Make a weekly date at the library to get a book, not a DVD. You’ll save money and exercise your imagination at the same time.
If you have young children at home – anyone under high school age – definitely also add a daily read-aloud time for the family. Reading chapter books together, and discussing them, is great for imagination, reasoning ability, critical thinking skills, and problem-solving skills. Choose great books so your kids will not miss TV so much.
You know why limiting TV watching is a good idea. You have a few tips to get you started. Now the only question is what will you do with that information?
Or, stated another way, “Now that you know how to tame the TV, will you choose to do so?”