We’ll share our experience as a family with young kids living without a TV, the benefits we’ve seen, and TV alternatives you can turn to for entertainment, information, and education.
The Case For Living Without A TV
Back in 2016 I came across this statistic:
The average American watches nearly 10 YEARS of television over the course of their lifetime.
That’s a decade!
Both Joelle and I were already well into that statistic before reading it. We both grew up on TV. Catching all the shows and sporting events. Meal times. Before school. After school. For hours each day, TV was the norm.
Since getting married in 2009, we’ve made some unconventional decisions to question, and ultimately abandon, many of the ‘systems’ we had been a part of our whole lives. As our name, From Scratch Farmstead, might give away, the food system was one of the biggest changes for us, exchanging a diet of processed, convenience foods for nourishing, whole foods.
Other systems followed – healthcare, education, finances, consumerism, and more. What we’ve found on the other side, in rethinking these systems, was freedom. Freedom to carve out our own path and not just follow cultural expectations. Freedom to build a lifestyle that aligns with our own values, beliefs, and goals.
Giving up TV has been no different for our family. Television isn’t so much a system in and of itself. But, it’s a conduit that so many societal systems are pushed through. News, agendas, commercials, societal norms and pressures.
The more we became aware of this reality the more we wanted to keep our distance.
The process of living without a TV has been gradual for us. We never had a defining moment or conversation where we gave it up altogether.
But, we are so grateful to now be breaking the habit of daily TV consumption and be redefining those 10 valuable years of life – for us and for our children.
Do we have a TV?
Technically, yes. I know, shocker, right?!
Early in our marriage we took our tax refund to Best Buy and purchased a schnazzy 32” flat panel TV. In those early years we had it prominently displayed in our living room, streamed a couple weekly shows, and caught whatever live TV we could through an antenna.
By the time our first child came along we were already finding less and less time to watch TV. Plus we were fairly aware of the detrimental effects screens can have on children, especially during those developmental years. So, we kept the TV but tucked it away in a wardrobe in our living room. It only got used for the occasional show or movie after kids were in bed.
Now, in our current home, the same 32” TV is still around. It just lives full-time on top of a freezer in our unfinished basement and gets brought upstairs maybe once a month (or less) for a family movie night.
So, besides movies from time to time, we essentially function as a family living without a TV.
Call it old fashioned. Call it countercultural. Maybe it’s even extreme. For us, it’s normal.
People ask often when they come over where the TV is?
We don’t catch the sports games we adored growing up.
Our daughter called the TV a computer until the age of 5 and we “listened” to movies, because those are the only categories she had.
Believe us, growing up how we did, we fully understand that these things seem strange. But we’re completely OK with that. The many benefits we’ve seen make their own case for why a TV needs no place in our home.
Benefits of Living Without a TV
Parting ways with your TV might seem impossible. It felt that way for years for us. But as we’ve gradually weaned ourselves away from TV watching, the benefits have only become more and more apparent in our lives. Some of these benefits are for our children. Some are for us. Rather than distinguish between the two, we decided to just keep it as one list since there is so much overlap.
Watching TV by nature is a passive activity that leaves you wanting further stimulation. We’ve rarely, if ever, heard the words, “I’m bored” from our kids. They can stay actively engaged in their play for hours. There’s no need for some other input beyond what their own imaginations can create.
Huge Attention Span
We’ve had countless adults come up to us and compliment our children for how well behaved and attentive they are. They can sit through meals, hold a conversation, wait patiently, and have fun independently. By no means are they perfect and they do have their moments. But we attribute much of their attention span to having pretty much zero screen exposure in their early years.
Reduced Outside Influence
In high school and college I remember hearing youth group leaders make the analogy of TV being the equivalent of inviting complete strangers into your home and allowing them to teach your family anything and everything, even if you don’t agree with it. I didn’t get it then, but boy do I get it now. We should hold high standards for the voices and messages that influence us. This goes for children and adults.
Less Drive to Consume
With TV comes a constant barrage of the most strategic and powerful marketing efforts imaginable. We are so grateful that our kids haven’t been told the latest toy, candy, or experience they ‘need’ to have. And we’re thankful to not be caught up in that bombardment ourselves. We’re most vulnerable to reciprocate passive consumption in other areas of life when we’re already passively consuming in front of the TV.
More Time Outside
TV is an inside activity. Instead of sinking down into that chair or couch, we get out and go for walks. Or ride bikes. Or work in the garden together. The outdoor possibilities are endless and the health benefits are endless. Fresh air, vitamin D from the sun, moving your body, experiencing the beauty of nature. These are the things that doctors used to prescribe a century ago when someone was sick or sad. Things we can all use a regular dose of.
Even when multiple people are watching the same screen, TV is mostly and individual experience. Here are a couple examples of what we do instead of watching TV: reading books aloud together, eating meals and engaging in conversation, family music sessions, and making food in the kitchen, among other things. Each of these activities draw us together and provide meaningful, shared connection and memories.
You’ll likely learn things whether you’re watching TV or sitting down and reading the encyclopedia. But again, it comes down to passive vs. active consumption. Our minds are best capable of learning when we are actively doing so. We’ve gotten numerous comments on the vocabulary our young children have. Even if they were exposed to those words through watching TV, they likely wouldn’t have stuck like they did from actively engaging their minds through imaginative activities like reading aloud, conversation, or listening to audio books.
Television can be an expensive hobby. The one-time cost of a TV and maybe some accessories like speakers and a streaming device aren’t my main concerns. But the ongoing costs of cable or streaming services can really add up over time. We’re grateful as a family that our TV watching costs have been minimal to date. Even the $7.99/mo. subscription fee we’re happy to allocate toward other areas or goals in our life.
Without firm boundaries, television watching can play a role in many bad habits. I can’t begin to count the number of nights in my younger years I stayed up way later than I should have to keep watching “just one more” show. Most TV shows are designed to leave you in suspense and spike your heart rate. Before bed especially, that’s a recipe for disaster. We’ve found it so beneficial for a good nights rest to instead engage in calming activities as we approach bedtime; both for us and for our littles.
Alternatives When Living Without a TV
Saying sayonara to your TV can leave some gaping holes. What do you do for news or the big game? We’ve found some helpful alternatives that our family regularly partakes in that are free and deliver great value to our world.
The World and Everything in It (news podcast)
For a long while we felt like we were missing out on the larger happenings of the world. That is until we found The World and Everything in It podcast. This approximately 30 minute, Monday through Friday, news podcast has been the perfect addition to our daily routines to keep us informed on current issues and events. There are many independent news outlets out there, but this is the one we’ve gravitated towards.
Filling our home with quality music is a daily occurrence. Whether you use Pandora, Spotify, or any of the other streaming services out there, this is a great way to intake media that’s less intrusive and attention grabbing than TV. For us, music in the background is a fun accompaniment while working on a task or during other family activities.
Audiobooks have kept our family captivated for hours. Whether during afternoon quiet rest times or the occasional long car ride, this has become a go-to for our children especially to listen to quality literature. Find a good book with a good narrator from the library and your kids’ imaginations will run wild.
We love podcasts. Much of the learning we’ve done in our adult years has been through quality podcasts from trusted sources. It might take some digging, but there’s sure to be a podcast out there that can take you deeper in any hobby, interest, career or lifestyle goal you have. There are so many good ones out there but some of our favorites have been Radical Personal Finance, Old Fashioned on Purpose, and the 1,000 Hours Outside Podcast.
We won’t count hanging onto your TV for the occasional movie night as cheating if you won’t toward us :). Movies, in our opinion can provide a healthy level of beauty, inspiration, and cultural engagement when done intentionally and in moderation. We love finding good films for free from the library or occasionally renting one at Redbox. Of course streaming is also an option.
What about sports?
Sports are probably the trickiest part of living without a TV. Catching games daily is certainly not practical unless you stream through your phone or computer, which is an option. We’ve more loosely kept up with our favorite teams by checking scores and watching highlights from games. For “must see” games, like the Super Bowl or when the Cubs made it to the World Series, we’ve always found a way to either stream it for free, sign up for a free trial of something, or go to a restaurant, sports bar, or friend or family members house to catch the action.
Should I ditch my TV?
Honestly, we can’t tell you one way or the other.
But hopefully you’ve gotten a taste of how transformational living without a TV has been for our family.
Our recommendation is that whatever you decide, don’t just make a decision based on the societal norms and pressures around you. Think through your goals and values and let that guide your decision.
Initially, you might feel like you’re missing out not having a TV. That’s normal. It will get easier with time. Life still goes on even when you didn’t catch that latest episode. You might have missed the sports game, but think about the time you save watching the two minute highlight reel on your phone versus being fixed to the couch for three hours the night before.
What will that decade of your life look like? The choice is yours.