Disconnected: Chronicles of a NO TV Family (Nov-Dec 2003)

By Matt Dabbs

by Carmen Beaubeaux
November – December, 2002

“You’ve chosen not to have a TV?!” From his gaping-mouthed question you’d think I’d said, “We’ve chosen not to have any plumbing in our house.”

“Yes. That’s right,” I said.

He pulled a messy clipboard out of the door pocket of his truck. “Alright!” his pen poised above the pad, “Now, why have you chosen not to have a TV?”

“OK. We gave our TV away. But why do you need a reason? Please … just disconnect my cable.”

His eyes softened with understanding. “I get it—money problems, right?”

From my gaping-mouthed response you’d think he’d said, “Hemorrhoid problems, right?”

“Say no more! You’ll get over this financial hump and, don’t worry”—he smiled and winked—”someone else will give you a TV, then…you’ll need your cable.” He ripped a leaf of blue paper off a pad and offered it to me.

“What’s this?”

“Two months of free cable. Lady, I’m just trying to save you money on the installation charge. If you disconnect, you’ll be sorry.”

“What am I supposed to do with this?”

“Just slip it in the envelope when your bill comes!”

“But I don’t want a bill!” I tried to give it back, but he had already turned and hopped into his truck, closed the door and turned the engine, choking out my last, futile protest.

“I just want to be disconnected!”

That was ten years ago. The cable guy was prophetic about one thing: when word got out that we had no TV, offers for free sets came flooding in. The thought of loved ones wasting away without a television is too much for some to bear. If you get nothing else from this article, get this: TVs and at least two months of cable are free for the asking. That information alone can more than pay for your New Wineskins subscription.

We don’t have to work at not having a TV, but we do have to work at explaining why we don’t have a TV. It’s hard for many to understand that being a No TV household does not disconnect us from culture—not even from television culture. It would be folly to think that you can eliminate television from your life. Television is not just part of our environment, it is our environment—especially here in Southern California.We have so many ties to media that this decision didn’t happen overnight. My husband, Jim, is a telecommunications major and even though he doesn’t work in that field anymore, he holds nothing against the industry that created and produced Star Trek. I’m an actor, and I like to study the choices of the actors, directors and screenwriters in television. We also have friends in the movie and television industry, and all three of our family have appeared on television many times as actors, special guests in interviews, voice-overs and commercials, singing the national anthem at ballgames…but then, who hasn’t! Television is the chronicler of our culture. So, why would we choose to banish this most basic American value from our home?

Our choice to have our home free of television and media broadcasting has less to do with content than with three basic commitments.

 

  1. We wanted to be good stewards of our time. Generally, we like TV. We have always enjoyed some of what TV has to offer. In fact, if we had a TV we would watch it. And that is one reason why we don’t have TV in our home. TV has the insidious effect of stripping bare our time and creativity. Years before we evicted the set, we chastised ourselves for succumbing to the allure of mind-melding with the TV rather than engaging in more productive tasks. For us, television is an expensive escape—our time is just too valuable.
  2. We wanted to create a sanctuary or a “zone of silence.” Peace in our home is also too valuable. The idea of a media-and-technology-free-environment first came to us in France while we rode our bikes through the Loire Valley. Lush, forested areas signed, “Zone de Silence” gave us a dose of traffic-free solitude for a few glorious miles each day. These areas, designated for no reason other than “silence” are reserved for people traveling on their own power. If these sanctuaries from the sights and sounds of farming, traffic and industry were necessary for people who live in the world of majestic chateaux, sunflower fields and medieval cobble stoned villages, how much more Zones of Silence are needed in over-cultivated, over-built, noise-saturated southern California! The only solution was to create a Zone of Silence for ourselves. Still, we put this idea off for a few years, until our son came along.
  3. We wanted to protect our child’s developing mind. This third commitment most influenced our decision. Experts say television is for adults, not for children. Still, we continually try to adapt this adult media tool for children with our attempts at “child-appropriate programming” and the experiments continually fail. Educators know this, but are pressured to adjust to public demand. Only a few have the courage to speak out. First Lady Laura Bush said, “Children cannot learn by watching TV. Television is just background noise and a distraction.” But these warnings are quickly dismissed as overreaction. As a news junkie, I can testify that parents can find a way to stay informed without awakening our children from their important work of childhood play into the dark world of adult concerns. In fact, the bigger and badder the news, the easier it is to follow without electronic media. I found that I didn’t need a TV to follow the O.J. Simpson trial. In fact, the moment the verdict was broadcast, a guy leaned out of his truck and yelled in my ear “NOT GUILTY!”—for my information, I suppose—as I cycled up the road to my house.

In a good home, television has little power to really hurt a child. The question is more, “Does it help?” Is television replacing story telling in the home and family conversation? Grandmothers and grandfathers used to sit and relate their childhood stories to a rapt audience of grandchildren who, in response, developed listening skills. That remarkable series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder grew out of her parents and grandparents telling their stories. When I was a child, I had the pleasure of sitting on my great-grandfather’s knee and listening to old songs and stories about reconstruction in post-Civil War Alabama. It comforted me and equipped me for the future to learn that no matter how hard times were, my ancestors managed to overcome every obstacle with ingenuity, perseverance and the blessing of God who provided what they could not. These days, it is not uncommon at family gatherings for the men to be huddled around the television watching a ballgame in the family room, the young boys in a bedroom playing video games and the girls in another bedroom watching MTV. In many homes, holidays no longer function as an open forum to relate and equip the children with the crucial and mundane details of the family history.

TV is also an over-demanding houseguest if it crowds out the vital coping tool of family play—the very force of society and civilization. A breakdown in ability to play will reflect in a breakdown of society. Children need to discover their own strengths and weaknesses in both work and play. Contrary to conventional wisdom, watching educational television does not lead to more of these discoveries; it only limits children’s involvement in those real-life activities that might offer their abilities a place to flourish. A child’s need for fantasy is gratified far better by their own make-believe activities than by the adult made fantasies that are too often the transference of the screenwriter’s unresolved, childhood fears and trauma.

Jesus sought wisdom in the wilderness. The teachings of Jesus support the experts’ theory that contact with the natural environment is vital to the developing spiritual intelligence of children, a vital tool to sustain the soul through adulthood. The heart is best nurtured in the natural world not the mechanical world of consumerism. The natural world connects the mind to the heart and the heart to the creator. When government, religion and loved ones fail us, enchantment in the natural world—rather than an escape to the mall—will sustain our faith in God. Jim and I were coming to grips with our own loss of CNN and Star Trek, yet with our decision made, we were concerned about how our son would respond to missing Thomas the Tank Engine. So we began the process slowly, first with watching only one program: Shining Time Station or Mr. Rogers. Then we decided that, every other day, we would do a special activity rather than watch TV. Soon our son forgot about television during his peak-viewing hour! Within a few days, we were doing other things at his suggestion. During this transition time, Jim and I never watched TV during the day, only at night when our son had gone to bed. But he was aware of our nighttime viewing and occasionally would ask why he couldn’t watch TV too. We told him, “TV is not good for children.” One day he replied to our explanation with the question, “And TV is good for you?” That was our moment of truth. Within the week the TV went “bye-bye.”

We waited for something to happen…a temper tantrum…a visit from Child Protection Services to investigate deprivation and neglect to provide our child with available media…anything. There was no thunder, no lightning. We were on the other side. Once the TV was gone, as far as our son was concerned, it was no longer an issue.

We were now a real No TV household! As expected, some of our friends thought we were overreacting…and it felt like a conspiracy when we were selected to be a Neilsen Family during the fall lineup! But soon, we began to discover that we had a NoTV network of friends and co-workers.

We enjoyed all of the benefits that had been promised and more. We had not realized how much power the media held over our home until the TV was actually gone. We found music and reading and conversation so much more relaxing than flipping through channels to find something interesting, or rushing schedules in order to see a program. Also, the cooking, gardening and general appearance of our home improved. On several occasions I waved a cheery greeting to the Cable Guy as he drove up the hill, servicing customers on his route. He never waved back.

Our son is a teenager now, and we no longer have any developmental reasons to protect him from TV. But after ten years of seeing how rich life is without the influence of television media and commercialism, we prefer to stay disconnected. Why deliber-ately end a good thing?

Without the distraction of TV, we are able to connect more deeply with each other, with our neighborhood, and with our culture. Not being tied to a TV schedule at home motivates us to get out more. Being disconnected to the television connects us to the larger world that television tries so hard to imitate. We take family walks, go to the beach, play music and visit the library where, incidentally, we meet other No TV families.

Of course, a No TV lifestyle is not possible for every household—or for any household all of the time. But if the Zone of Silence calls out to you as it did for us, know that with vision and determination—and a whole lot of explanation—you, too, can be disconnected.New Wineskins

Carmen Beaubeaux lives in Coronado, California, with her husband and son where she works in theatre, writes essays, plays and poetry and walks for miles and miles on the beach. They worship with the Canyon View Church of Christ. Favorite Faith & Film Flick: Children of Heaven, written and directed by Majid Majidi. Contact Carmen at [frequentarsi@yahoo.com]

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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