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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Commercial-free Christmas

(This article orginally appears in The Daily Review Atlas as a part of my Practical Parenting series)
The most stunning thing has happened in our home this week. I had to force my children to sit down to the table and write out their Christmas wish lists. Unheard of I know! You think I'm making it up but I am not! Much to the chagrin of their grandparents who start Christmas shopping in July, my kids did not know what they wanted this year. And I can only attribute this freak phenomenon to one thing; we've cut out our cable.

A few months ago, recognizing we all spent way too much time in front of the Telly (and thinking I could use an extra sixty bucks in my wallet) I singlehandedly decided to call the cable company and asked them to disconnect us from the magical switch in the sky. I was cutting the cable.

Now before you think I'm on some moral high horse let me absolutely clear about what happened next. My family hated me. It was like telling a gang of heroine addicts I was no longer dealing. It got ugly. We were all instantly in rehab and the detox was beyond uncomfortable. We stumbled around the house. We bumped into each other like zombies. Sometimes we even sat down on the couch and flipped the remote expecting to find Dr. Phil or a Disney channel pop star lip syncing and gyrating to twinkle twinkle little star. Needless to say the level of boredom in our home rose to substantial proportions. The TV was gone and I never felt more anti-American in my life.

I mean it felt as if we were literally subverting common culture. The blank stares I got when others found out we were a TV free family was, I imagine, as similar to me announcing I want to have more children.

I'm not against television. I just sensed my family was on the brink of permanent couch potato status and I knew I had to intervene.

The latest statistics from a study done by the Kaiser Family Foundations report that children between the ages of 8 - 18 spend 7 1/2 hours a day in front of a screen. That's more than an entire school day. Heck, that's more than some children sleep at night. And if you've actually paid attention to the programming on your set you'd agree with me that the majority of what we watch is about as good for us as eating raw chicken. I mean if Charlie Sheen's character in "Two and a Half Men" was your kid's uncle you'd never let them spend a day alone with him and yet we, along with our young impressionable children, watch his womanizing antics in syndication and laugh. Something is wrong with that.

So without constant commercial watching it turns out my kids don't know what they want for Christmas. Without the glossy marketing campaigns and snappy jingles my kids are forced to explore themselves and decide on their own what it is they are interested in. A very uncommon action, I assure you. For once in their life they were given an opportunity to decide for themselves what they wanted and they didn't know. We've bombarded our kids so much media and advertisements that they're losing the ability to filter and decide for themselves what they individually value.

I know, I know, lighten up! It's just a wish list.

However, personally, I was stunned. I just wanted to watch less TV and save a few bucks. I had no idea when I limited our television viewing I was saying no to the marketing gurus in their glass towers.

Don't get me wrong, I fully intend on participating in the most wonderful time of the year. I enjoy giving and getting gifts and I will certainly wrap up some presents and put them under the tree but I won't be buying what the TV tells me to buy. I will be free to shop this year for the things I think my children want.

There's nothing wrong with TV It's not evil. I still enjoy the big game on the weekend and a bowl of popcorn with my favorite sitcom but without 200 channels to choose from my time becomes more of my own. I never get sucked into watching mind numbing, completely irrelevant television shows. So what are we doing with all this supposed free time? Well, funny you should ask, the most amazing side effects have kicked in. For example, homework tends to get done without a struggle, we read more, play family games and as I've already mentioned the marketing geniuses no longer have a hold over us. It's been completely and surprisingly freeing. Turns out my life isn't better with over 200 channels to choose from. Turns out more isn't necessarily better. Why? Because I'm the mom and I said so. That's why!




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