Cancel Cable and Wean off of Television--and find family life again!

One of the best things we ever did as a family was cancel cable.

We did it about twelve years ago, when the children were very young. I used to watch TV non-stop during the day, just to have noise on. I still played with the girls, but the TV was always there.

Then one Thursday night I realized that I was depressed again. And I was always depressed on Thursdays. Tracing it back, I realized it was because I watched ER, which was a very depressing show! And I decided that I didn’t need that in my life anymore. So the TV was gone.

And because of that, my children weren’t exposed to inappropriate things too early. They know how to play by themselves. They used to make up games. They read a ton.

It isn’t that we’re total saints. We subscribe to Netflix. We watch shows on YouTube. But we’re very picky about what we watch, and so we’re not watching just anything because it’s on, like I used to. You don’t even miss TV shows that way, because the good ones come out on DVD a year later anyway. We’re catching up on Heroes right now, which is quite good in its first season. But we don’t watch TV all night. Just for an hour a few nights a week, after the kids go to bed. And they hardly watch any at all. Cancel cable and you suddenly find you have  your life back!

Besides, cable costs a lot of money. Often you’re looking at a bill of between $60 and $120 a month, depending on your package. Netflix is $7.99. That’s a huge savings when you cancel cable!

I mentioned all of this in a syndicated column recently, and then got into an email conversation with Deanna Grove, who runs The Garden Place in Frankford, near my home. She writes this:

As a side thought, I also don’t believe the excuse some people may use that it’s cheap entertainment. I wonder what would happen if we challenged parents to try leaving the t.v. off for one whole week? I can guess that a typical family would be wondering around the hallways after supper like lost souls…for a couple of days. But then I think they’d find far more interesting and productive things to do. And, hey, they might actually get around to doing things they’ve wanted to do for a long time, but never had the time to do it! It may be a little more difficult for teenagers, though, with their peer pressures.

I was thinking about what she said, and it reminded me of meeting the author Gordon Korman when I was 13. He was 18 at the time, and had several best selling youth novels under his belt. He wrote his first at 13. It was a school project his teacher recommended he expand upon. And since then he’s written dozens of novels.

But imagine: being a published author at 13. You can do that when you’re not wasting your time on television.

It’s hard to quit, I know. I did it. You’re sure to get resistance from your family. But I tell you, it was the best decision we ever made. Even if all you do is keep TV for weekends, so that the kids have to save up for it, or only let them watch one show a week, that they pick in advance, that’s better. But the problem is that TV isn’t only bad for the kids; it’s bad for the adults. It keeps us from doing more productive things.

Let me leave you with something else Deanna wrote, as she details her journey to give up television (remember Deanna owns a garden shop):

John and I live in Frankford, and after reading your column on “television watching,” I just had to let you know how much we agree with you and what steps we’ve taken to realize what a waste of time (sorry to be so blunt) watching t.v. is/was.

A few years ago, before moving from Mississauga to Frankford, we questioned the amount of “useful” t.v. we watched and up until then subscribed to many stations. Because we spent from April to October outside we didn’t even turn on the television during those months at all. So, we “downsized” the channels and decided to cancel cable. We didn’t miss the extra channels one bit. Then when we moved here in 2007, our cable options were non-existent and again, we questioned whether we were interested in watching t.v. The answer was an honest “no.” So, for 2 years, we haven’t watched t.v. Do we miss it? Well, we get all our news whenever we feel like it from the internet, are more in tune with our community, because we have more time to do so, and occasionally purchase good movies for entertainment in the winter. We have time to read books and be together. The house is actually clean (in the winter), we enjoy cooking and having friends over – in an unstressed manner – and (here’s the real kicker) are less annoyed. Yes, “annoyed.” We get tons of extra jobs done in the house that we never had time for before and are happier people. And when we put the t.v. on, can’t believe the useless entertainment with commercials inserted every 7 minutes or so intruding on our precious time. So, the answer is a great, big “NO.” I doubt we’ll ever hook up our t.v. now. We both think that most television programs are useless, uninformative, fake, annoying, loud, an insult to our intelligence, transparent, did I mention annoying, and such a waste of time!

So, in answer to your question in your column “…leave that infernal screen behind, are you with me?…” Our answer is “YES!!!” And now, I’ll stop being a hypocrite and get off the “checking my emails” computer, and get outside while the sunshine and birds and fresh air are calling us. These are the important things to us.

And they’re important to me, too. So if you’ve been feeling the urge to cut down on TV (or even go all the way and cancel cable!), here’s a roadmap to help:

1. Post sign-up sheets on the fridge where people can sign up with what TV shows they want to watch that week.

2. Make them earn TV by spending time outside/in active play.

3. Post a list of at least 20 ideas on the fridge of things to do instead of television, so that if anyone says “I’m bored”, you can send them to that list.

4. Invest in some fun board games, and start a family games night at least once a week after dinner.

5. Move the TV to the basement, to an out of the way place, so it’s not staring at you in the living room all the time.

6. Set up the furniture in the family room so that instead of being oriented towards the television, it’s oriented towards playing games.

7. Pray!

Good luck, and may you beat the TV habit, too!

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