Blog: Surviving without TV…with kids

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Finding ways to keep kids entertained without TV is easy, when you make an effort.

The most common reaction when I tell people I don’t have television is one of disbelief. People can’t understand how I function with two children and no TV.

The truth is, four years ago as a stay at home mum I took a step back and looked at how often my 2-year-old was plopped in front of the TV. The convenience of having an on-demand babysitter was great! But when I heard her say “basket” with an American accent, I cringed. Dora had been teaching her a little too much while they were exploring. So I made a conscious decision to get rid of TV and the results were amazing. It’s true that I could have monitored what she was watching and when she was watching it, but getting rid of the problem all together seemed so much easier.

As a family our evening hours went from sinking into zombie mode in front of the telly to catching up with one another, reading together and I know it sounds cheesy, but little moments like creating music with kitchen utensils.

The scary thing is it wasn’t until I removed TV from the picture, that I started seeing how television programming could potentially programme children. Iconic series’ such as Shortland Street, where the whole family would convene for the evening screening, turned into an absolute horror show. Had I really been exposing my child to a programme that normalised or at least too often highlighted infidelity, lying, retaliation and a bunch of other things?

Yes, I had. And I began to feel very guilty. There are morals and values that as parents we should be responsible for bringing to light…not Shorty Street.

Data from the Growing up in New Zealand project conducted in 2014 only confirmed my worries:

  • Almost 64 per cent of infants watched television, DVDs or videos at home for one to three hours a day.
  • Nearly 9 percent of infants tuned in daily for more than three hours.
  • 81 percent of infants were exposed to TV in the home, including adult programmes, for extended periods.

An issue that never crossed my mind, however, was obesity. The length of time children sit stationary whilst watching TV is a lead factor in the ever-increasing problem of obesity. They snack while they’re at it and are exposed to fast food advertising.

The most recent New Zealand Health survey found that one in nine, or 11 percent of children in New Zealand are considered obese. Hitting even closer to home personally are the Maori and Pacific Island statistics. Fifteen percent of Maori children and 30 percent of Pacific Island children are obese.

I can’t attribute this solely to being plonked in front of a TV, but I’m sure it doesn’t help.

Now the big question…how do I keep them entertained?

Well as much as I’d like to say I’m Mary Poppins and we sit around singing songs and making beautiful works of art all day, the truth is a little grey.

Between work, school and the general hustle and bustle of home life there’s really only an hour or two to try and keep the tots busy and we do that the good old fashioned way, with talk, books and now and then a movie. Yes! I own a TV screen and a Playstation which has been the light of my television programming free life. Having the ability to choose what and when my kids are watching is a godsend. With everything available on-demand nowadays it’s not hard to find content that is educational, relevant and age appropriate.

We get outdoors as often as possible and let them run off all the energy their little bodies so readily seem to produce.

Also by incorporating the strong whanau dynamic engrained into our Maori upbringing, there seems to be no shortage of family members willing to step up as teachers and show my children how to cultivate food, hunt, fish and generally be practical, self-sufficient young people.

I have witnessed first-hand the difference between my eldest who was exposed to programmed television for two years and my youngest who has only known what I have made available.

It has also given me the strength to deny them the unnecessary luxury of tablets, laptops and smartphones which were referred to by a wise man at Harvey Norman as “poison for the mind”.

I pride my house on being TV-free. I believe that by choice you can be without TV and devices, and live a healthy, normal and less stressful lifestyle.

It’s a little hypocritical coming from someone who Googles everything on her iPhone, but it works.