Jan 10, 2011 - Life, Parenting    4 Comments

Unplugged…Parenting without a TV

The idea that watching too much television is bad for children has been around for decades and if you have children you would probably have read about one of the many studies expounding the evils of children watching television. That said, it is an amazing baby sitter and the ability to keep a child quiet for a significant amount of time simply by turning on the television is without a doubt one of it’s many appeals.

Have you ever wondered though what it might be like to ‘unplug’, to live without ‘live’ television at home?

Two years ago we did just that, we pulled the plug on our television, well sort of….

The first thing that happened was our Digibox (digital set-top receiver) died a timely death. By that time we had gotten used to recording all the programmes we wanted to watch on the internal hard disk which meant we could fast forward through all the advertisements. So when the DigiBox met it’s untimely death, much as we wanted to replace it, at that time we actually did not have a budget for it (there were so many more important things to pay for like heating and electricity!).

Having halved our family income also meant that the money we could save simply by not paying for a TV License was significant. The decision was made easier by the fact that while I had stopped working to Stay at home, I realised that Georgia who was almost 2 at the time, was so engrossed by the television that she could easily spend hours in front of it. Obviously because it kept her quiet and gave me time to ‘get on’ with what I wanted to do, often 3 to 4 hours might pass before I actually realised she had had so much screen time!

I realised that because the TV was so central to our time, days and weeks seemed to whizz by at an alarming rate. That was when we decided that we had to Switch Off…we have not had our TV connected to a receiver for almost 3 years now. What is it like? As with everything there are pros and cons, it may be hard to believe but there are actually cons to completely tuning out of TV as we have found. Firstly the positives…

1. Time .. and lots of it
We found that once we turned off the TV and tuned out of it, we had so much more time! This I think is the main pay-off for tuning out. Georgia does not look to the TV as the first thing to do to fill any ‘down’ time. Instead we spend a lot of time talking, playing, baking, cooking, reading, generally having fun… did I mention talking?

We used to spend at least an hour each day (if not more) catching up on ‘must watch’ TV series, but once we got over the withdrawal symptoms (the NEED to know who killed who or whether that couple got married), we found that we not only did not miss it, we completely forgot about it.

2. ‘No news is good news’
We also realised that a significant amount of our dissatisfaction and unhappiness was atrributed to depressing news on TV. News is hardly ever positive so without actually realising it, the constant innudation of ‘this is wrong’ with the World message actually gets you down! – so we found!

We do still keep up with the news, we read news daily on the Net, but with reading online, we have found that you have a choice of what you read. Sure, there is still the inevitable share of murders and crimes, but the choice to read the entire article is now your own.

3. Money saved
Clearly because we no longer receive TV signals we now do not pay for a TV license.

There is some confusion about the paying for a TV license, we have been told by TV Licensing, that as long as you do not receive TV signals you do not need to pay for a license. You are still allowed to use your TV to play video games or watch DVDs.

You know those rumours of people checking up on you, to see if you really don’t watch TV….well they are true!
At least we have had someone, from TV Licensing, knocking on the door, during the peak of the Football World Cup season, asking if we watched TV. It must have been unbelieveable that we actually did need to know the latest score!

We physically moved the TV so that it is no longer connected to the TV aerial.

4. Advertising
Georgia no longer asks us for things she has seen on TV…clearly because she doesn’t see anything on TV. And we feel a lot more satisfied in our life without constantly being bombarded by the things we could potentially own and not need.

All these great positives but would you believe if I told you that there actually are downsides (albeit minors ones) to switching off?

1. Constant contact
We have come to realise that without the TV’s baby-sitting services, almost all of Georgia’s waking moments are full-on and hands on. We have an almost constant level of interaction. We are almost always doing something together, either some activity or playing of talking. It is extremely helpful that we work from home and can afford to give her that time, but, in all honesty, it does get very draining at times.

2. Attention span and being easily distracted
Now this is something not scientifically supported or tested, it is merely based on our observations and comparisons. We have actually noted that Georgia actually pays less attention and seems to be more easily distracted compared to her peers who have a healthy dose of TV. She does easily spend hours doing things she enjoys; making, cutting, crafting and sticking, but she seems to be so sensitive to the going-ons around her that every thing that is happening is reason for a question.

This could well be that it’s just her personality…but as we don’t actually know of anyone else without TV access it makes for difficult comparisons.

In summary, given that for now, we have been doing quite well without TV, and don’t actually miss it, it is unlikely that we will be plugging it back in anytime soon. But would we reccommend it?

While our no-TV policy might be quite hard to just take up if you’re used to watching several hours of TV a day, it is certainly worth noting how much time your children actually spend in front of the television.  Going cold turkey might be hard, but it may well be worth cutting down screen time and seeing what happens.

Other Q & As that might be of interest…

Do we watch anything at all?

Yes we do have dvds, very occassionaly we watch BBCs iPlayer, and youtube videos.

How much screen time does Georgia have?

This ranges from none to probably a maximum of 3 hours a week. We do not regulate this or keep a timetable. We have just found that once you don’t watch TV, you actually forget you ‘need’ to watch it.

Does Georgia play computer or video games?

We only very recently (in the past 2 months) bought Georgia her much sought after Nintendo DS (XL version). Here again, she probably plays on it a maximum of 10 minutes a day….if she remembers.

Are you thinking of unplugging or cutting down on TV? Would love to hear from you if you have any thoughts or if you’re thinking of unplugging the TV!

© 2011, Li-ling. All rights reserved.


  • I don’t know how I missed this last time I popped in. We did the same thing five years ago, and I have a blog ready to post about why. Our eldest is now nine and we are slowly going to reintroduce electronic entertainment into his life…only so he can bond with his peer-group – I’m really not that keen!

    • Hi kloppenmum,
      Thanks for stopping by again…what a big step it must be. I presume it’s because the 9 year old has started asking for the TV? You’re a few years ahead of us, so I would really like to know how it all goes.
      What we have done though, Georgia actually has a computer (my rather old laptop) in her room. We are technically a VERY wired up family, several computers, iPad, iPhone etc. (work!) we are however also very aware about how much time we spend online in G’s company so weekends and evenings are strictly turn off times unless we are looking for answers to some question (Google).
      We have found however, that TV-on demand (online TV, on the computer or YouTube) we can tap in to the BBC iPlayer (not sure if it’s available where you are), is actually ideal, because Georgia only watches what she wants to watch, there’s an element of ‘learning’ to navigate on the computer and it’s more difficult to turn on than the TV (have to wait for the computer to load up). With that we have found that, so far, she can still talk to her friends about various characters on TV but doesn’t spend hours in front of the screen.
      Considering that you have the little ones, perhaps it might be an idea to try the online screen time before going back to the TV?
      Good luck either way! 🙂

  • We think we’ll do the tv thing at night, when the littlies are asleep…but don’t really know. We’ve actually had a couple of dvd sessions, but yes the five year old was there too. He didn’t get the mega-dose of electronics that our older boy did, so at the moment I haven’t decided how exactly we’re going to go about it…with lots of mistakes probably!

  • PS Great suggestions, thanks…always good to get new ideas.

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