We don’t own a TV. There, I said it.
Shocked? Most people are when they find out. My students, who are in a university literature department, often talk about TV shows and movies in class, and when they hear that I haven’t seen any of the things they’re talking about, their mouths fall open. “But what do you do with your time?” they ask (yes, even literature students ask me what I do if I don’t watch TV).
In our household, we read, we talk, we play together, we go for walks. We rarely notice the absence of a television.
All this makes me seem eccentric enough to many. But besides not having a TV to watch, we also don’t let our 17-month-old daughter play on the computer or tablet or our cell phones. And this is where I get even more surprised questions.
How do we entertain her? And how will she learn to be tech-savvy? Isn’t she missing out on an important part of life?
First of all, she’s just a toddler. What she needs most now is time to play, to read (well, be read to), and to explore the world. Interactions with her mothers and her friends keep her entertained and help her to develop.
She has plenty of time in the future to learn how to type on a computer or how to use various apps. It isn’t as though she’s applying for jobs now and needs to prove those skills. She has years ahead in which she can explore technology. If my 93-year-old grandmother can manage Skype and Facebook and figure out how to use a smart phone, I am confident that my young daughter will be able to learn those programs and many more in the next couple of decades. We’re happy for her to learn about IT when she begins attending grammar school; all the schools we’re considering for her have computer rooms and they incorporate technology into their lessons where appropriate.
Is there anything in particular she can learn from computer games or from surfing the net that she can’t learn from books or people? At this stage, I don’t think so.
Also, I’m not convinced that looking at screens is particularly healthy. There is a lot of research that suggests that the blue light from screens disturbs our sleep and negatively impacts our melatonin production. Plus, of course, staring at a screen is a sedentary habit, and it’s much better for people to be on the move. I also worry when I see even young children with their backs hunched and their necks bent over a tablet. I have back pain and sciatica myself from having to use a computer so much of the day, and I definitely don’t want that for my child. At the moment, she loves running around and being active, and that’s important to encourage.
Then there’s the issue of how people behave with screens. Some people bring their faces very close to screens and seem to block out the rest of the world. And some seem to feel that their virtual interactions are more meaningful than their real ones. In some situations, that’s undoubtedly true, but we want to teach our daughter how to socialize with people in person and how to value the people and the nature around her. Life is not lived solely online. I know I’ve sometimes felt almost addicted to social media, and to needing to know what’s going on with my friends. But when I have taken a break from my phone and computer, I’ve realized that I haven’t missed anything much at all.
Screens and technology will clearly be a part of our daughter’s life eventually and I can’t envision a world without them now. But there’s so much more to life and we see no need to introduce her to technology at such a young age. It seems better from our perspective to keep her off computers and other types of screens as long as possible.
When people ask what to do with their kids on a long plane journey or in the car or even in the evening before bed, my suggestion would never be to stick a tablet in their hands. Judging by our daughter, children love looking at books, coloring, talking to their stuffed animals, building with bricks, cuddling with their parents, and otherwise engaging with the people and things around them. Such young folks don’t need instant messaging or apps or video games; they need real-life conversation and activity. I’m often told by other parents that their kids love tablets and computer games and that it’s a good way for adults to get some time to themselves, and I’m sure that’s true, but so far we haven’t been tempted to use electronics as a cheap, easy babysitter.
No, I’m not ashamed by our TV-free and limited-screen household. I think our daughter’s life is healthier for it.