On Removing the Television from Home

We spontaneously removed our family’s television a month ago, wrapped up it up, set it in the hall closet, and rearranged the living room. At once, we noticed a difference in the spirit of the place. Our home is not large. We have a six rooms total, including three bedrooms and three common spaces, all neatly connected to one another so that each room becomes as much a passageway as a stopping point. Our living room is a small, cozy space nestled between our kitchen, dining area, and one of the bedrooms. Naturally, this has caused design challenges, but like every space in our humble home, it is multi-purposed. Somehow our television always seemed awkward in it, a bit like an image with “find the thing that doesn’t belong.”

For most of our marriage, we didn’t have a television. Technically, we owned a small one gifted to us when we married nearly 16 years ago, but early in our marriage, we promptly moved it to an antique armoire tucked in a corner of a bedroom. In our former house, we loved raising our children without the cumbersome tele in the living room. It seemed like an afterthought. We had a weekly snuggle movie night with the kids, where we piled in our bed with the laptop. But as you can imagine, we outgrew that practice. Literally. It became difficult for all of six of us to comfortably fit on our bed any longer, let alone for 90-120 minutes for a film. And so nearly three years ago, we purchased our first television and for the most part enjoyed it.

The progression happens quickly though, doesn’t it? What had begun as a weekly film together quickly evolved when the boys purchased their first gaming system with their lawn work money. Plus, our new television was “smart” and offered us direct streaming to Netflix and Amazon. Although we still greatly limited screen time in our home to about 3 hours a week, the tug-of-war for more began to increase. The boys wanted to play 30 minutes of video games; the girls wanted to watch a show. Mark or I would want to watch something else altogether. In our small living space, tucked at the center of our home, when the television was on, it seemed as though home life abruptly paused for it.

We had experimented with various time blocks for screentime––at the end of the day after all our day’s work had been completed, only on the weekend, and so on. It didn’t matter. The change was subtle, but before long, it seemed the TV was on for one reason or another every evening. Our family read-aloud time diminished. Relational dynamics grew more tenuous, while end of day conversation became more shallow. Video game companies created more solo-play games, which meant rotations stretched longer. More bickering occurred between the kids as they wagered who had more or less screentime. And so on. Less than three years and this thing felt like the object of tug-of-war in our home. It was robbing time for us.

It may be easy for me to oversimplify, to pin every discord on the television. We removed the TV not because it was the sole source of all strife or noise in our home’s rhythm but because the television convoluted it. We needed to simplify the terms of our home life again to properly inventory the dynamics and heart of our home. The TV was simply a variable in the equation of home life. For instance, if at the end of the day, the television is a tool to unwind, what are other ways to decompress? What are the sources of stress that need undoing? Since our children are older and growing increasingly more independent, the removal was a little more layered than simply making our executive decision. It’s led to several more abstract conversations about the gift of time and our intentionality, even in reference to the common phrase “killing time.” We’ve had more conversations about consuming and producing, how does the television fit into those needs in our life? The conversations are the parent-training for adulthood when they are deciding these things for themselves.

I’m not sure how long this will occur. Our children fear it may be indefinitely. Wink. Smile. We have still watched shows or enjoyed family movie nights with the laptop, but we have also enjoyed more family game nights and read aloud, too. We allowed the boys to pull it out of the closet for a little video game time when a friend spent the night recently. This choice isn’t about the hard and fast rules; it’s about knowing our home and the needs within it. With a teenager and two more on the cusp, I am aware of both the brevity of childhood and the imminence of adulthood. These years feel so precious, and I haven’t regretted the removal once yet.

16 replies
  1. Heather Hall
    Heather Hall says:

    Love this! We’ve lived without a TV (but with a laptop) for 6 years now and it has been one of the best decisions for our family. You would not believe how much TIME we have guarded for beautiful, thoughtful, productive togetherness. I’m convinced that I am able to be both stay at home mama/photographer/writer/newly homeschooling family because we do not have a television distracting us from what matters the most. I wrote a post earlier this year about the television on a different vein of thought, but the same principles are at play. (http://www.thesiftedlife.co/blog/breaking-up-with-tv) It’s not about rules but balance and knowing what is right for your family right now. Keep it up, Mama! I love learning from you and being encouraged by your life and what God is doing in and through you!!

    Reply
  2. Anne G.
    Anne G. says:

    Hi Bethany,

    I love your thoughtful approach to this, especially these questions: What are other ways to decompress? What are the sources of stress that need undoing? How does the television fit into our needs for consuming and producing?

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this as well recently as I just read Andy Crouch’s “Tech-Wise Family” and Tony Reinke’s “12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You.” It strikes me that the above questions that you asked of TV would be great for helping us examine our (adult) use of smartphones and other devices. As a result of my reading, I’ve been thinking more critically about my own use of media as a form of decompression and realizing that in truth, very little media (television, etc.) actually gives me (or my children) rest. It gives us something that appears to be restful, but which really, truly isn’t. And, as I think you’ve found, it’s not a “simple” form of relaxation, but something that has the potential to introduce conflict into the family dynamic–thus actually detracting from our rest/peace.

    We talk so much about kids’ screen time, that I think that we need to have more frank conversations about adults’ screen habits as well and the self-discipline that we need to impose in order to exist as whole human beings who are in control of–not controlled by–these glowing screens. So I think that the conversations that your family is having are great–it seems like they’ll benefit everyone.

    Reply
  3. Bethany
    Bethany says:

    Thank you for sharing your story! So encouraging! Screens, generally, have robbed so much life from our home. We haven’t eliminated our television set (my husband loves NFL football) but we recently removed the “smart tv” function and have gotten off all social media to help curb our use of our smart phones. We still occasionally rent a DVD from Redbox or the library, but we feel so free now–free to sleep, to read more, to make music as a family, to play at the park as the sun goes down.

    Reply
  4. Vanessa
    Vanessa says:

    Love this. When I was a child, I saw things on TV that I can’t forget. Now I live alone, without a TV. At the moment I’m on my journey from hating the TV with all of my heart, tell people about my negative thoughts about that (and hurting them with that), to a more objective way to think and talk about it. I tried to write my thoughts about having a TV many times, but I failed. It’s always full of hate, “don’ts”, like a “know-it-all”
    This post inspires me. You didn’t tell all the negative about having a TV, you tell about what you do without it. There is a big difference.

    Reply
  5. Jessica D.
    Jessica D. says:

    I absolutely love this post Bethany!! Such a major topic of discussion and debate that has been on my mind and heart all year. I keep trying to convince my husband that we should get rid of the T.V. all together because I see how it negatively affects the children and our home and time. Like you’ve shared here, there is always the laptop for an occasional show or movie, and there’s the option of YouTube. However, I’m also in a place of more hate-hate than love for technology right now lol, and how it has been shaping & affecting not just myself and our family, but society as a whole. I could seriously go on about this for some time ha. Which is why I also contemplate about getting rid of all my social media (which is basically just IG now) and even my smart phone. However, I am realistic in some of the useful or enjoyable ways all this stuff can and is used in my life. I’m definitely conflicted and it does all weigh heavily on my mind & spirit almost daily (doesn’t help that I sit in front of a computer for most of my work day ughh). Any who, such an important topic of discussion and I am so glad you decided to share your thoughts & experiences of the family with us Bethany. Please continue, it’s helpful and insightful! 😉 Many blessings to you all!

    Reply
  6. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    Thank you for sharing about this. I’d love to read about managing the presence of other screens in your home; specifically phones. We don’t use our TV; our computers are used sparingly in front of our kids (ages 4,2,newborn), but our phones are always nearby and I’m starting to struggle with their impact on the home dynamic and our interactions with our kids.

    Reply
  7. Sara
    Sara says:

    I’ve always considered giving this a try. I often want to do something productive, but my tired body enjoys cuddling up at the end of the day to watch something and wind down. I’m sure I’d get much more done without it, though!

    Reply
    • Bethany
      Bethany says:

      There are definitely times that I feel the same, and we do still watch a show or a film on the laptop, but generally, it feel less demanding not having full presence of a large screen in the home, in our common space. Who knows? You might be surprised.

      Reply
  8. Katie
    Katie says:

    Do your kiddos still have screen time on another device like a tablet or I pad? Just curious. Some days I would actually rather not have the I pad as opposed to the tv. I find it to be a bigger struggle to get off of. We limit the time on the I pad to 30 min. , but I can see how addicting it is.

    Reply
    • Bethany
      Bethany says:

      I completely agree, Katie. The Internet and personal devices (ipad, iphones, etc.) felt like an altogether different post. I’m planning to write more about it later this fall, but wanted to break it up so it wasn’t too long or overwhelming. And yes, my children have an old ipad and my oldest has an ipad mini. And obviously, I have a phone and a laptop, so naturally that’s a different battle and conversation here, too. 😉

      Reply
  9. Catherine olona (phillip mom
    Catherine olona (phillip mom says:

    This mami’ gives no TV time….. i love talking to my grand children …. and video games never…. i need my grand children helping me this season of life…. i have so much to teach them………..

    Reply
  10. Lisa Lizotte
    Lisa Lizotte says:

    Completely agree! When we moved into our bus we had to sell the television. The small space brought us together. We have played more games as a family than ever before. We do crawl up in our bed with laptop like you said for a family movie on the weekends but my husband and I have grown tired of kid movies and have started to retreat to the dinning table. I’m not sure of the answer but I do hate the struggle over it.

    Reply
    • Bethany
      Bethany says:

      I totally get it. Twice recently, we have told our children, we wanted to watch something for us and instead of watching something together, we’ve waited until they’re in bed to watch something on our own. They of course try to make us feel guilty about it, but when I consider all of the other ways our home curbs to them, I don’t. Not for one minute.

      Reply

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