Saturday, January 20, 2007

Television Journey

In the interest of full disclosure, I thought I'd post about my family's radical unschooling journey with television.

I, personally, am not a tv watcher, though I do enjoy a couple of shows, Survivor being one I will admit. I was tv-free for ten years before we made the decision, together with our children, to bring cable into our home back in 2003.

When Em was little, we did restrict her "screen time" to under an hour a day or one movie, though she was so engaged, she didn't think much of it. When Sam came along, and I had three wee ones, all still in diapers, my mother-in-law purchased us a small tv/vcr combo for the living room that I will admit was an absolute godsend! She also single-handedly furnished our entire video library because she clearly (and good-naturedly) felt that her grandchildren were being seriously deprived of television culture.

So, the kids had many videos to choose from, ranging from Dora to Blues Clues to Bear in the Big Blue House. As I began later that year exploring homeschooling in earnest and discovering the wonder of unschooling, which seemed to fit our attachment lifestyle so beautifully, I simply began saying "yes" when the kids would ask to watch something, which still wasn't very often. We moved pretty seamlessly from limited screen time to the kids' free access to their video collection without them ever really noticing the transition.

When we decided to get cable, in large part for high-speed internet access, we simply continued that trajectory—saying yes when asked and transitioning seamlessly once again into unlimited television access. While we enjoyed having television and it enriched our lives in so many ways, I still somewhat resented the $40 extra it cost each month, and we began to look into ways to cut that price tag back, including exploring Verizon DSL over cable, ultimately deciding that we weren't ready to eliminate cable from our lives. Shortly after that, we moved and have continued to enjoy cable for the past year and a half in our new home.

This year, however, in a personal effort to simplify and trim expenditures where ever possible, I broached the subject of exchanging cable for Netflix again. To my surprise, this time my youngest child was completely on board, literally campaigning for the extra $40 a month! Jim, too, was on board with it (my boys are so motivated by their wallets!). The girls, however, were not as sure, and they took a few weeks to consider the option.

We are now officially cable free (though we do receive basic channels, which include PBS and the SciFi channel—how cool!) and very satisfied Netflix customers. The girls finally decided that they'd be willing to give a cable-free/Netflix-enriched life a try. As with everything, we all agreed that none of this was set in stone, that we could revisit and rework whenever.

The thing is, we're loving having more free time and being able to watch such a variety of movies and shows. Part of what spurred the kids' willingness to try this was the fact that we'd missed the whole first season of Avatar because they never really watched Nickelodeon. So, we purchased the first season on dvd as it was released and fell in love with the show. When we switched to watching season 2 on tv, the kids were irritated by the commercials. Then, when it switched from the first two hour-long intro shows to the half-hour show, OMG! all hell broke loose! The kids were devastated and infuriated all at once that their favorite show had just ended after only 20 minutes!

Now, with Netflix, although we're a season behind television and not all shows are available, there are loads of series' available, and the kids are loving being able to watch the whole season. More than that, they love the anticipation of movies on our queue and getting mail—mail is a really big thing.

So far, everyone is thrilled with our decision, thrilled that we have nearly $40 extra each month and thrilled with the selection of available dvds. We may change our minds, and we do really miss Dirty Jobs and Myth Busters, so there are are some downsides as with anything in life. But, for now, we're enjoying our Netflix romance and broadening our interests and activities.


Tracy said...

This sounds so similar to our television/unschooling journey. And we also just nixed our cable in favor of more Netflix -- for budgetary reasons, but I really enjoy the total control over our viewing schedule. Now we can watch our shows whenever we like rather being glued to that 7 o'clock or 8 o'clock hour... or worse, trying to remember to set the VCR to record! (LOL, I don't know why that is so difficult, but it is).

Sylvia said...

You've been tagged! Go to my blog to see what that means.

Ophelia said...

Danielle, so sorry for this super-late response. I just read this blog entry and wanted to say that we too are a cable-free family. We decided to get rid of our satellite subscription two years ago, and we have never looked back since. It truly is amazing how much more productive one can be with less TV time.

True, we still make time to view some educational programming on DVD and enjoy some occasional feature films. But it's so much better now that we are able to watch them at our own time, without commercials or having to forward through commercials (on a recording), and being able to really pick and choose what we want to view.

I admire your having been cable-free for ten years. I am looking forward to getting to that point myself. How wonderful that would be!

Dana said...

Hi, Danielle:
Our path sounds similar to yours. We do have cable, but the kidlets haven't really caught on to it yet. They're happy to watch DVDs. We do Netflix, too.

We were NO MEDIA for our firstborn for 5 years. But of course, the day he turned 5, the highlight was watching a DVD. I picked "Walking With Dinosaurs," thinking, hey, at least it's not "commercial." Sigh. We do love our judgments, huh?

Anyway, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the idea of censoring viewing. Caleb would love to watch Dawn of the Dead, Saw III, and every other horror movie he sees on our shelf. [Dad is a zombie-o-phile] We've let him watch PG-13 things like Pirates of the Caribbean, but I've drawn a line at torture/murder/sex beyond kissing.

Do you let your kids self-regulate?

Thanks, love your blog!
We are unschoolers in Boston, soon to be relocated to a farm in NH!


Danielle said...

Thanks for all the comments!

Dana, yes, the kids decide what they want to watch/ not watch, though I will offer my opinion on different things, and they trust that opinion because it not only represents my own personal feelings but also takes into account their own preferences and comfort levels.

In large part, that trust was built over time and included some uncomfortable moments for the kids watching some things that were beyond their comfort levels. It's also included me working with them to watch things they're interested in while maybe fast-forwarding over certain scenes, etc. They've watched several R rated movies that they've been fine with while also finding themselves really disturbed by other movies that are PG or even G rated. So, rating really isn't our criteria here.

My kids don't choose to watch things that they find scary or uncomfortable, having done it a couple times, so I don't find myself needing to draw any kind of lines. They want to fast forward through sexual scenes, for instance, and are very clear about which movies they want to fall asleep to versus those that are not falling asleep movies. I don't think they would have been able to discern those comfort levels quite so clearly or so quickly if I'd been making unilateral decisions.