On June 12, the Home & Family section featured an article describing how one family tried (and failed!) to do without television for three weeks. At that time, we invited readers to tell how they've brought discipline and enjoyment to their TV viewing. Dozens of letters streamed in. What follows is a digest of those responses. Using TV sparingly Our general rule about TV was (and is) that it's something to view when there's nothing better to do. Reading, sitting on fire hydrants to observe life on the block, roller skating, swimming, etc., are generally better things to do. After all, children prefer activity to passivity until we teach them otherwise.
Like other parents, we used TV as a babysitter. But we selected that babysitter with great care. Our real-people babysitters weren't dull, stupid, or violent. Why should the electronic babysitter be any different?
We found over time that good programs for children are usually good programs for adults. They informed and entertained. A child accustomed to quality TV won't have the patience for too much junk. Television is like spice. Use it well, but sparingly. The main dish is life itself.
Don and Elsie Feliz
Sacramento, Calif. Move the set, buy a VCR
Our family needed more disciplined TV viewing. I grew up in a home where we enjoyed many hours of TV watching. In deciding what was good for our family, my husband and I felt that less is best. As with Mrs. Rapp's family, we found this decision hard to live up to.
Our solution was twofold: First, we purchased a VCR, which meant that we ruled the TV viewing time rather than it ruling us. Second, we moved the set to the basement recreational room. It now requires a joint decision and some effort to locate there in order to watch. Now evenings are spent sharing ideas and quality time with our two young children. We have time to read and enjoy games, and especially talk about the day's events.
Some say that a TV is an unnecessary addition to a home, but I disagree. For if your viewing time is balanced and you can be selective in the kinds of programs you watch, it can be a real asset to a family.
Cynthia Crowell Waller
Perrysburg, Ohio You become the scriptwriter
To encourage our family to use its imagination, we select a different half-hour TV show each week not formerly viewed by any of us. We watch and listen to the first half of the program before turning down the sound. I am generally elected to take notes of what the family believes takes place during the last half of the program. We interpret the action taking place and improvise the undisclosed dialogue. The children have tried to lip-read, but we agree it is much more entertaining if we just use our imagined dialogue based on our interpretation of what we view on the screen....
Our versions of the TV shows are many times superior (or at least we like to think so) to the actual plots devised by the salaried writers. And we have fun matching our wits to the make-believe situations.
Barrington, Ill. A list of no's
For years now, ever since I ``did a Nielsen'' (kept a Nielsen diary), and became surfeited with television, I have followed my own personal TV viewing rules:
No commercial television. PBS only.
No daytime viewing, including holidays, except Saturdays.
At least one entire day and evening free of television
When company arrives, turn off TV. When talking on phone, turn off TV. No TV during main meal of day. (Musical recordings: classical or folk).
No television at any time unless tasks scheduled have been completed. TV-viewing, however, sometimes combines well with manicuring one's nails, sewing hems, and various clerical tasks.
No TV ``news,'' except MacNeil/-Lehrer, and not even that if my newspapers have not been delivered.
M. Catherine Sarnelli
Levittown, N.Y. The television only `visits'
At first, our family decided not to have a live-in television, but we often had visiting TVs; we would rent one for a week on special occasions such as Christmas, birthdays, and the World Series. The arrangement was inexpensive; we enjoyed television periodically, but we weren't addicted to it. Then my husband was elected to a government position; now he needed to know the news and how it was reported. Buying a TV, we entered the 20th century. However, our boys must read at least 60 pages from a book and write a report before they can watch TV each night.
Of course, if the Razorbacks are playing, all rules are declared null and void. We gather in the den; each person has a mountain of munchies and three pillows to prop his head. We lie on our backs and watch TV as Arkansas beats Texas. To quote a commercial, ``It doesn't get any better than this.''
Bentonville, Ark. A Draconian measure
After almost 10 years of making rules for two children for TV privileges, rules which were a constant source of friction, I decided harmony in the home was more important than any TV program. I ejected the TV, and that ended all arguments. The peace was wonderful - no TV, no quarrels, no regrets.
This is perhaps a Draconian measure, but so simple! Now the children are grown and out of the home, I still have no TV. Nothing it offers can compete with books, home games, home-crafts and hobbies, and courses at our local community college - to name a few of the alternative activities.
Helen L. Lenox
Santa Cruz, Calif. A brick through the tube
My mother had a creative solution to excessive and ``illegal'' TV watching. One day she kept the threat made by countless mothers around the world ... she actually threw a brick through the set! TV-less for two years after that, we actually did the things the author of ``Three weeks without the tube ...'' hoped her family would do; we played games, worked jigsaw puzzles, talked to each other. Eventually, my father and I built a new set from a Heathkit (a tremendous learning experience for me!) and our family returned to American ``normalcy.''
Yet TV never played the dominant role it had before - we usually simply ``forgot'' to watch it! I'm not suggesting this remedy to everyone, but it makes a very dramatic story and we really learned to live richer lives without the TV altogether!
Los Altos, Calif. No longer a `couch potato'
For the past three years we have been fighting the TV battle, trying this schedule and that, only to have to renegotiate with the children every few months. Nothing worked until eight months ago we unplugged the TV and VCR and dragged them both into a closet.
When there was TV here, our 8-year-old was totally absorbed in the afternoon cartoons, and it was a battle to get him to do his homework or anything else. Today he reads voraciously, has wider interests, and gets excellent grades in school. Our five-year-old was very withdrawn, didn't talk to anyone outside the family, and spoke only in phrases or ungrammatical sentences at home. Today he is better socialized and his language is greatly improved. My husband used to be a couch potato on weekends, watching one sports event after another. Now he tends a vegetable garden with the children, and his job performance has improved greatly. As for me, I used to lose my temper with the children frequently, but now do so rarely. I feel I have more time, my home is quieter and more relaxed.
Mrs. Carol Ikari
Sunnyvale, Calif. Only the cat wants more TV
A now-retired family of two, we both like to read, and have other absorbing interests as well. Consequently, we did not feel a need for television until friends convinced us in 1980 that we were missing some fine programs. When we did buy a small portable, we found a spot in our den-office in which to store it. Only when we both want to look at a particular program, such as a play, nature series, or musical offering, does it come into the living room.
Neither of us is interested in sports, and we have continued getting most of our news from the printed page and from radio. Our viewing averages probably six or seven hours a week. Only the cat, who knows she is guaranteed an hour's lap-sitting when the TV goes on, wishes we spent more time with it.
Bob and Ruth Clarke
San Diego, Calif. Two years well spent
The picture on the screen darkened and the white dot gradually faded to nothingness: Our TV had died. I knew immediately I wouldn't replace it. Friends had unsuccessfully tried unplugging their sets to change family habits but I now had the perfect opportunity!
For years I, too, had been trying to limit family time before the TV screen but the hours would gradually increase and we would soon be back to our old habits. An out-of-commissioned TV set was the answer....
The first three months were the most difficult. My own viewing habits hadn't been particularly strong but our children's were those of typical pre-adolescent addicts. Now time seemed endless without their daily programs. There were tears and complaints, threats and sighs, but I remained adamant.
Then slowly, very slowly, they began to adjust: they were becoming used to a house without a TV. (Though it was quite a shock to the German exchange student who came to live with us that year with visions of becoming an American TV junkie). The various rooms once more assumed their rightful place in the domestic hierarchy. The living room became alive with music as the stereo and piano were increasingly used. The bedrooms pulsed with laughter and conversation and even meaningful silence as games, books, and paints appeared more frequently. The cellar metamorphosed into a secret club house and the kitchen hosted an occasional culinary event.
And then one evening as I glanced into the dining room I knew in my heart I had made the right decision. It was 7 p.m., a time when a situation comedy re-run would have had the children's attention, but there was Kate sporting a pair of red net butterfly wings from Gerra's last year's Halloween costume. The room was dark except for a flashlight which she had balanced on the revolving turntable of her record player, and as a mesmerizing light show played on the walls and ceiling she twirled in a fantasy world of her own.
I eventually bought a TV set. The 1984 Olympics were being televised and none of us wanted to miss them. But by that time Gerra and Kate's TV habits had been broken. They were no longer slaves to the screen.
In the three years since, they haven't returned to the mindless TV watching that once characterized their lives. Their hours spent before the screen are no longer an issue as they have voluntarily limited their TV watching and have discovered better and more interesting uses for the hours in the day.