When I was growing up, it was a big deal when we got a color television. I didn’t have cable until I got married. So when I had kids of my own, I was at a loss as to how much TV was good and how much would make me a “bad mom.”
I grew up on “Sesame Street,” “Romper Room” and the occasional sitcom. With the wide range of cable channels available now, I knew I would face more difficult decisions as a parent.
We started out with a mix of Disney Channel and “The Wiggles” and moved onto older-kid cartoons, HGTV and cooking shows. I admit that when I needed a shower, Mickey Mouse and the Blue Wiggle were my best friends.
As my kids got older, Mickey just didn’t cut it anymore. They were in school and reading and busy with activities. We still watched HGTV together and one day, I learned that the Gaines family doesn’t have a TV in their Waco, Texas, home. I was initially stunned—Chip and Joanna are TV stars, after all.
I pondered their lifestyle for a few weeks and decided to test the idea out at our house. Conveniently, it was Lent so as a family, we gave up TV for those six weeks. It was a bumpy ride at the outset (especially for me!), but by the end of the six weeks, we didn’t even miss our favorite shows.
My kids were initially resistant to the idea and lamented that they would miss a show in a series they were watching. I knew TV time needed to be replaced by something else in those early days and made a special effort to add in extra fun activities, like local Easter egg hunt events. By week two, they didn’t even ask to turn the TV on anymore.
I admit I am still a little hooked on some recurring shows and we’ve watched the Olympic ice-skating events this winter. However, most of the time, the TVs stay off. Our family time is now spent playing Settlers of Catan instead of watching someone search for a tiny home to settle in.
While the initial TV fast was based on Chip and Joanna Gaines’ household plan, those six weeks spurred on a positive habit that lasted well beyond the Easter season. The family room TV that we turned off for six weeks? It just stayed off, even after the experiment ended.
While giving up TV entirely like the Gaines may not be practical for every family, after our six-week experiment, I have some advice for implementing your own family “TV diet.” These five tips can help you get started.
1. Take The ‘Candy Jar’ Approach
While we don’t watch much TV in our house, it is also not a forced restriction. We take the same approach with candy—it is out and available. The kids, in turn, moderate their own usage. My oldest got extra credit at school for watching the first presidential debate. We have been watching the winter Olympics. By not making a strict “no TV” rule, our kids view TV as not being as important.
2. Stick With An Old TV
We have old, tube-style TVs in our house (partially because they are too heavy to move). I did pick up a $130 smart TV during a Black Friday sale, but it isn’t in any of the common areas of the house. Mom confession: it replaced the master bedroom TV because I’m not quite ready to give up all TV. When my daughter was sick recently, she cuddled up next to me and we watched cooking shows together.
Not only have we saved money by not buying progressively newer TVs, we don’t pay for HDTV because we don’t have TVs with those features.
3. Find Your Own Farm
The Gaines live on a 40-acre farm where their four (soon to be five!) kids help out with chores and with the family’s menagerie of farm animals—chickens, goats, cows, turkeys, cats, dogs and bottle calves.
When I was a kid, I lived near farms like the Gaines’ and visited them often. I fondly remember sliding down grain elevators, picking eggs and feeding pigs. Our family now lives in a suburb, not a farm (I tried to get suburban chickens, but the HOA frowned upon that).
Because most of us don’t live on a farm like the Gaines family, we need to find our own family farm life. That can be as simple as hiking in your area or picking apples at a nearby fruit farm. A backyard garden is another fun way to bring a little farm into your family life. My daughter has taken up a bunny rescue project for her Girl Scout gold award. Being outside with your family translates to NOT being inside watching TV, even if your backyard isn’t a farm.
4. Turn The Page Instead Of The Channel
My kids have always loved to read. When we decided to stop watching TV, they upped their book consumption even more. Reading right before bed became a calming point in their days, and they began exploring new genres and book series. Turning off the TV meant they turned the pages of new books instead.
5. Channel Hobbies
After we stopped watching TV, we found ourselves choosing other activities. From sewing to embroidery to playing basketball in the driveway, our family time was filled with learning new things and physical activities.
The Experiment Turned Into A Habit
Once the TVs were turned off, the focus on them just seemed to go away. They sit most times like big, black boxes. The irony in all of this is that I learned about the Gaines not having a TV in their home from watching TV.
It has been two years since we did our Lenten experiment inspired by the Gaines family and their no-TV home. The initial experiment where I tried to emulate Joanna Gaines has morphed into a lifestyle of less TV for our entire family. Do I find myself feeling like I’ve missed out on shows I used to watch religiously? Yes. Do I love the extra family time without the TV blaring in the background. Yes and a big thank you to Chip and Joanna Gaines for that.