Frugality Isn’t Deprivation. It’s Doing The Kids (and you) a Favor
Recently in an interview with Essence Magazine:
Of his own daughters, Malia, 11, and Sasha, 8, Obama told Essence magazine: “The girls don’t watch TV during the week. Period.”
Blogger Theresa Walsh Giarrusso says:
I have to say that seems a little bit harsh. My kids, and I’m sure President Obama’s kids, work very hard at school. They are gone for eight hours and deserve a little down time when they come home.
She believes when the Obama girls go off to college they are going to respond to their previous years of deprivation by spending all their time in the common room catching up on all the television they missed.
A few months ago my husband and I took a Dave Ramsey class. During class the other students were sharing their frugal successes, and one evening several of them centered around how to bring down the cable bill- not get rid of it, because that's extreme, but bring it down.
My husband and I married in 1982. During our 28 years of marriage, we have never had cable television, except for a six month period when we lived in a trailer where the trailer park management provided cable television. In fact, I grew up without cable television, without color television, and for the first several years of my life, no television. My mother says somebody felt sorry for the family and gave us one, and she always felt like they weren't really doing us any favors. Did we feel deprived? No, we didn't. Why should we?
Not only that, but my husband and I mostly didn't have television at all, cable or otherwise. We have lived in places where no cable meant no reception, and so, for all but about five years of our 28 year marriage, we haven't had any outside television programming coming in to our home. We used the television screen for watching movies, which we mostly checked out for free from the library.
We did not feel deprived nor did we feel like we were depriving our children. In fact, we felt like we were doing them a favor.
Our thoughts and decisions here were influenced by some of the reading we did. Your child's growing mind by Dr. Jane Healy was probably one of the most important of those books.
This sense that we were doing our Progeny a favor by 'depriving' them of television was reinforced in the last two months when, in order to earn some extra Swagbucks (we use them for Amazon gift cards which we were saving for a camera, and now mostly use for homeschooling materials for our two unofficial foster sons), we got a free two week subscription to Netflix, and then our 19 year old daughter did the same thing and liked it so well she bought a paid subscription. The result was, in order to 'get our money's worth' the entire family glutted on movies. Whereas formerly we had a standing rule that there was no more than one movie per week, we've been watching one a night- and sometimes more. Disgusting.
After just a couple of months of this I can see the difference, particularly in our youngest two (11 and just recently 14). They are doing fewer creative things. They are more fractious. They are reading less. Their conversation is less interesting. They, and I, are less willing to spend time on processes with delayed gratification- such as baking bread from scratch, making yogurt, art projects with several steps and long drying out times between steps, reading longer books, laundry... The results of this experiment are, for our family, completely unsatisfactory and we are returning to our one movie a week, if not fewer, rule. Within days of implementing it, my children have been getting along better, more active, more interesting, and showing some of their old initiative.
Our television watching has been commercial free, so we haven't had that to deal with. However, years ago when we lived in Okinawa we observed the effects of commercials on children in an interesting fashion- this accounts for four of the five years we had television. Since we were on a military base, there was only one English speaking channel, and it was commercial free. Instead of commercials, we had public service announcements, and short 'ads' about some event in history. Our next door neighbor's father back stateside recorded Saturday morning cartoons for his 5 or 6 year old grand-daughter and sent them several video tapes. We were amazed, though in retrospect I wonder why, at the instant response to those ads. She immediately began to clamour for toys and cereals she'd never heard of but now believed she needed instantly. Her mother called her to breakfast during one of those commercial breaks, and the child sat glued to the floor, insisting that she couldn't leave the room because the man on the television had told her "Don't go away, we'll be right back!"
Getting rid of cable isn't a deprivation. It's an opening into a new life. Television isn't just about all the things you're seeing that really are not that profitable, but about all the things that are not being done while you're watching television, all the creative thoughts you'll never have, the walks you aren't taking, the projects you aren't undertaking, the genuine interaction that isn't going on during those hours.
Living without television isn't a hardship. It's a blessing.