|TV-less in a Television World
by Jon Remmerde
Tracy, wife and mother of the household we visited the winter Juniper and Amdnda were 9 and 7, kept the television always on, even if she wasn’t watching.
I came back from errands and found our daughters in the back bedroom closet (it has a light), reading. They had sampled television. They weren’t interested in Sesame Street, the Muppets, or any other programs designed for children. Juniper said, “Even wildlife programs are full of commercials.”
Amanda said, “People talk all through the program, too. They should have the sounds of the animals.”
“Or just let it be quiet. They’re afraid of silence.”
“We checked everywhere in the house. Tracy wants the television on, and this is the only place in the house where we can’t hear the t.v. It’s comfortable here, too.”
“If you’re leaving, please shut the bedroom door and the hall door so we don’t hear the t.v.” I got my book and came back in. I shut the hall door and the bedroom door behind me and sat on the bed and read. I could see there wasn’t room for me in the closet, so I didn’t ask.
Our daughters grew up without television. When we visited places with television, they avoided the sets. I had told them television was not good, and they thought I meant it was dangerous. When they read abut radiation from televison sets, they knew they were dangerous. Television is also dangerous, they said, because it steals imagination from viewers.
“We visualize images to go with the story when we read. We imagine the sounds of the story. Television does the sounds and the images. Imagination dies if we don’t use it. People are passive when they watch television. They don’t develop imagination or critical abilities or creative abilities. How can you if you’re using all your time watching t.v.? People who watch television don’t have time for exercise, and lack of exercise limits physical growth.”
When we took care of an electricityless ranch in the Blue Mountains of northeastern Oregon, two young men used their grandfather’s hunting cabin, down the graveled road from us, to celebrate their graduation from high school. Their question each time they stopped by to visit us was, “How do you live with no t.v.?”
Our whole family talked, giving each other turns. We said, “We walk. There are so many wild animals in this valley. We watch birds, elk, deer. We write. Letters, stories, essays. We write about the wildlife we saw today. We make up plays and act them out. We draw some of what we see, or illustrations for stories and plays. We made a piece of driftwood into a stick horse. We’ve been wondering if people are more intelligent than animals. We’ve been trying to figure out, what is intelligence? Learn to play a musical instrument. Sing. Sing together. Go out and watch the stars and the moon. Hike down by the river and watch all the wild animals there. Listen to coyotes. They aren’t just howling. Coyotes sing, you know. Listen to the elk whistling up in the timber. Go to concerts. Use all of real life all around you and your own imagination to build visions that guide you through your life. Accept no substitutes.”
It was interesting to them, like a view of an alien culture. They said they didn’t quite believe what they were seeing or understand what they were hearing. They went home earlier than they had planned, to see some of their favorite programs.
Since our children have almost no background in television, they are not caught up in fashions of clothing, speech or values, as are many other children. Consequently, they don’t speak quite the same language as most other children. This hasn’t handicapped them. They are interesting to their peers because of their difference, and usually, good communication comes from mutual exploration of the differences.
Sometimes people tell us we are missing opportunities for education and opportunities to broaden our lives.
Yesterday, I saw twenty six different kinds of wildflowers in bloom. I watched a bluebird hover in flight. Before I saw that, I wasn’t aware that a bluebird could do that, and I was fascinated to learn about it by observing it.
Recently, my daughters and I watched a large bull elk grazing in the lower pasture, from less than a hundred yards away. He was not afraid of us. I listened to my older daughter, responding to her own desire and discipline, practice violin and my younger practice piano. I heard my younger daughter sing the newest song she has written. As her songs almost always do, the song startled me because of its depth of feeling and beautifully developed language and music. At the same time that I ask myself, how can a 12 year old evidence such depth and such profound humanness, I know the answer-- we all can. We are all that deep, complex, and creative, if we don’t shut ourselves down.
After Amanda sang her song, she and I sang several songs together. She read a chapter of a book to Laura, as Laura washed dishes. Juniper read a chapter from another book for the family during our reading time. We each read or made up a story for the others just before bedtime. I wrote for about 2 hours after everyone else went to bed. I also worked an eight hour shift of light to strenuous labor.
We aren’t gifted with an unusual amount of energy. We’re gifted with an unusual amount of time, because we don’t television. The choice I made when television and I were growing up concurrently, to remain largely uninvolved with it, helped me into a life rich with energy and imagination, and I think Amanda and Juniper’s freedom from television has led to a richer existence for them than many children achieve.
When child development experts say enrich your child’s environment, they don’t mean just present them with colors and gadgets and mechanical routines of learning. They mean enrich the environment with love, with the parents supporting, teaching, reverencing the children, and being there to fulfill the children’s needs.
The curiosity and interest that led Juniper and Amanda into reading young and into reading hundreds of varied books, was aided and abetted by their parents’ involvement with books and the world around us and by our availability to help them figure out how to satisfy their curiosity and how to discipline their interest and energy to achieve the goals they set for themselves.
We haven’t had the problems with communication, aimlessness, and emotional upsets that, according to what I read, families are prone to in our culture. Our daughters are 13 and 15 now, and we have had no teenage rebellion, no problems with communication, because we are all always available to each other for communication, appreciation, and support. Each of us has a strong sense of purpose, and we have a strong sense of purpose together, as a family. If we can’t always say, “That piece of work you brought to us is beautiful and finished,” we can say, “You’re doing really well. You show progress, and you can achieve what you wish to achieve if you continue pursuing it diligently.” We support each other in the pursuit of what each hopes to achieve. Obviously, there is more going on here than televisionlessness. We have taken the responsibility for our children’s education. We haven’t confused economic success and high quality of existence with each other, and the latter means more to us. We are strongly grounded in religious belief that works very well for us.When child development experts say enrich your child’s environment, they don’t mean just present them with colors and gadgets and mechanical routines of learning. They mean enrich the environment with love, with the parents supporting, teaching, reverencing the children, and being there to fulfill the children’s needs.
My jobs have been in rural areas, and there is land and wildlife to explore. I am a caretaker. Most of my work is close to home, and I am available to my family. My children are often involved with me in my work. But much less of what we have achieved in success at being a family would have been achieved, no matter what our situation, had we accepted television into our lives. If there were no other negative effect, it consumes time and takes us out of contact with what is immediately around us, including each other.When child development experts say enrich your child’s environment, they don’t mean just present them with colors and gadgets and mechanical routines of learning. They mean enrich the environment with love, with the parents supporting, teaching, reverencing the children, and being there to fulfill the children’s needs.
Jon Remmerde’s website, www.remmerde.com, has samples from his books, which can be ordered online or from any bookstore.
P.O. Box 6442 - Brunswick, ME 04011