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What do you mean you dont have a television?

The London TV License Inspector never believed us, and was always determined to come in and check. In the six years we lived in the UK, they visited us at least 20 times in the hope of catching us out. Hoping that one day, we’d be standing there, like Vyvyan from the Young Ones, with the cord hanging out of our mouths…

The irony was, that the whole reason we were in London, living life to the hilt, was because we had made a monumental decision the year before: we’d given away our TVs. The Passion Killer in the bedroom, the Conversation Stopper in the lounge room, and the Cook’s Companion in the Kitchen – vamoosed.

Realising that those little black boxes were responsible for our lacklustre lifestyle was a life-changing moment. The decision to give them away for good was another one. And we haven’t looked back since.

Well, OK, we may have peeked a few times, but for the most part, we’ve managed to abstain from commercial television for a really long time.

“Why did you have to give it away? Why couldn’t you just turn it off? Don’t you miss your favourite shows?”

Because we were addicts, that’s why. We watched up to five hours a day, that’s why. Because we didn’t know how to turn it off. And yes, we did miss our favourite shows… for a while.

The thing is, when we had a TV, we didn’t talk- we watched other people talking. Our own romantic lives suffered as we viewed others on the screen developing theirs. We gained kilo after kilo while we sat as spectators watching other people playing the sports we should have been playing ourselves.

This was not who we wanted to be. So we did something about it.

It’s not always been easy, and sometimes we have cheated. If we ever stayed in a hotel, we would race each other to the remote control! We allowed ourselves movies on DVD, once or twice a week. Trips to the movies became a real treat. Butourviewing becameourchoice rather than the TV programmers’ decision.

After a while, the benefits began to show. We moved overseas, we travelled, we learned new skills. We lost weight, we got fit andjoined teams and clubs. We surrounded ourselves with fun people and good music, we talked, and we reclaimed our lost souls.

We even went one step further and gave up our jobs, our phones, our cars and our computers to sail the oceans for two years. No TV at sea – life was raw and magnificent!

But if we thought that any of that was adventurous, having children certainly reset those levels. Our greatest challenge now is how to be mindful parents of two small people who are well-ensconced in the computer age.

As an adult, it’s reasonable to expect that one can go ‘cold turkey’ to avoid something that is destructive. Even though it seemed tough at the time, it was relatively easy for us to give up TV full-time. As a child born in age of technology where some two year olds have their own iPads, this really isn’t an option. We want our children to know and understand the era they’re in, the technology that surrounds them and the future they’re facing. They need to learn how to harness the beast that is the Internet, and how to use social media as an adjunct to ‘normal’ face-to-face interactions.

And of course, they need to fit in socially with their peers. They must have some working knowledge of the Wiggles, Playschool and Peppa Pig (groan) in order to fit in to the social scene that is kindergarten. They should know who most of the superheroes are by the time they get to Year 1. After that, we’re kinda hoping that sport takes over and most of the schoolyard chat will be related to outdoor activities.

A mother said to me recently: “Our son’s paediatrician suggested we aim to teach our children to engage with electronic media mindfully, selectively, with an aim and a finite, reasonable endpoint. He said that banning TV outright carries the danger of creating addicts later in life. Better, he said, to try and help them learn self-discipline instead.”

Imagine that – if we banned TV completely from their lives and subversively turned them into the addicts we once were?

So, no our kids don’t have access to commercial television. We have taught them that advertising is intrusive and unwelcome. But we do allow them access to ABC online on weekends, we have family movies on Friday nights and an occasional film on the weekend if the weather is bad (or Mummy is cranky…!). On school holidays they are allowed an hour and a half of ABC or a movie every day, first thing, so they don’t ask about TV for the rest of the day, and know that if they do, then tomorrow’s viewing will be cancelled. They know they have a time limit, but they can choose their own programs (with a green triangle that says ‘G’), so they already have a sense of free will.

We aren’t trying to be better than anyone else because of the choices we’ve made. Not in the least. We just want to inject some balance into our children’s lives and some sanity into our own. We have finally learned to do things in moderation and we want our kids to have a taste of it all, which is their birthright.

And as for me? Well, I can still get the latest TV series on DVD from my local video store for $1 on Tuesdays and when hubby’s asleep, I spend the evening with Patrick and Nina! Shhh, don’t tell anyone!


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