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HumankindNESS: Happy Days

By Jennifer Richardson
It may surprise some of you to know that I grew up without a television in my home.

My parents did not want their children to miss out on family time or the joy of reading, and TV seemed to be have the potential to produce kids that were self-absorbed and focused on entertainment.

Telling someone you did not have a TV was a little like telling someone you did not have a refrigerator; they kind of looked at you like you were from another planet. This was a challenging conversation to have in the halls of North Ward elementary school.

I also have a blank spot in my cultural knowledge—shows like The Brady Bunch and Happy Days just weren’t part of my world. As great as the Brady Bunch probably was, this did not turn out to be a huge loss for my life. Between school, church activities, helping others, playing outside, eating dinner together every night, and all the great stuff we did as a family, I really can’t imagine where TV would have fit into our lives.

Of course this was back in the day in which entertainment was three network channels and a public television station, if you had the antenna adjusted just right. Things are a little different now. Cable television has exploded and the digital age is upon us. Readily available entertainment from a variety of technological venues is a fact of life.

But we can still use technology rather than have it use us. We enjoy having TV in our home, but we have a measured approach to it—when we were raising our kids, the television was never on in the mornings when we are starting our day. And there were limits to the hours it was available each day. We tried to make it something that complemented our life—instead of letting it run our life.

And, despite the healthy boundaries we imposed, over the years we had to just walk into the family room, shut off the TV, and shoo the kids and their friends out to do other activities if they need to re-charge, stop fighting, do homework, come to dinner, or spend time with people.

Time has proven that my parents had some insight into what constant entertainment can do to a person. I look around me now and I see many people glued to some form of digital diversion, and I see the wisdom in limiting screen time.

In case you were wondering, after all their children moved away, my parents acquired a TV, and there was some good-natured ribbing about it. But it was all in good fun, because we knew there were no lasting ill-effects from all the TV we missed growing up.

On the contrary, the benefits were incredible. As kids we learned to work hard, and play hard. We were creative. We looked people in the eyes when we spoke to them. We had time to explore and imagine. We built forts, climbed every tree in the neighborhood, and went swimming. We read books and understood multiple viewpoints. We placed a high priority on people, we enjoyed acquiring knowledge, we read seamlessly aloud, and we built friendships based on human interaction. We learned to love a well-told story, and we had an enviable vocabulary.

Although we likely had the typical amount of sass and lessons to learn, my mother (perhaps generously) refers to us as “good kids” when speaking of our growing up years. One thing is certain, the absence of television only helped us.

The true upside was that we just didn’t spend lots of time as kids with entertainment as the only goal–filling our heads with the one sided, passive, isolating experience that television can offer.

Thank you mom and dad, for raising us without television. It was awkward to explain why we didn’t have the colored box in my younger years, but oh my goodness, taking something away added so much.

We certainly enjoy television for what it’s worth now, but I am thankful my parents had the courage to be different. When I look back at the days of my youth I know now that it wasn’t really about the television at all. It was about the vital, underlying lesson that it does matter how you spend your time, your intellect, and your precious years with your family.

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