Parenting, TV and Media, Waldorf Education

Screen-Free Week: Pulling the Plugs!

Below is a re-post of a piece I wrote last year for TV-Turnoff Week about my family’s experience pulling the plug many years ago. This year, TV-Turnoff Week has evolved into “Screen-Free Week.”

From the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood‘s website:

Screen-Free Week is an annual celebration where children, families, schools, and communities turn off screens and turn on life. Instead of relying on screens for entertainment, participants read, daydream, explore, enjoy nature, and enjoy spending time with family and friends.

Since we rarely watch TV, the challenge for us this year will be turning off our computers! Impossible for me now that I own an internet business. But eager to participate,  I am committing to no Facebook, Twitter or recreational use of the computer for the week.

I hope my story will inspire you to join me!

TV-TURNOFF WEEK: PULLING THE PLUG

Fourteen years ago, I was a young mother living in Hollywood, the media capital of the world. My husband Max worked in the entertainment industry, and I had been an actress prior to my son Harper’s birth. We were a family immersed in the culture of media.

During Harper’s early years, I was clueless about the effect of media on young children. I never questioned the effect of TV viewing on his developing brain. After all, he only watched “educational” shows on PBS and family-friendly videos, like Disney movies. He loved them! What could be wrong with that?

TV-Turnoff-Week

When he was four years old, I visited the Pasadena Waldorf School and became enchanted by what I saw. Intuitively, I knew that this was a healthy environment for children. I began to research and to learn as much about Waldorf education as I could.

I learned that Waldorf educators strongly discouraged TV and electronic media viewing by young children. This was a novel idea to me, but as I read more about the effect of media on children’s brain development, I started questioning the wisdom of continuing to allow Harper to sit in front of a screen for hours a day. But how, I wondered, would I get through my days without the electronic babysitter? How would I get dinner made? How would I take a shower? It didn’t help that Max was not convinced that TV, in moderation, was a harmful thing.

In April of that year, I learned about TV-Turnoff Week—a week in April during which families are encouraged to turn off their TVs for a week. I decided to give it a try to see if we could survive a week with no TV. At the beginning of the week, I shut the doors to the TV cabinet and hid the remote.

I would be lying if I said it was easy. Harper and I both experienced withdrawal symptoms. On the first couple of days, Harper would ask for Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers. Why, he pleaded, couldn’t he watch “Peter Pan?” I told him the TV was “resting” for a few days, and endured his whining with resolve. Silently, I wondered if I would last the week, feeling like he suddenly needed my constant attention. It was so much easier make dinner and straighten the house when I could just pop in Mary Poppins.

During the week, I decided to invest in some new art supplies. I bought stacks of drawing paper, and new sets of beeswax crayons and colored pencils. Then by day four, I witnessed a miracle. The whining stopped. I watched in awe as Harper became engrossed in drawing. Almost overnight, I saw his drawings transform from immature scribbles into representational images. Suddenly he was drawing pictures of pirate ships, castles, knights and dragons. He would sit at the little table in his room and draw picture after picture. Prior to this, I didn’t think he had the capacity to sit and focus for so long.

The drawing continued through long periods during days five and six. I could prepare dinner again while he was happily occupied, with the TV still hidden in the dark cabinet. I wouldn’t have believed it possible! When he wasn’t drawing, he became more interested in building with blocks and playing with puzzles.

I never anticipated such a dramatic change in only a week. By day seven, both my husband and I were convinced that there was no good reason to turn the TV back on. As Max said by the end of the week, “I guess it certainly couldn’t hurt to live without TV.”

We never threw our TV away, though many times I wished we could! Max continued to write about media and could not give up being able to watch World Series baseball. But it stayed turned off most of the time while my two boys were growing up. Though they often complained and questioned why we didn’t watch TV like other families did, Harper has, on more than one occasion, thanked me for not allowing them to watch when they were younger. As teenagers, they watch TV occasionally and enjoy it, but I am convinced that not having spent their childhoods parked in front of screens allowed them to become the creative and resourceful young adults they are now.

Incidentally, Harper has decided to return to his Hollywood roots and is now a college freshman studying filmmaking.

tv

Screen-Free Week 2011 is April 18-24

For more information, help and encouragement:

Screen-Free Week

101 TV-Free Alternatives

Unplugged Family Activities

Won’t you join me in participating in Screen-Free Week this year? Share your challenges and successes here!


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39 Comments

  • Reply Kelli April 16, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Hi Sarah – glad to see you got your blog up and running!

    Thank you for posting this personal story about your family’s struggles (and triumphs!) over media. When I first learned about Waldorf education, I had the same epiphany; maybe letting my daughter watch a movie while she ate breakfast wasn’t the best thing for her. So, one day, I just sat her down at the table and told her I would read her a story instead. Yes, there was whining, and I had to read a lot of stories. We also started playing board games together after school, or, better yet, playing outside! In a surprisingly short time, we went from watching movies in the morning and in the afternoon (we didn’t have cable, but we had a DVD player!) to going the entire school week without turning on the TV even one time. Now, two years later, she doesn’t even ask about the TV during the week, and very rarely on weekends (I do let her watch an occasional movie on a weekend day, maybe once or twice a month).

    I am so proud of what my family accomplished. Of course, it took patience and diligence on my part. Whatever I asked of my daughter, in terms of making changes, I knew I would have to work twice as hard to make it successful. But, now I have a daughter who will happily draw or play imaginatively for long periods of time…with no whining! Ok – only minimal whining :)

  • Reply Sarah Baldwin April 16, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    Isn’t it wonderful, Kelli? I think that anyone who has pulled the plug would agree that the benefits far outweigh the occasional whining.

  • Reply Jaimie April 17, 2010 at 3:04 am

    What a great story. Having had my children much later, there was already a lot of talk about TV and its effects. My older daughter is 3 1/2 and my baby is 1 1/2, and we don’t own a TV. My kids have literally never seen a TV show. I sometimes worry that they will be “the weirdos,” but overall, I’m happy and confident with my decision.

  • Reply Sarah Nicole April 17, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    This is a great idea! I should participate so that I am more productive!

    Happy SITS Saturday Sharefest!

  • Reply Shell April 17, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    Love it! We might try that. We don’t do TV, but my kids love movies. (Maybe I have a film student in the making too!) :)
    Think next week might be a movie free week too.

  • Reply Sarah Baldwin April 17, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    I wish I had been as enlightened as you, Jaime, when I became a mom. Fortunately, I got a second chance to do things differently with my #2 son, William.

    I also worried about being branded a “weirdo,” and faced charges on more than one occasion that I wasn’t allowing my children to be part of the “real world.” Ironic, since what I wanted them to experience was the real world!

    The fact that Harper has become a talented filmmaker demonstrates to me that one doesn’t need a steady diet of TV and movies in order to become a media creator. In fact, I think it was the steady diet of storytelling he received at home and in a Waldorf school while he was growing up that formed him into the original storyteller he is, who has chosen film as his medium.

    Rudolf Steiner claimed that it is imaginative play in early childhood that leads to creative thinking later in life. I certainly feel like my own children have demonstrated this. (Not to mention the many creative Waldorf grads I know!)

  • Reply maya April 18, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    What a wonderful post and follow up comments, Sarah! We pulled the plug when I was pregnant with my first 12 years ago. One of the best things we’ve ever done!

  • Reply Eileen (Little Acorn Learning) April 18, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    Hi, Sarah!

    What an honest and beautiful post. The media issue is such a challenge for parents in the world we live in today – it is so nice to see a waldorf mom share in this way. We also have televisions in our home… but they are used when our girls are asleep or for the very occassional family movie. It is amazing how busy children can become once the TV is a non-issue. There is definitely a detox period for both children and parents.

    I’m so happy to see you do such wonderful things with Bella Luna Toys. I placed a link to your cooperataive game section on my blog today.

    xoxo
    Eileen

  • Reply Dee April 18, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    Thanks Sarah,

    I weaned the kids from the TV last year. I allowed them one hour on a Friday evening during winter, and if they would pester me during the week to watch ‘charlie and lola’ I would say – yes you can watch that on Friday, thats a great idea. Once Summer arrived and we were out in the garden on Friday evenings they quickly forgot about TV and I haven’t turned it on since! I’ve found this has had a positive impact on their creativity, imaginative play and overall happiness.

    Dee

  • Reply Things to Write Home About – 4/18/10 | Feels Like Home April 18, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    […] at Moon Child explained TV Turnoff Week and gave lots of suggestions for making it […]

  • Reply BOATBABY April 19, 2010 at 6:58 am

    So glad you shared your story! I too am in the “BIZ”… but when my son was born we threw out the box all together upon his arrival. Never a regret. I am able to web stream/ down load anything I need to view for work purposes at night when my son is sleeping. And having grown up without it so far (age 6) he doesn’t seem to be missing a thing… easily socializing with media entrenched kids as well as other Waldorf inspired families. And of course the pay off, he does so well just entertaining himself for long strecthes with nothing more than his imagination. Even on our 16+ hour trips from the east coast to Hawaii with no DVD’s or anything. (I wrote about that for a now defunct web site called http://www.tvfreeliving.com)

    And teh grand irony as well… we were TV free as kids too for the most part (parents divorced, one house had no tv, the other had one but didn’t watch much). And both my oldest brother and I ended up as producers/ directors :) For us it’s all about the creative outlet or MAKING it, we both still do not enjoy watching :)

  • Reply Vicki K April 19, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    Of the people in our family – I was the one who had the TV problem. I didn’t always watch it but when I was single I kept it on for the noise! Having the football game on every Sunday made me feel like I was home with my family.

    Later on, It was my children who just didn’t seem to need TV! That was so surprising to me. As teenagers they still don’t watch it. We have a TV to watch DVD’s maybe twice a month.

    I’m sorry to say that I could probably get lured back into the habit (for a really good series) but I noticed that the one time I got lazy (everyone was away for a week) and watched a few hours of TV, I felt really emotionally ‘crummy’ afterward. I suppose it was like eating a bunch of chips & chocolate & coke all together.

  • Reply go outside! « la petite vie April 19, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    […] Here’s an inspiring story from a mama who saw quite a dramatic change during this week many years ago. (via Maya Made) As many of you know, we chose not to have a TV in our house when we moved into it (Ruby was just a few months old). John and I still watch some things online in the evenings. […]

  • Reply Miranda Makes April 19, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    This might be just the push I need. I have been feeling so torn lately about the TV… I know deep down that it isn’t god for any of us. I guess its the first couple weeks that will be the hardest. I wish I could get my husband more on-board, though!

    Thanks for sharing your experience and I love your shop!

    Miranda

  • Reply Sarah Baldwin April 19, 2010 at 10:27 pm

    It will probably only be the first couple of *days* that are hard, Miranda, not weeks. You’d be amazed how quickly you’ll all forget about TV! You might want to check out some of the books under the category “Media” in my Moon Child Bookshop. Any one of these books could help get your husband on board.

    I hope you’ll decide to give it a try. Good luck!!

  • Reply Amy April 21, 2010 at 9:29 am

    Love your story! I too would like to throw out the TV but my husband would not allow it. I will be turning the TV off and start today!

  • Reply Brad Hauber @ Bubblegum Books April 21, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    Thanks for the great post. As a children’s book publisher dedicated to growing young imaginations, we’ve been promoting TV Turnoff Week for several years.For families with younger children, we have some resources on our website that provide a number of screen-free activities: http://www.bubblegumbooks.com TV Turnoff Week is a great way to get people thinking about being TV free. Hopefully it carries over for the entire year.

  • Reply MamaShift April 22, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    Happily, happily tv-free here. All I can say is: They will find things to do. They really will. I honestly can’t imagine our days with TV in them. Ugh.

  • Reply MamaShift April 22, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    I should add that my 10 year-old started to watch at 2 1/2 and stopped at 4; my youngest has never had it — except at grandmas’ houses.

  • Reply Steph April 22, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    Hi all,
    I blogged about this as a New Year’s resolution for my family and I could not believe how many people “re-tweeted” my message. I had very similar experieces (read below if interested!)
    http://www.fabricwrapper.com/musings/2009/12/looking-for-a-new-years-resolution-turn-off-the-tv-for-a-week.html
    Thanks for making more people aware!

  • Reply Sarah April 22, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    So true, MamaShift, about how children will learn to fill their time.

    Sometimes I think I would enjoy watching more TV now that my boys are older, but I wonder, “Who has TIME?!” We have so many hobbies now, not to mention all the daily work, chores and homework. When I read that the average American watches 30 hours a week of television, I wonder how it is even possible!

  • Reply Claudia (Silken Sky) April 24, 2010 at 12:08 am

    Thank you for this great post, Sarah! It is encouraging, and re-affirming for us. Our unplugging began with a decision to have a media-free summer one year. For us it took about two weeks to get over the withdrawal. At the end of the summer, school started, and we were 2 or 3 months into the school year before the girls realized, “hey, we still haven’t brought back the TV!” And we never brought it out again. One day while we were driving in the winter, and it was easy to see who had a TV on in their house, my daughter commented on this. “What a strange thing to just sit in front of a TV watching it,” she said. I think she kind of delights in the encounters where someone thinks it is strange that she does not have a TV. How lovely and full our lives have become with the absence of TV. Our children can have their childhood without the constant influence of adult imagination, relying on their own imaginations instead. Thanks again for this wonderful post!

  • Reply Angie - The Work at Home Wife April 24, 2010 at 9:08 am

    I have the TV on entirely too much. Most of the time I’m not even watching it, it is on just for the noise which probably isn’t the best way to work.

    You must be so proud of your children. Sounds like not being in front of the TV has lead to great things.

    Happy SITS Saturday!

  • Reply Lizzie April 24, 2010 at 9:27 am

    Indeed the things we wish we had learned earlier, had the courage to do sooner and put our foot down, firmed our resolve and actually DID!
    My kids are older now and we watch things together that we love but I will never regret that they will miserably fail trivia games involving anything from PBS, Nick, Disney or any of those “kids” channels. :)
    Good for you!
    Happy SITS Saturday Sharefest.

  • Reply Tracy April 24, 2010 at 10:03 am

    I loved your article and had to laugh at your son entering school as a filmmaking student. My husband is a Mass Communications professor and teaches tv and film, yet we don’t have a tv at home and rarely go to the movies! We were lucky that we were very active people that never really watched much tv anyhow even before we had children, so it was not much of a leap for us to be tv free once we had children. It is a challenge, however, when we go to visit family, especially his parents who have the opinion that kids really need to watch tv as “downtime”. ARGH! As part of his professional research, my husband researches media effects, on adults as well as on children, and the research is truly sobering.

  • Reply Sarah Baldwin April 24, 2010 at 10:09 am

    Thanks for your comments, Tracy. There truly is a growing body of sobering statistics. Since I try to write positively and from my own experience, I chose not to focus on the statistics in my piece, but for anyone wishing to learn more about the effect of media viewing on a young child’s brain, please visit my blog bookshop under “Media” for a list of recommended books.

  • Reply Mama Monique April 25, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    Thank you for sharing this item with us.

    It’s too late to sign in for this particular week, but I confinced it’s never to late to try.

    I think I am gonna link this story on my site for my readers. If that’s okay?

  • Reply the sleepy time gal May 10, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    so so cool. we have no TV but have some cartoons on the Mac for occasional breaks. but i want to become even more strict. great story.

  • Reply Jeanene May 18, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    Hi Sarah, I just read your article whilst purchasing my Grade 2 on Christopherus.. we moved from Miami to a remote farm in the Dom. Rep. so that I could give my children a beautiful natural waldorf inspired lifestyle full of joy and freedo – the TV went out the door the day my first child was born, we just don’t need it.. Occasionally we will watch a movie, maybe once a month.. My children have never watched tv/movies/games/cartoons, they are as pure as could be, have incredible imaginations and play all day, they’re always building and creating something.. amazing.. I wish I was like them – and so happy.

    I hope many more mothers will be inspired for the sake of the children
    http://web.me.com/jtremoulet/Site/index.html

    I would also like to link your story to my site..

  • Reply Jeanene May 18, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    Hi Sarah, I just read your article whilst purchasing my Grade 2 on Christopherus.. we moved from Miami to a remote farm in the Dom. Rep. so that I could give my children a beautiful natural waldorf inspired lifestyle full of joy and freedo – the TV went out the door the day my first child was born, we just don’t need it.. Occasionally we will watch a movie, maybe once a month.. My children have never watched tv/movies/games/cartoons, they are as pure as could be, have incredible imaginations and play all day, they’re always building and creating something.. amazing.. I wish I was like them – and so happy.

    I hope many more mothers will be inspired for the sake of the children
    http://web.me.com/jtremoulet/Site/index.html

    I would also like to link your story to my site..

  • Reply Emile April 17, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    I have 2 young children who I know watch more TV than they should. I really WANT to do this, but I’m so afraid that I will fail. That sounds so lame, but I’m just so used to being able to turn on the TV when things get tense. Praying & hoping that I can do this.

    • Reply Sarah Baldwin April 22, 2011 at 10:07 pm

      It’s at least worth a TRY, don’t you think, Emile? It’s kind of like dieting. Don’t not start because you’re afraid of failing.

      Every minute, hour or day that your child is not in front of a screen, is time that he or she will be engaged in real life. Decide to turn off the TV, just for today. See what happens!

      • Reply Emile April 22, 2011 at 10:42 pm

        Yes! We did it. Turned all screens off completely for 2 days (Mon & Tues) and then allowed 30 minutes per day for the next 3 days. It’s been awesome and we are going to continue with a 30 minute per day max. We had a lot of fun with crafts, starting a garden, cooking, etc. and I feel like it has really opened my eyes to some reconnection that we already badly needed. Thanks for the encouragement!

        • Reply Sarah Baldwin April 23, 2011 at 9:42 am

          Good for you! And good for your children! So glad you had a positive experience this week.

          I am not rigid about rules, and I’m a big believer in moderation. While I believe that none is best, 30 minutes a day is much better than the average 2-4 hours a day that most young children spend in front of a screen.The more you wean yourself from it, the less you miss it, I’ve found.

          Here’s another website with good information:

          http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/family/tv_affects_child.html

  • Reply Kim Akari April 30, 2011 at 7:55 am

    Great post! I’m guilty of using the “electronic babysitter” on those mornings when mommy needs just a little more sleep. :) I missed the traditional Turn Off Week, but I guess I could just pick a week and give it a try.

    Just stopping by from Soulemama, I love your blog, it’s a pleasure to read!
    Kim Akari recently posted..this moment

  • Reply bubble blower May 3, 2011 at 3:19 am

    Every parent should do this for the sake of their children. Parents have big responsibility for their children and they should define some limits.

  • Reply Holly June 9, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    Sono-Ma joined in the effort to promote screen free week, too! Our goal, SHOW just how prevalent screens are in our every day lives. http://sono-ma.com/5005/screen-free-week-striving-for-a-whole-childhood-unplugged/
    Holly recently posted..Donna Stusser Early Childhood Waldorf Teacher Shares “Babies Need Hats”

  • Reply Goi-Chawesa Fischer July 2, 2011 at 3:39 am

    I first learned that letting the kids watching TV is not a good thing for their brain development when I was interning with Goodbegining Alliance and babysitting the kids in Hawaii. When I returned to my home, Bangkok, I was running a childcare and I still shared that thought with the families. Of course, it seems to be easier for turning on TV for kids so parents or caregivers can have more time to do things. Some even think those of educational CDs are good for the kids. They turn them on for kids to watch during meals or before naptime. I personally have lived without TV around 6 years. Yes, I have no TV at home. I just read the newspaper or look on the internet if I want to know the news. I passed this idea to my husband when we got married. He’s American and he decided to move to be with me in Bangkok, Thailand. I still insisted that we would have no TV around when we have a baby. Now our daughter is 14 months and we never have TV around her or let her watch anything like movies or games on computer or ipad or iphone. Everyone who saw her would say that she’s so calm and in a good mood. She loves me reading for her since she was around 5 or 6 months old. And now she can sit for hour at each time during a day to listen to me reading books for her. She can play freely by herself or sit on her chair while I’m cooking or cleaning the house. With this experience and what I see from my daughter, my husband and I do believe that it’s much better to raise the kids with no TV around!

  • Reply Nicole (from Miami!) January 4, 2012 at 8:22 am

    Excellent blog Sarah. This is a great means to learn more from your Waldorf wisdom. Thank you.

    What you said about your husband’s resistance in believing that TV even in moderation was harmful made me think of something related. Is there any literature (articles, blog posts, etc) adressing how to deal with spouses who dont agree with or feel as passionate about Waldorf education/parenting their partner?

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