Life After TV
By Kathy Vilim DaGroomes
Can a typical American family find happiness without watching television? One Colorado Scouting family turned off the TV—and thrived..
One day in mid-February 2004, Scouter Dave Hattis of Fort Collins, Colo., had an idea. The holy season of Lent was about to start, and he and his wife, Mary, decided to talk to their sons, Josh and Jake, about what the family should do to observe the annual 40-day period of fasting and abstinence in their church.
Because Dave is a vegetarian and the family often eats vegetarian meals, giving up meat wasn’t going to be a meaningful sacrifice for them. The year before, Mary and Dave had given up drinking coffee, but Mary wasn’t enthusiastic about doing that again.
So Dave proposed, “Why not give up television?” He, Mary, and the kids had already given up watching most TV during the week because of a lack of time. There was simply too much else to do: preparing and eating dinner; walking the family dog, Cooper; and doing homework. Indeed, since the previous September, the family had been taping their favorite weeknight TV shows and then watching them on Saturdays and Sundays.
So for Lent 2004 the Hattises gave up television, including Saturday morning cartoons and the family’s favorite show, “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”
According to Jake, they “didn’t have any withdrawal pains.”
“For better or worse, everybody accepted it,” added Dave. “We just didn’t turn on the TV.”
About halfway through Lent, Mary suddenly realized: Why pay for the TV’s satellite dish service when it wasn’t being used? The service was discontinued for what the family assumed would be a few more weeks. But, somehow, it never got hooked up again.
“We turned it off and never turned it back on again,” said Dave. “After we went through this exercise … we realized that we had been watching a fair amount of TV but not really gaining that much from it — getting a little bit of entertainment, perhaps, but that was about it.”
Developing hobbies from interests
The payoff from having the TV turned off was an unexpected, but tangible, boost for each Hattis family member.
After Lent, “I can remember wanting to watch some shows,” said Mary, “but it had just gotten too hard to get the kids in bed and get the things done that I had to do. The shows we wanted to watch would [come on] late, and the kids would get to bed later, and it had turned into a really bad cycle.
“[Life] is even busier now than it was then, so I don’t know how we would ever fit [TV] in.”
Discovering that there was often something better to do than watch TV became apparent for Jake while he practiced his violin playing. Prior to turning off the TV, “I didn’t realize what I could do with the violin,” he said. “I thought all you could do was play a few notes and be done. Now I think it’s fun.”
In addition to playing the clarinet more often, Josh’s penchant for cooking took off and became a real hobby during his family’s absence from TV.
“When we had a TV, my brother would wake me up very early [on Saturday], and we’d go watch cartoons,” said Jake. “Now I try to sleep in, but he takes a bell and ‘ding, ding, ding,’ he gets me up and asks, ‘What do you want for breakfast?’ He is actually a pretty good cook.”
Josh explained: “When we had TV, I didn’t cook as much.” But after ceasing to watch TV, “I started making breakfast, lunches, even a lot of dinners.”
Without TV, Dave, an Eagle Scout and Wood Badge-trained Scouter, found he had more time for volunteering as an assistant Scoutmaster for his sons’ Troop 12, chartered to Immanuel Reformed Christian Church. A forester with the USDA Forest Service for 19 years—the same number of years as forester-wife Mary — Dave is on the conservation committee of the BSA’s Longs Peak Council, based in Greeley, Colo.
Reclaiming 28 hours a week
Mary likes the fact that now she and Dave have time to help the boys on their school projects. “That has been a bonus over the last couple of years,” she said. “It’s allowed us all to learn a lot more because we are able to get more involved.”
Not surprisingly, friends, neighbors, co-workers — even Mary’s parents — can’t quite process the fact that the Hattises have given up viewing broadcast television forever. “My parents will call up and say: ‘This show is on TV. You guys ought to watch it,’” said Mary. “We continually remind them: ‘We don’t have TV. We don’t watch TV.’”
Today, more than three and a half years after changing their habits, the Hattis family isn’t looking back.
The biggest advantage, they discovered, is reclaiming the 28 hours per week that the average American child spends in front of the television. The elder Hattises are using those hours for other activities with their sons, including:
Making room for spontaneity
Dave says the absence of TV makes for more restful summer weekends, when the Hattises might, for instance, float down a nearby river in inner tubes.
“We allot time for each other…to sit down and take it easy,” said Mary. “You can also relax in front of the TV, but you may not communicate as much.”
When the Hattises visit relatives, the boys may find themselves watching TV alongside a cousin. But, for the most part, the family doesn’t watch TV while on vacation. They prefer to visit with family or play with a relative’s miniature train set or just let circumstances lead to some other spontaneous activity.
The Hattises discovered that, having made a decision not to watch TV, they notice more places that have TV sets—in planes, buses, even elevators. But instead of watching, the family reminds itself:
Dave believes that turning off the TV has changed his family’s lives for the better. Josh agreed, saying that after two years, he realized that watching TV wasn’t the most interesting way to spend a morning or afternoon.
“To be frank, we are a little on the dull side,” said Dave. “We can’t brag about conquering the Continental Divide or the Pacific [Crest] Trail; our Windstar minivan is our hot rod; we love birds, but have never banded one.
“However, we were selected as the volunteers of the month in November at the county food bank, where the whole family works for an hour each week.”
That’s one weekly hour of community service that might not have been possible if the Hattises were a family “glued to the tube.”
Kathy Vilim DaGroomes is associate editor of Scouting magazine.
ON THE WEB: For more information about Scouting families who have participated in the national TV-Turnoff Week, read “A Week With No TV” in Scouting’s March-April 2001 issue, located on the Web at www.scoutingmagazine.org/issues/0103/a-notv.html.
Copyright © 2007 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.