TV Free:

By Kelly Strong Thacker

Print Share

    When I inventoried my viewing habits, I was shocked at how much of my day went “down the tube.”

    How can I do it all? I often wondered. As the mother of four young children, I felt stretched thin with all my responsibilities. At the same time, I knew I was neglecting some vital activities—scripture study, regular family home evenings, exercise—because of that old culprit, no time.

    While I was grappling with these concerns, I read about a prominent young mother who was rearing her children alone and who had a successful business in her home. The article mentioned her past struggles with time management and quoted her as saying that the key factor that helped her get control of her life had been giving up daytime television. She also said that going without daytime TV had changed her life in many other ways.

    I was amazed. Daytime television? It certainly wouldn’t help me if I changed my TV habits! I watched just a little. Besides, when I did watch during the day I was doing something else at the same time, so I didn’t feel that I was wasting my time.

    I really didn’t think much more about the TV issue until I spent time during several consecutive weeks working on a project with a friend. I noticed that whenever I arrived at her home she was watching soap operas; while we were busy she would videotape hours of them to watch later. How silly, I thought. Imagine how much she could get done if she used that time more constructively.

    Up until then, I had considered myself a selective TV viewer. But that experience prompted me to take a realistic inventory of my own habits. The closer I looked, the less pleased I became with myself.

    First, I realized that I often scheduled an activity around a program I wanted to watch. Visiting teaching had to come after the news at noon, a trip to the grocery store after the morning news program. After all, I rationalized, news is important. I had majored in broadcast journalism in college and wanted to keep abreast of the latest happenings here and abroad. TV news at dinnertime and late at night were also part of my daily schedule.

    While my children slept in the afternoon, I would often sit down and turn on a talk show. I thought those shows could be educational—and besides, I figured that I deserved the relaxation. Watching the talk show following that one was okay, too, because I was still resting anyway.

    All along I had been proud of the fact that I watched only one soap opera. It came on in the late morning, just before the noon news. And I never watched it without doing something useful like folding the laundry. But I was taking a full hour to finish the task—and I now realized that was a big waste of time. Even when I tried to fit several chores into that hour, I worked at a slower pace than I normally would have.

    As I added up the time I spent with daytime television, I was shocked to find that I was watching approximately six hours every weekday. Six hours! That was thirty hours a week! If someone had told me that earlier, I wouldn’t have believed it. I decided it was time to make some changes.

    In a way, I was exhilarated to think that by giving up television I could free up hours of my day. But giving up TV wasn’t easy. I did it gradually, not overnight.

    First of all, I decided to drop the morning news program. I had justified watching two full hours of television just to get twenty minutes’ worth of news. It wasn’t hard to cut this out because I had a lot of energy at that time of day and plenty of things to do. I had to exercise a little self-control to refrain from turning on the TV to see who the guests were on my favorite shows. But it was rewarding, because now I had time to exercise, which proved to be a great way to start my day.

    The precedent I set with this first step made the other changes seem easier. Soon after making the first change, I felt ready for the next one.

    Though I had watched TV talk shows for years, I had often felt uncomfortable about them. Nine out of ten times they weren’t helpful—and they certainly didn’t help me adhere to the counsel “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly.” (D&C 121:45.) The subject matter was often unwholesome. Even if I turned off the show, the words I had heard often continued in my thoughts. I also found that over time I became less shocked by some of the deviant life-styles presented on these programs.

    So before watching, I began to ask myself: Does the subject matter make me feel that life is good? Is my life better for having heard this? Would our Savior welcome the same information? If I couldn’t say yes—and I usually couldn’t—I turned to another activity that would uplift and encourage me.

    I now had at least another hour each day. My husband and I discussed our family home evenings, and we decided I would use part of my time to carefully plan a home evening lesson. The children’s attention spans improved along with our new family focus on a higher quality of lessons, and my husband and I both worked harder to make our family home evenings a highlight of our week.

    Now, if I’m not planning a family home evening while our toddlers are taking a nap, I study, read, or write. The time has become invaluable, especially since this is the part of my day when I am gearing up to make dinner and attend to our children after school and my husband after work. I am revitalized when I prepare for this busy time through study.

    As my year of changes progressed, I felt strong and ready to give up my soap opera. I had watched it for ten years, so I knew that kicking the habit of this hour of TV would be harder than giving up the others. But I was enjoying my newfound time and was determined to see my goal through to the end. At first, I checked in to my program for a few minutes each day to get an idea of what was going on—but I realized this kept me “hooked.” So I decided to watch the entire program every Friday. The story lines moved so slowly that I missed little; at the same time, I had an extra four hours each week. After a while, watching on Friday seemed less important to me, and after six months I didn’t watch the soap opera at all. As I look back now, I feel differently about that soap opera. What seemed harmless before looks more serious now. The show’s writers wove immorality through almost every story line. I am shocked at myself when I remember that at times I would involve my children in activities in other rooms so they wouldn’t see what I was watching. What a poor example I was setting!

    Another aspect of the soap opera that I don’t miss is the glamour that I perceived as the norm in others’ lives. As I watched these programs filled with beautiful people in fabulous clothes doing fun things, sometimes I wondered how I had missed the boat. The program seldom showed children “helping” their beleaguered mom prepare a nutritious and economically sound dinner for her family. My life is not mirrored in these shows—and I’m glad to be rid of a reason to feel dissatisfied or inadequate.

    Giving up the soap opera meant that my entire morning was free of television. I was doing it! I was filling my life with activities I had never had time for before. And I enjoyed the feelings of self-worth I got from accomplishing meaningful tasks.

    Kicking the daytime TV habit may sound trivial, but it was difficult for me to reverse lifelong habits. I often reminded myself that nothing really worthwhile is easy to come by. God stepped in to lift me and carry me through, pouring upon me his love and blessings as I diligently strove to improve my life.

    Nowadays, I thank Heavenly Father for the impact my decision has made on our whole family. I am still realizing the benefits, and I’m certain I will continue to see more of them in the future. My outlook is different because my life is different; I perceive my environment as a positive one full of promise because I now have time to make it that way. The guilt I felt before is gone because I can now accomplish more of the things I have been encouraged to do.

    Giving up daytime television helped me make it all possible.

    Illustrated by Dale Kilbourn

    Show References

    • Kelly Strong Thacker teaches Relief Society Spiritual Living lessons in the St. George Twenty-sixth Ward in the St. George Utah East Stake.