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You Can't Learn to be a Good Parent by Watching TV

POSTED: May 18, 2014 1:00 p.m.
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I have never seen a bad television program, because I refuse to. God gave me a mind, and a wrist that turns things off. -Jack Paar

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This article contains excerpts from the book, Reality Parenting: As NOT Seen on TV.
Being the author of three parenting books— Reality Parenting: As NOT Seen on TV, Dad Rules: A Simple Manual for a Complex Job, and Mom Rules: Because Even Superheroes Need Help Sometimes—I have really set myself up for criticism.
For example, over the past couple of years, my mother-in-law has suggested I read my own book. I had a nephew sit on a couch during a family gathering, read my book, and occasionally point at me and laugh. And my own offspring have reminded me on several occasions of the rules I was breaking.
In my defense, I have never claimed perfection in any of my books. Quite the opposite, actually. I always include a disclaimer stating that I am an imperfect father in motion and that I have written these parenting books to help me as much as anyone else. Actually, one of the motivating factors for writing my latest book, Reality Parenting, came from a seemingly insignificant event several years ago that involved the TV, an imperfect father (me), and an inspired wife.
The Television Time Trap
Like many people today, I would spend hours each night mesmerized by the magic box (it was still a box then). Losing myself in the thrill of the game or the latest plot or obscure and fascinating characters. It was easy to be sucked into a good story line, and before I knew it, another “season” and year was gone.
Sadly, while I was watching other people’s fake lives, my own life was passing by without me in it. My children were getting older, and I had lost quality time with them that I could never get back. In retrospect, I was quite pathetic as a parent. Thankfully, my wise and patient wife pulled me from the addicting clutches of the entertainment world before I wasted more time away from what matters most, my family.
It was at that time that we decided to turn off the TV and be present in body and spirit with our children and one another. I believe this decision saved our family. I think of it as an inspired awakening from being in a TV-induced coma.
Not all television is bad . . . we will still watch certain television shows and movies, but we do so in moderation. I don't suggest that all entertainment is evil, but rather warn parents of the dangers of excessive viewing habits and the harmful effects it can have on quality family time.
How do you know you are watching too much TV?
This is really up to you, but based on my personal experience I believe that anything that distracts or takes away from family time is bad programming. I don’t need to tell you how much is too much — you know. However, here are some introspective questions you could ask yourself to get started:

How long do I typically watch the TV each day? What could I stop watching today? What are my kids doing during that time? What could I be doing with my children instead? What will I lose by turning of the TV? What will I gain by turning of the TV? Is there a better time, like when the kids are asleep, to watch a show? You’ll be surprised by how much you do not miss your favorite characters or addictive plot, when you start focusing on your little real-life characters and all too real daily drama. Like me, it just takes a change of focus, from someone else’s story to yours.
Life after TV
Our nights are now spent doing homework with the kids, driving them to extracurricular activities, and participating in activities they enjoy (which sometimes includes watching a movie). After we put our children to bed at night, instead of picking up the remote control, we pick up a good book and read (or write about our parenting adventures, of course). It’s still a crazy, tiring, ordeal, but it’s our ordeal, and one that I love.
So the next time you reach for that remote control, think of it as a time machine that will shoot you forward in time without the option to come back. Then remember that turning that magical box off saved my family and rescued me from living with regret. I can promise you that doing the same in your home will only yield positive results.
Treion Muller is the author of "Reality Parenting: As NOT Seen on TV" and other parenting books. Contact him at Treion@treion.com

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