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How we survived two weeks without our TV

RESEARCH has shown that too much TV has negative effects on children's learning and behaviour. So, for a fortnight Jillian bolger and her young family tried to live a screen-free existence.

A few years ago when our TV licence was up for renewal, I suggested we try living without the television altogether. Offering the TV to my sister-in-law she said: "Don't expect me to babysit ever again if you get rid of that thing." And so it stayed, and I even made friends with it. In recent times it has become a nightly feature in my children's lives, for a half an hour. We also rely on it most weekends to buy us time to browse the paper/prepare dinner/distract grumpy children. Cal (5) and Ely (2) love a movie, although Ivy (18 months) is still too young for telly. We call their TV viewing 'quiet time' but experts don't agree. Researchers argue that too much TV can lead to health issues and learning difficulties, as well as attention and sleep problems.

I wasn't sure if a TV-free existence would benefit us, but I was determined to see how we'd fare if we switched the box off for two weeks.

DAY 1 MONDAY

My younger two stay home on Mondays and have never been allowed watch daytime TV. Ely spends most of the morning making jigsaw puzzles while Ivy flits from game to toy, leaving a trail of destruction in her wake.

We collect Cal and buddy from school for a play date. They dress up as knights then amuse themselves hiding toy cars around the house. When Jack leaves, we do a big clean-up.

Dinner precedes homework and story time. I put Ivy to bed then disappear to the gym. Brendan puts the boys to bed without a mention of TV. This can't last, can it?

DAY 2 TUESDAY

The kids are in creche with Cal joining them for after-school club. We get home around 5pm. Afterwards Cal takes out the huge Lego box which keeps all three of them engrossed. Ely likes the Duplo while Ivy thrives on decapitating Lego men and sucking their heads like sweets.

While Brendan helps Cal with his homework, Ely asks for a 'programme' and is simply told no, which he seems to accept without argument. I suggest a story and he climbs on my knee with three books. After putting Ivy to bed, I find the boys back in Legoland. The floor is a mess but they're happily distracted.

DAY 3 WEDNESDAY

An incident-free day without any mention of the TV. Something strange is going on. I expected ructions and there has been relative peace.

DAY 4 THURSDAY

Home from creche 10 minutes and the boys have set up a convoluted car chase in the living room. They're reluctant to leave it and I have to cajole them to the dinner table. It seems Lightning McQueen and his die-cast buddies are more interesting than sharing their tales of school and creche.

Cal has forgotten his homework so we improvise by reading a storybook. Ely and Ivy tip a box of baby books all over the floor and stay miraculously quiet rummaging through their touchy-feely-squeaky pages. Everyone's too busy to notice that Peppa Pig or Ben & Holly haven't made an appearance.

DAY 5 FRIDAY

The kids are at home today and play together relatively happily. When Ivy goes for her nap, I snuggle up with Ely and read. After collecting Cal, I take out the dreaded Play-Doh. The kids had given up hope of ever seeing it again, but I feel like rewarding them for being such good TV-free guinea pigs. As expected, Ivy eats it, Ely mushes all the colours and the floor looks like a Jackson Pollock. I'm left to clean up the mess and reflect on how good it is for kids to be creative. No, really.

DAY 6 SATURDAY

If we're home on the weekend the TV usually makes an afternoon appearance. Brendan is keen to cheat and watch the rugby but he's asked to record it and watch it later. Cal is tired after GAA and asks to watch something. It's his first mention of TV all week, but I say no.

I explain we're doing a 'special project for the newspaper'. He seems eager to partake in my experiment so long as I get out the train set for him. It's massive and takes up the whole living room floor but provides hours of fun for all three of them.

DAY 7 SUNDAY

The kids are out for most of the day so there's no chance for them to miss the TV.

DAY 8 MONDAY

Cal is tired after a busy weekend of sports. He asks for TV after dinner, which piques Ely's interest. Suddenly the pair of them are campaigning for just "one small programme". In desperation, I suggest a board game and find myself on the floor playing Snakes & Ladders for far too long. Who knew we'd keep landing on the giant snake at number 98? Ely tries to play too, wreaking havoc, while Ivy delights in grabbing the dice and running off with it. Much patience is needed.

DAY 10 WEDNESDAY

The kids are tired and grumpy when I collect them from creche. Worse, there's no dinner ready and the house is a mess. I abandon the time-consuming casserole plan and guiltily serve beans on toast. Ideally, I'd now pop on the TV while I cleaned the house, but now leave them to amuse themselves. I hear frequent bickering and have to intervene often. I know Ben & Holly would cheer them up but refuse to give in.

DAY 12 FRIDAY

Brendan sneakily puts on the TV while waiting for the babysitter. As soon as the first ad break appears Ely wanders off to play. I slip into the room, turn it off, and he doesn't even notice. Result! In just two weeks my two-year-old is showing as much apathy towards TV as his mummy.

DAY 14 SUNDAY

We survived! The kids surprised me by hardly missing TV at all. They proved well able to amuse themselves when given the chance.

Bedtime focus shifted from TV to books and showed us how fun and inclusive reading can be for a young family. I've decided there will be no more programmes during the week just a movie or the odd programme at the weekend.

The experiment has made me look at my own TV viewing and realise I watch far more than I imagined. Time for an overhaul of my own bad habits . . .


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