National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Turning Off the TV and Turning on Family Time

BY Eddie O'Neill

April 10-23, 2011 Issue | Posted 4/1/11 at 4:12 PM

 

Some have given up chocolate or sweets. Others are abstaining from alcohol or soda. In Augusta, Ga., the Balducci family has turned off their TV during this season of Lent.

“What happens for us is that it’s so easy to slip into the habit of making TV the default entertainer or the babysitter in the home,” says Rachel Balducci. “So Lent is a good time to regroup and bring a little order back into our lives.”

Balducci is the mother of five boys and a baby girl who range in age from 10 months to 14. She is an author and an award-winning blogger who chronicles life at Testosterhome.net and FaithandFamilyLive.com.

In Kissimmee, Fla., Karen Wolff says that this Lent marks the 11th year that the family has fasted from TV. At first it wasn’t easy.

“That first Lent I was scared out of my mind,” Wolff recalls. “I was home all day, and I liked the convenience of turning on the TV to get things done. I was nervous at first and wondering if we could really do it.”

Now, however, after all these years, she, her husband and their six kids are used to the annual 40-day tradition.

“We have done it so many years that now the kids do not balk too much when Lent rolls around,” Wolff adds. “They may complain a little, but they expect it. I think they may secretly enjoy the break from TV. It has been a great experience for us.”


The Gift of Moderation

Both Balducci and Wolff say that in no way do they think that television is evil in itself. It has its spot in the domestic church and needs to be monitored and put in its proper place. These moms echo the teaching of the Catechism:

“The means of social communication (especially the mass media) can give rise to a certain passivity among users, making them less than vigilant consumers of what is said or shown. Users should practice moderation and discipline in their approach to the mass media” (2496).

These families have learned that Lent is the perfect time to gain some perspective on the role of TV in their families’ lives.

“We are not going to get rid of our TV,” says Balducci. “We want it to serve us and not for us to serve it.”

Balducci recalls that she often turned to the TV as a peacemaker to settle down her kids. However, the fasting from TV has demonstrated real peace for her and her children.

“At first, it was hard for the ‘No TV option’ to settle in among my kids. But then an amazing peace came into our home. What happened is that the true personality of who my kids are came out. Instead of relying on TV to calm them down, they would open a book or go outside and whittle with sticks or build or create,” explains Balducci.


Turning on the Positive

Similar scenarios take place in the Wolff family.

“With the TV off, our kids read more books; we take walks and play outside more. Even my husband and I read more and talk more,” Wolff shares. “Everyone seems to linger over dinner longer, enjoying the food and the company, without feeling like we need to rush to clean up and get on to the next event of the night.”

In Peoria, Ill., Tim Roder and his wife try to put a positive spin on the 40-day TV and media fast that their family has undertaken now for nearly 10 years. With five sons ranging from age 17 on down, turning off the TV and gaming systems for Lent has become increasingly difficult.

“When our kids were little, they didn’t know any better,” explains Roder. “As the boys have grown older, we have gotten more complaints from them when Lent rolls around.”

Roder, who serves as the director of marriage and family life for the Diocese of Peoria, notes that he and his wife tell their kids that Lent is not just about giving something up, but it is also about doing something good.

“We tell them that we are trying to sacrifice something that still can be a good thing, like TV,” he says. “As well, we want to incorporate more silence into our home, so we can listen as we pray. In order to do prayer, fasting and almsgiving, something else has to give, and those areas that can easily consume all of our time are the TV, gaming and computer screens.”

For any family who is “on the fence” and not sure if a 40-day TV fast would really be possible in their house, Roder offers the following advice: “Fasting is not just about giving up food. It is about asking, What am I going to go without so that I can discipline myself, my body, my heart for the more essential thing?”

“Analyze your fear when it comes to turning off the TV,” he adds. “If this is something that you really fear that you cannot live without, then that would be the thing that I would suggest working on for Lent. I tell my kids that you do not give up candy or chocolate if you don’t even eat those things. You give up the thing that is a sacrifice.”

Wolff agrees that the benefits that she and her family have experienced over the years with turning off the TV during Lent have far outweighed the temporary sacrifice.

“We’ve gained hours back in the day we didn’t know we had. With the TV off, we are able to promote wholesome activities for our children, and it simplifies life,” explains Wolff. “For any family contemplating taking the turn-off plunge, I say, ‘Go ahead and do it.’ You’ll be so happy you did.”

Eddie O’Neill writes from Green Bay, Wisconsin.