Family life

Without cable TV, will my kids be pop-culture pariahs?

Screen-free time takes on a whole new meaning when one family cuts cable TV from their lives.

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Photo: iStockphoto

When I quit my job five years ago to become a stay-at-home mom, my husband and I reviewed our family budget and slashed everything we considered a luxury expense. Cable television was the first thing to go. It was an easy target because our son, Isaac (who was only three years old at the time), watched the same Curious George DVD on repeat and had zero interest in the cartoons on Treehouse TV. In the end, that cut effectively saved us $100 a month—and allowed us to avoid the torturous whining of Caillou. (Lest you think I’m alone in being cable-free, a report from the CBC earlier this year found that 16 percent of Canadians don’t pay for traditional TV services. But we’re not complete freaks: We have a Netflix account, so Gillian can get her daily Paw Patrol fix.)

This mostly TV-free lifestyle is very different from the way I was raised. When I was Isaac’s age, we had an enormous black satellite dish on our front lawn and an illegal subscription to thousands of channels. I remember spending many nights glued to the TV, mindlessly jabbing my thumb on the remote control. Sure, I spent a lot of time outside as a kid, but I also spent an embarrassing amount of time on the couch.

That said, I knew the latest plot lines on Degrassi Junior High and the names of songs in the Top 40, and I’m wondering if this type of knowledge has some value. My family’s current TV-free lifestyle has resulted in the unintended consequence of my kids’ complete obliviousness to current popular culture. As my kids get older, I wonder if they might benefit from a bit of traditional TV time, if for no other reason than I’m worried that I’m stunting their social lives by cutting out cable. Two recent incidents made me realize that maybe—just maybe—TV would be good for my kids:

  • After watching “All About Those Jays,” a YouTube baseball parody of the hit song “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor, both kids hummed the tune non-stop. This would be fine, except for the time I was in line at the grocery store with them and got a dirty look from the cashier, who muttered under her breath that the song wasn’t appropriate for children.
  • While on vacation, Gillian was glued to an episode of Paw Patrol and couldn’t understand why the buttons on the remote didn’t let her play the same episode again and again. I explained to her that the world didn’t operate On Demand, but it was an exercise in futility.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plus sides to my kids not watching cable TV. For example, I’ve never had to explain to my five-year-old daughter why Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” music video isn’t appropriate for her to watch and why Miley isn’t a good celebrity role model. And Isaac has never begged for the latest video game console because of something he has seen in a commercial. My husband and I sometimes consider subscribing to cable again, and maybe we will one day. But we’ll decide after Christmas—I’d hate to have to buy the season’s hottest new toy.

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences of giving up her big-city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband while staying home to raise their two young children. Read more Run-at-home mom posts or follow her @JenPinarski.