/SPENT LAST weekend with an unusual family. There was mother, father and two sons aged 10 and 8. And they did not possess a television set. No TV in the house, and no plans to acquire a TV. They are in a minority of about one per cent of the population.
The main reason, according to the mother, was economic. They have limited means and live modestly (the father is starting up a small business, the mother works for an academic publisher). And to spend money on acquiring a familyTV, and then a licence is lust not a priority".
Of course, if they really wanted a TV they would acquire one. They have a car, and a piano, and a computer, which is judged necessary for work and study. But because they have never bothered to acquire a TV, it has simply slipped down their list of priorities.
The family didn't start out with a deliberate sense of opposing TV, yet the effect on the children — of not having it — is very noticeable. They are sociable, and well-spoken children, without any of the brattishness and smart precocious talk that one encounters among some kids now. They are able to join in table conversations without showing off, interrupting or playacting in the way that TV encourages. Their lack of exposure to the pressure of TV commercials is also very evident.
Above all, these young boys have a very high degree of concentration. The older boy is a gifted musician and needs that intensity of concentration and discipline. The younger boy has an inventive streak and will spend hours figuring out how to make one of his inventions work. (His idea of happiness is to go fishing, and sit for hours by a river bank.)
The mother of the family, Cordelia, is concerned that children's TV reduces the ability to concentrate, and increases the number of children (particularly boys) who suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder. (About seven per cent of American children are prescribed a drug, Ritalin, for Attention Deficit problems.) The disorder may have a chemical basis in the wiring of the brain, but it must be enhanced by the zap-zapping culture of kids' TV — adults' TV too, if it comes to it.
There is also an enormous amount of drivel on children's TV.
Most of what is on TV is drivel, and while there is a time and a place for harmless rubbish — relaxation is good for the stress levels nevertheless the drip-drip effect of the TV culture eventually becomes highly invasive.
I could see this in myself: although I am an episodic and reasonably choosy TV viewer, I wondered how we would pass the whole weekend without having the TV set there. It is a presence one has become accustomed to: separation anxiety sets in if it is absent.
As it turned out, we had lots to do, and we talked a great deal. In the evening time, after supper, we began singing folk songs of various kinds, both singly and in unison, and there was a great deal of fun and laughter. Except for the fact of electricity in the house we were amusing ourselves as people had done for centuries. A weekend in a TV-less home was a really interesting, and enriching, experience.
The TV-less family agrees that they feel marginalised by some aspects of social life today. Conversations about Friends or The Simpsons simply pass over their heads, as do all allusions to TV soap operas. There are a lot of celebrity names which mean nothing to you, if you don't have a TV. But they are also spared a lot of anxiety about events over which they are powerless, as well as being spared the relentless coarseness and intrusiveness of TV culture.
They may eventually acquire a television set: they do not have a closed mind about it. But they would rather wait until their sons were more grown up. They do not object to their children watching TV with friends — actually, watching TV at a friend's house becomes a huge, meaningful treat.
But for the moment, the family are content to live without the most influential artefact of our time, the box in the corner. They are in such a small and unusual minority in any society now that they are almost a living social experiment in themselves.
before marriage is becoming so usual now that Shakespeare textbooks for schools have to explain (in the text of The Tempest, for example) that sex before marriage was not actually considered acceptable in Shakespeare's time.
Yet, the social studies continue to show that cohabitation before marriage is a poor preparation for successful marriage.
According to the current Journal of Family Psychology, cohabitation before marriage is loading the dice against steady wedlock, and "repeat cohabitors" have very little chance indeed of settling down successfully.
Although it is becoming "normal" for couples to live together, the morally neutral Journal reports, having two or more live-in relationships before marriage is a receipe for "relationship failure". Cohabitation can train people to avoid the commitment that marriage entails.