Parenting 101: Unplugged


Parenting is, without question, an imperfect science. I don’t care how many books have been written on the subject or how many Benjamin Spocks have made their careers professing to know all of the right ways to raise children, most parental decisions are still based on intuition.

How can you ever know for certain when your children are ready for new challenges? How do you know when an apparent minor transgression is just that or an indicator of the beginning of an undesirable trend?

How easy is it to know when your child wants your close involvement and support or when they would just as soon “do it themselves?” How do you foster a child’s desire to be open and willing and comfortable enough to trust you with their innermost concerns?

It’s not easy. I don’t have pat answers for the above questions or firm guidelines for any of the hundreds of other situations parents find themselves in during the course of raising children. I’ll be the first to tell anyone that my wife and I made plenty of mistakes in raising our three daughters.

But I also know we did a number of things right.

It isn’t that we knew at the time we were doing the right thing, but hindsight seems to indicate we were at least close to being on target.

We tried to show our kids respect as individuals and treat them as equals intellectually. We didn’t talk “down” to them or blow off their questions and observations as frivolous or irrelevant.

We teased and kidded them at times, for sure, but when the questions were serious and the topics important, we were always forthright and truthful.

We provided them with a framework for their young lives that included rules, responsibilities and discipline. And we tried to be consistent in how we enforced those rules and administered any discipline.

Our secret weapon. But there was one specific action that we took as parents that seemed radical and extreme then and probably still would today.

I’m convinced this one move, more than any other decision we ever made as parents, provided a huge benefit to us as a family and to our daughters as individuals. It created an atmosphere where we got to know each other better and pay more attention to each other as individuals.

I’m certain this move reinforced an already strong desire on their part to read and challenge themselves intellectually.

And I also know it gave them a great opportunity to play the role of martyr with their peers and enhance their mother’s image as the “meanest mom on the block.”

What did we do that was so radical?


I would highly recommend such a move to any family with young children and I’ll tell you why: “Television is just chewing gum for the mind.” That was my wife’s quote. It might not have been original but it was her opinion and one that was hard to argue with.

After all, what is chewing gum but something with no lasting value whose only purpose is to keep the mouth occupied until we find something better for it to do.

Similarly, what is television but entertainment with little redeeming value whose primary purpose is to keep our mind occupied while we are too lazy to find something better to do.

Especially summer television. Even with cable or satellite service, summer television programming is primarily reruns and baseball games. So it isn’t as if your family will actually miss much by turning the TV off for the summer.

Stayed busy. And the alternatives can be so much more rewarding.

As I mentioned before, our girls already loved to read. But by the end of summer, with no television, their library cards were nearly worn out.

All three were more willing to spend time helping their Mom and I with otherwise mundane chores like gardening and house maintenance. Their interest in activities at the farm and their willingness to help out was much more evident.

But above all, our opportunities for meaningful interaction as a family were greatly enhanced. Somehow, it was much easier to find time for an evening drive together with a stop at the ice cream stand. Or time to go for a swim at the neighbor’s pond or make an evening of card games or Trivial Pursuit. We would occasionally load the bicycles in the pickup and all go for a ride at a nearby state park.

There seemed to be more time for visits with great-grandparents and family friends. The role models our girls were observing were real people and not television characters.

Most importantly, the whole family – parents as well as children – learned what life could be like without television. We became more creative and productive with our time and didn’t structure our lives around a television schedule.

To this day, all of us are just as likely to spend an evening with a good book as we are with a TV remote.

So even though I’ll readily admit to not having all of the answers to proper parenting, I firmly believe this was the right thing to do.

And don’t kid yourself, as parents you’ll find it a greater temptation than you think to sneak a piece of that “chewing gum for the mind.” But, if you’re willing to give it a try, I’ll guarantee it will be one parental decision that will pay big dividends.


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