Summary of TV Free Family Survey Results (2006)
Dr. Barbara J. Brock
Professor of Recreation Management
Eastern Washington University
Cheney, WA 99004
“TV Free Families: Are They Lola Granolas, Normal Joes or High and Holy Snots?”
As a professor of recreation management, I am interested in the use of leisure time. Since 98% of American adults spend over half of their leisure time “sitting and watching” TV, I wondered about the tiny portion of our population that doesn’t watch TV. Who are they, why did they turn it off and what makes them tick? Are they recluses or anti-establishment types as many think?
I borrowed my subtitle from a comment by one of the respondents – “TV Free Families: Are We Lola Granolas, Normal Joes or High and Holy Snots?” This respondent went on to state “I think we’re all Normal Joes who found a way to ‘take back’ some time!”
I anticipated finding perhaps 20 TV Free families in the U.S. for my survey and placed ads in Parents Magazine, the Chinaberry Book catalog, and the TV Free America newsletter. I was shocked to receive over 500 queries to the ad and data was collected representing 1,200 TV free individuals.
Here’s a little teaser on what I learned about the TV Free Families:
- They have about an hour of meaningful conversation per day with their children (national average: 38 minutes per week).
- They come from 43 states, all walks of life, income brackets, levels of education, races, etc. Most are in their 30s, married with 2 children, have college degrees, earn $60,000-$80,000 per year (range: less than $20,000 to $130,000 up), two thirds have religious affiliations and 41% send their kids to public schools (private and home school equally divided the rest).
- 92% of parents say their children “never or rarely” complain about the lack of TV or pressure them to buy brand names and popular toys.
- As to their children’s heroes, most votes went for Mom and Dad. Others include teachers, Harry Potter, Jesus, Martin Luther King, Grandparents, and Michael Jordan.
- 80% feel their marriages are stronger due to no TV – more cuddle time (see essay)!
- They are readers (adults and children). Get the majority of their news from NPR, newspapers, and a few national magazines.
- They (kids and adults) rarely feel they’re missing out – totally on the gain side.
- More than half of their children get all A’s in school.
- The computer does not take over the role of TV in most homes. Though 98% own a computer, only 1-3 hours of recreational use per week was reported by adults. (When asked if their children use the computer more or less than kids who watch TV, nearly half felt their children use it less due to the passive nature of the activity.)
- 70% of parents felt their children got along better with no TV – children entertain themselves and play for longer hours with fewer sibling fights.
- One family with an ADD child reported removing TV from the home (under their pediatrician’s advice) – the child blossomed and took tremendous strides in development.
- As for why they’re TV-free, one man’s comments reflected much of what the survey showed: “We have not watched TV for more than 16 years, not out of a statement against society or any overt religious injunction, but a simple desire to have TIME for a more meaningful marriage and family in the face of a busy life.”
- 80% of respondents were “very” satisfied with their lives overall
- 87% stated they had “never doubted” their decision to not own a TV.
One interesting note – I included three essay questions at the end of the survey: Why did you turn if off and how do you keep it off? What are the dreams and values of your children? and Do you feel you are missing out on anything by not watching TV? Because of these essay questions, I have 400 pages of case studies, personal stories and lots of advice for how to turn off the TV, including the practical injunction that if you can live through 20 minutes of whining, your children will find something to do. Example from Sara O’Neal in Texas: “I think kids have longer attention spans and better imaginations because of no TV. They don’t know the ‘sound bite minute.’” TV free children see the stories they read in their heads and most parents felt it was the best parenting decision they ever made. Some felt they would have trouble getting baby-sitters because of the no TV situation, but this has not been the case – the kids are easy to get along with and some of the high school students even appreciate the quiet time to study. Many parents commented, “You’ll have more family time, better communication, great readers, self-reliant, and imaginative kids and more snuggle time with your spouse! “
Limitations of the study are sampling techniques (limited to three national magazines) and lack of a control group (purpose of this initial study was to paint a thorough, descriptive picture of life without TV). However, I was surprised and pleased with the number of families who responded and the eagerness of the subjects to be involved. It was the most enjoyable research I’ve ever done!
I published the essays and overall summary of this research in 2007 in a book entitled “Living Outside the Box: TV Free Families Share Their Secrets,” Eastern Washington University Press.