Kill your television. Collateral damage?
December 29, 2010 8:20 PM   Subscribe

We've decided to jettison the television. How will this affect our 2.5-year-old son in his interactions with his friends going forward?

Looking to hear from parents who have no television in their homes. What complications arise when a young child has friends who all watch tv at home? I don't really have a problem with our son watching the occasional tv program at a friend's house, and we'll allow some DVD watching as well. But has not having a tv bubbled up as a source of conflict, resentment, etc.?
posted by azure_swing to Human Relations (74 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
My 2 nephews (6 and 9) have never had a TV in their home ever, and are the most well adjusted, adorable, smart kids on the block and no one gives a shit whatsoever about it including their peers. It doesn't matter a whit. A WHIT I SAY!
posted by tristeza at 8:29 PM on December 29, 2010 [7 favorites]

The no-tv people were considered weirdos in my world.

Suggestion: keep the TV, use it for good purposes. Miracle on 34th Street on Christmas Eve. Educational programming. Etc. It is one of the many things we can learn from, and as you allude to, can add context and shared experiences to a growing kid's world. Glitterball.
posted by gjc at 8:30 PM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

I grew up without a TV. My parents did what you are proposing to do. They allowed occasional viewing at friends and relatives. They also rented movies and showed them on a computer monitor. Looking back, I didn't miss a thing. I spent hours and hours reading that I know my peers spent staring at the TV. I think the social problems caused by not watching all the same shows as my friends were only minor. It will be even less so now, because kids now don't all watch the same stuff. There's so much more media available now that nobody watches all the same stuff. If you let your kid use the internet, s/he will be able to fit in socially just fine. TV is no longer the driving cultural force it was 20 years ago.
posted by cosmicbandito at 8:33 PM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

2.5 won't matter. Not. At. All.

At 4-5, he'll start to wonder what the other kids are talking about. But it still won't matter.

At 6-7, he'll be asking for things the other kids have because apparently, Star Wars Clone Wars is ZOMG AWESOME. This is when it starts to matter.

Somewhere at this point, there will be teasing.

You don't have to plant the kid in front of the TV and walk away, you know. And it doesn't have to be brainless TV, either. The amount of useful, education-based programming is staggering. SuperWhy and Sid the Science Kid to the rescue!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:39 PM on December 29, 2010 [9 favorites]

We had no tv when I was a kid and the only bummer was no extra credit for watching nature documentaries. We currently don't have tv and my 10 year old is watching a movie on the laptop via hulu (so no tv doesn't mean no media) right next to me. My daughter just shrugged her shoulders when I asked if not having a tv was a problem. I suspect her friends parents may be more strict about screen time than us though.

The best thing is that while she watches plenty of tv, she sees waaaaaay fewer commercials.
posted by vespabelle at 8:41 PM on December 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

I resented and continue to resent the fuck out of my parents for doing this to me. I was completely unable to participate in probably half of the conversations my classmates had all through school and it made me miserable.

It will be even less so now, because kids now don't all watch the same stuff.

I don't think this is true at all. There are plenty of shows that are in the popular consciousness the same way shows were when I was in school (mostly the 90s); they're different types of shows (more "reality," less drama), that's all. Even my TV-hating parents are avid American Idol-watchers now, apparently.
posted by enn at 8:44 PM on December 29, 2010 [15 favorites]

As cosmicbandito says, it's not the force it was. When I was in college, EVERYONE saw the latest Friends and Seinfeld. Frequently with MY college students I reference popular TV shows or movies as examples, and NOBODY KNOWS WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT. They look at me like I'm high or something.

We had a TV; I mostly just wasn't allowed to watch it. Where it got awkward was in junior high when suddenly everyone was into SNL and I had no idea what they were talking about. But I was a nerd anyway so it was just one more sign of my lack of coolness. I knew other kids without TVs at all; skill at sports made up quite a bit for lack of TV. The kids who had it worst were the ones who were self-righteous about being TV-free, which I assume they were parroting from their parents. ("We don't have a TV because it rots your brain and makes you stupid! We do BETTER things with our time!" That may be true, but it doesn't put you in the good graces of other 12-year-olds.)

I will say, when I a senior in college and had finally unfettered access to a TV of my very own, and no roommate, I went a little crazy. Not that it impacted my grades or anything, just that I watched metric assloads of absolute crap just because it was on and I'd never gotten to watch metric assloads of absolute crap before. I actually made a conscious decision to jettison cable when I finished law school because I could lose so many hours in front of Animal Planet. Like kids with no exposure to alcohol who binge before they learn to drink properly, I did some serious TV binging before I learned how to turn it on to watch something specific and then TURN IT BACK OFF.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:50 PM on December 29, 2010 [5 favorites]

My parents limited my TV intake pretty sharply compared to my peers until I was 12 or so. No video games either. I did feel resentful, no doubt, but I probably turned out better for it.

That said, I would NOT have turned out as well if I had never seen 3-2-1 Contact, Square One, or Bill Nye. And my "random knowledge" quotient would be much lower without Jeopardy from a tender age. And I don't want to THINK about how I would have turned out if I had never seen Seinfeld or Star Trek TNG. Some things are just necessary for cultural/nerd literacy.

Advice? No cable, not even basic. Keep the broadcast channels, but limit them. All the PBS they want, plus MAYBE one decent (ie parent-approved) entertainment show. A locked-down TiVo would make this easy to accomplish.
posted by supercres at 9:03 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

I grew up without a TV. My parents did what you are proposing to do. They allowed occasional viewing at friends and relatives. They also rented movies and showed them on a computer monitor.

That was my life. There were some awkward moments, particularly in middle and high school. But I was an awkward kid anyway; if I'd had a TV the awkwardness would have manifested itself in other ways.

But I also don't think that not having a TV in the house was as meaningful as my parents meant it to be. For them it was a really symbolic rejection of mass cultural consumption, things like that. For their kids, it was a minor inconvenience and we found other ways to consume bad things.

On the other hand, to contradict myself, I think it had big impacts on our lives. None of us who grew up without a TV have developed the habit of watching it later in life. Sort of like keeping junk food for occasional treats rather than as a constant diet, it does establish patterns that continue, for better or for worse. So I'm just as out of touch with TV tropes now as I was when I was in 8th grade, and it's still a little bit awkward -- talking about them is a major part of socializing, and sometimes not being able to participate makes things uncomfortable for everyone.
posted by Forktine at 9:04 PM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

I say no effect. By the time they're old enough to care about tv, they'll be old enough to know about bittorrent. Apart from live events, television is pretty much an irrelevant medium now.
posted by mhoye at 9:05 PM on December 29, 2010 [8 favorites]

People with my media-consuming background will get incredibly frustrated at your future-adult child for not getting any relevant references in jokes, stories, etc. And that might make your future-adult kid feel left out.

But whatever, people learn to cope with all kinds of horrible things.

I do think that you should keep a TV around, though, for things like the Olympics, presidential debates/political speeches and similarly important televised events (even though you can get more and more of that online these days). Keep it in a closet and just don't get cable.
posted by phunniemee at 9:10 PM on December 29, 2010

As Forktine alluded too, no to limited TV while younger may help seriously curtail over-watching when older. Didn't have a tv until I was about 11... to this day I watch about 2 hours a week of television.
posted by edgeways at 9:11 PM on December 29, 2010

I have an almost eleven year old, seven year old and almost three year old. They have had very limited exposure to TV (although they do see movies and the seven year old is addicted to home made lego movies on youtube). They have not commented at all about missing shows or conversations at school and definitely have not felt any teasing. When their friends visit I do not hear any comments either. It may depend on regional differences though
posted by saucysault at 9:12 PM on December 29, 2010

I grew up with no tv watching until I was ten or so. I also binged when given the opportunity. I'm still not good at watching just a show and walking away. I'd rather watch as many DVDs as possible before being dragged away. I didn't have any problems when I was a kid about not watching the same shows (though I still don't get why people are into Sesame street), but I still am not very good about how much tv I watch. My husband, who watched tv on Saturdays only, is much better about how he watches tv now. (None of the tv I watch is actually airing on tv as I watch, more for hulu, netflix, and DVDs of shows. I don't know if you're planning on getting rid of all of it or not.)

My daughter (age 4) doesn't watch tv shows, but does have some DVDs of good quality movies, and watches some PBS (so no commercials) at her Grandma's. So far, no problems, but I'd be willing to add in more DVDs as she gets older, or watching shows online when she's older.
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:14 PM on December 29, 2010

Our son is 8. We have never had cable (it's a colossal waste of money), although we've had a television and a DVD player since he was born. Some TV programs are actually quite good (Spongebob, David Attenborough's shows), and we rent those, but not much.

TV as a shared experience with peers (or using cultural literacy as a basis for developing social capital on the schoolyard) really only becomes important by around the age of 7, about 5 years from now.

Five years from now I doubt anyone your son's age will be watching television.

For example, our son likes to watch YouTube videos (Michael Jackson) and likes to play Lego and Playmobil online.

Anyway, we've watched all the Star Wars movies, and we've even rented some of the Clone Wars (although I think it's an improvement on the original series, the cartoon is pretty violent), so our son can talk about that on the playground.

We also have a Wii (I have mixed feelings about that).
posted by KokuRyu at 9:14 PM on December 29, 2010

My child is 6 and she loves nature documentaries as well as Man vs. Food.

I got Apple TV for Christmas and I am thinking about canceling cable and just sticking with Netflix for $7.99/month. It is a huge bargain. If my daughter wants to learn about whales one day, a couple of clicks can bring up a relevant National Geographic special. If she wants lighter fare related to dinosaurs, I can instantly play PBS's Dinosaur Train.

So, you might consider keeping the TV and streaming your media from Netflix or your computer. There are a lot of quality shows out there on Netflix that are commercial free. Right now my daughter is at an age where the advertising really gets to her, so we avoid the commercial channels.
posted by Ostara at 9:20 PM on December 29, 2010

I grew up without a TV. I never felt weird because of it. (And you know - all kids feel weird and out of place at times during adolescence. Watching all the TV in the world is not going to change that.)

As an adult, the only thing I notice is that sometimes my peers will be like "Haha, remember that episode of LION FACE TRANSFORMERBOTS where the one guy kicked the other guy? So awesome." and I won't know what they're talking about. But honestly, this is not some big awkward loss in my life.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 9:23 PM on December 29, 2010

I do feel that if my daughter had absolutely no TV in her life right now she wouldn't understand some references from her classmates. To me, that is not a big deal. But she also wouldn't get the awesome documentaries and nature shows that are out there, either. Her kindergarten teacher calls her the "nature girl." During the long winter months when we can't get out that much it is nice to have our setup.
posted by Ostara at 9:23 PM on December 29, 2010

I know times are different now, but - I grew up without tv. As others have said, I had plenty other things to feel weird about as a kid - this wasn't one of those things. When we finally got one - I think around the time the nation was wondering "Who shot J.R.?" - I was underwhelmed and have remained that way ever since.

For the record - it's become weirder as I have remained a tv-free adult. *So much* office conversation revolves around the most recent Mad Men or memories of Saturday morning cartoons!
posted by chez shoes at 9:35 PM on December 29, 2010

I do feel that if my daughter had absolutely no TV in her life right now she wouldn't understand some references from her classmates. To me, that is not a big deal.

Think of it like hanging out with a group of people who've been friends for years and years, where half the content of the discourse is hidden behind inside jokes, references to shared experiences, knowing allusions to longstanding tropes, etc., which everyone gets except you, and imagine that this is how you have to interact with the entire larger culture to which you ostensibly belong. It's not a big deal until it drags down every single conversation for years on end. Or maybe I just hang out with people who make too many fucking Simpsons references, I don't know.
posted by enn at 9:35 PM on December 29, 2010 [9 favorites]

My cousin grew up without tv. He was a very awkward kid with almost no friends until college. However, I think the lack tv only played a small role in that.

Speaking from my own experience, we had tv, but my mom blocked MTV and all the other music channels. I definitely felt left out of a lot of conversations and didn't listen to a lot of music as a result. So I also had and really still have relatively limited music knowledge compared to most of the people I know. Of course I wasn't really on the Internet until my senior year, so things may have been different if I'd had that.
posted by whoaali at 9:46 PM on December 29, 2010

I haven't owned a television set basically ever. And yet I'm addicted to movies and TV. Which I watch on my computer. I'm watching (errrr, listening to) Funny Girl right now as I type this, in another tab.

By the time your kid is old enough to know the difference, the television as a separate construct from the computer will be an anachronism.

Also, by the time your kid is old enough to be uniquely aware that the other kids are doing something he's not doing (assuming you plan to completely restrict all media), he's going to be going to school, playing at other kids' houses, and otherwise outside your jurisdiction for that sort of thing. When he comes home, he'll start begging to watch things. And you'll have to answer this question all over again.
posted by Sara C. at 9:49 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I resented and continue to resent the fuck out of my parents for doing this to me. I was completely unable to participate in probably half of the conversations my classmates had all through school and it made me miserable.

This was my experience also.

I was so isolated, in fact, by my TV-free household, that when I was 11, an education department psychologist was brought in by the headmaster as an outside consultant to fix the fact that the other girls in my class mostly ignored or shunned me.

She ordered my parents to buy a television, stating that the reason that I was isolated was because I could not participate in discussions about TV shows, which made up 90% of my classmates conversation.

Take home message: TV-free is probably fine and dandy until 5.

But the month before your child starts primary school, buy a TV. You can always limit viewing to 30 min/day or 1 hr/day - that way they will be able to talk about [cool program everyone at school is talking about] but still have plenty of time for physical play & homework.
posted by Hot buttered sockpuppets at 9:50 PM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

enn - I totally agree with you. It'll eventually become more of an issue. But the OP probably has about 5 years before it's a big school discussion.

Still, the simple fact of not having a TV, might make your little one feel out of place. For the past two years my 6-year-old has told me that everyone else has a Wii and she's the only one that doesn't. I think it's probably better to keep the TV and limit the viewing.
posted by Ostara at 9:59 PM on December 29, 2010

Even my TV-hating parents are avid American Idol-watchers now, apparently.

For what it's worth, I've never seen a single episode of American Idol. And I'm doing just fine.

My TV watching habits went into serious decline when I went away to boarding school at 16. There was no TV allowed in our rooms, and you had to share control of the channel with every other girl on your floor, in the common room. So except for a few must-watch events like the '96 Presidential Debates (or Jeopardy!, it was a school for nerds), it just wasn't a part of my life.

I never got into most of the popular shows of the late 90's. No Buffy, no X-Files, no Gilmore Girls, not much of Friends or the last few seasons of Seinfeld. I'm only dimly aware of things like Dharma And Greg. I've been known to forget that the Nagano Olympics happened. I found out about the Columbine shootings the day after in my Economics class.

And I turned out fine. I'm not warped. I'm not a social pariah. If anything, it gives me more options because there's so much to check out now that I'm a grownup and don't have to choose between watching TV or being in the school play.
posted by Sara C. at 10:01 PM on December 29, 2010

My mother didn't have cable tv until I was in high school, at which point I was allowed an hour a day, and I don't think it did me any harm. I read a ton, and still do. I drew, played with walkie talkies, and ran around outdoors a lot. I never felt left out of anything with regards to school - being allowed to watch at other people's houses meant I was aware of what was out there but didn't mindlessly consume it in all my spare time. I still don't really follow tv programs week-to-week (although I certainly had a period of about a year or two where I did) but rather stream them online in large batches when I am not overrun by schoolwork.

Your kid won't feel like they are missing anything, especially since tv wasn't "taken away" from them, but was just never really a part of their life. As an adult, they make thank you!
posted by hepta at 10:09 PM on December 29, 2010

I grew up on TV back in the 70s and early 80s. Practically my babysitter. By the time I finished high school, I'd stopped watching. Now I find broadcast/cable TV a grating, pointless waste of time. The kids I knew who had restricted TV in their house turned into zombies when they came over and saw the boob tube's glow. That behavior always left an impression on me.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:14 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

I am another whose parents restricted heavily my tv-watching as a kid---I was held to news and sports until I was 10-ish, when I began to be allowed to watch a couple selected shows; the one I remember was "Life Goes On". Although I do so less now, I did used to binge on tv when I was at my grandparents' and other places where I had more access to tv.

While I don't feel that I have any lasting serious effects, I definitely miss out on things which are significant cultural touchstones to my peers, from Sesame Street to less educational programming; while I've always taken teasing for this, it's usually been less "you're a freak" and more "your parents are freaks" ....
posted by FlyingMonkey at 10:18 PM on December 29, 2010

What I meant to say above is that "TV" will be irrelevant to your son.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:18 PM on December 29, 2010

I think this would have been a lot more of an issue ten or twenty years ago. Now it would be a huge deal if you said "I'm thinking of getting rid of our computer." Not having a TV doesn't mean not watching TV shows nowadays. It just means not doing that sit-there-and-flip-through-the-channels-watching-five-minutes-of-everything-and-wasting-time thing. Hardly anyone I know watches programs in real time.

I think it really depends on your kid's personality on how this affects him. Some people are bothered by not getting every cultural reference. Some are not. There are joiners and there are iconoclasts. We had a TV growing up and I never watched it. I hated it. My parents loved it (and still love it) and I just don't. When people my age reminisce about Saved By The Bell, I always get gasps because I've never seen an episode of that show. That gasp would bother some types of people, but I don't especially mind. But I really think a lot of this is moot, because a television isn't necessary for viewing tv programs anymore.
posted by millipede at 10:20 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

The "no TV" people were, admittedly, considered strange when I was growing up. But I think that not having a TV was a more daring/edgy rejection of norms when I was a kid than it is now, provided you have a computer.

If you have a computer, you can watch a lot of TV programming without falling victim to the channel-flipping curse. (And you can just burn endless hours on the Internet! Far more defensible.) The TV isn't the sole source of information and entertainment that it was even just a few years ago, and I think that trend will probably continue.

Being "no TV" in the 80s and perhaps even moreso the early 90s meant being cut off from a huge amount of culture and information. It was an active, conscious rejection of a huge part of the dominant culture, and it meant getting news from either the radio or the newspapers; probably a day behind (at least) on most current events and completely disconnected on just about everything entertainment-related. That's not the case anymore.

Your kid is 2-1/2. So you have several years before their socialization in school is even an issue. In that time, TV might slip even further from being the touchstone of popular culture. It's not impossible that by the time your kid is in middle school, not having a TV will be about as important as not having a wireline phone. (But if you don't get them a smartphone and an unlimited data plan as soon as they're old enough to not chew on it, they'll be one step down from an actual leper and you'll be the worst. parent. ever.)

I'm not discounting anyone's experiences. But not having a TV may mean something entirely different today, and in the future, than it meant when most of us were in our formative years.

If you don't want to have a TV, don't have a TV. But its rejection may not have quite the meaning that you may be attaching to it, either.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:29 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

My boys, who are 6, 8 and 11, have essentially never had access to TV programming. We rent worthy movies and educational DVD's 1-3 times a month, and will occasionally show them something interesting or funny on Youtube, but that's it. It's really a non-issue, socially, and they don't miss it. They're more likely to get teased about not playing video games, which is a separate issue.

(FWIW, they are homeschooled, so they aren't subject to as much teasing as "regular" kids would be.)

On the plus side, they've become great readers and players of board- and card-games and musicians and athletes. There's a lot of living you can squeeze in to the time most people spend watching TV.
posted by richyoung at 10:31 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the terrific responses. To clarify, the boy already does watch videos & such on our computers, & what's interesting is that he hasn't shown much interest in the television, because it's generally just on when I'm watching sports. (He doesn't yet seem to know that you can watch children's programming on it.) So it seems we're indeed in a happy (?!) historical moment where you can get some wonderful stuff via hulu & dvds without a lot of the commercials--the decision not to have a tv is no longer some kind of grand opt-out refusal but rather one decision among many about "screen time." Plus we can get it out of our living room so that the huge ugly device is no longer the focal point of the space.
posted by azure_swing at 10:40 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had a friend who had no TV. I think the only thing I ever thought was "boy, I'd hate to be her." You could keep the TV and limit it with parental controls. I do still love science shows like the aforementioned 321 Contact, Bill Nye, and Beakman's World.

I grew up on broadcast TV and did fine.
posted by IndigoRain at 10:41 PM on December 29, 2010

It will probably depend a lot on what your kid's friends are like and what the culture of your town is like. I grew up in a town brimming with educated, lefty parents who placed a lot of importance on nature, culture, etc. Quite a few of my friends either had no TV or had their TV watching very highly restricted, and it was no big deal. I, in fact, sometimes felt like the out of place one with my conservative parents and their omnipresent TV.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:52 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I feel like kids should be exposed to all kind of media, old and new... comics, novels, movies, music, and yeah, even some TV... They'll get morality lessons disguised as entertainment, learn about how the world works (sort of), and have their imagination stirred. But yeah, obviously there should be limits. And it doesn't all have to be educational, but it should be good. And in some cases, fun... even the dumb variety. That's part of childhood.

Considering the higher crap-to-quality ratio of kids' TV these days, I guess I wouldn't be too enthused about Disney/Nick/Cartoon Network material... (except for Clone Wars).

And I'm kinda miffed that Disney practically refuses to air any of the old Mickey/Donald/Goofy short cartoons that were a staple of my childhood, even if they are on DVD.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 10:54 PM on December 29, 2010

How will this affect our 2.5-year-old son in his interactions with his friends going forward?

On balance: very positively. Everything you can possibly do to keep your home an advertising-free zone is a good thing to do.

We didn't have TV (except for rentals during the Olympic Games) until I was 15. Not only that, but we were strictly forbidden to tune any of the house radios to commercial stations. I'm sure it's no coincidence that I am still the person in my peer group most likely to be caught reading. I am equally sure that having been more or less forced while young to take up reading for pleasure has made my life immeasurably easier.

A generation on, we don't have broadcast TV in hour house now; we have the net, and a DVD player. As a consequence, little ms flabdablet (5yo) is learning that whatever goes on the screen is something she chose to put there, not something a broadcaster chose for her. It makes watching a screen something optional, rather than OMG IT'S 5:30 MUST STOP ALL ACTIVITY NOW AND PRAY TO SMALL GODS OF TV, and it means that whatever's on the screen can be paused or even switched off altogether when it's time for dinner without the little one feeling like she's being cut out of the loop.

Broadcast TV is a dying medium; video on demand is going to eat it before your two year old is twelve. Any kick up the arse you can give it to help it on its way can only be good for you and yours. Go thou and do likewise.
posted by flabdablet at 10:56 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

I grew up without a TV. I played with Legos and other toys, read a lot of books, took long bike rides, etc. My friends were somewhat surprised when they came over or it came up in conversation, but I was never teased for it. I used to watch TV at my friends' houses or when we were on vacation in the hotel. When I was 16 I got a job and one of the first things I bought was a TV, but at that point it didn't even really matter and I had other priorities. I think it is a great choice, and the kid will almost certainly grow up better off for not having one.
posted by sophist at 11:53 PM on December 29, 2010

For the record - it's become weirder as I have remained a tv-free adult. *So much* office conversation revolves around the most recent Mad Men or memories of Saturday morning cartoons!

My parents sharply limited television as a child - as an adult I have a set, but no cable. My friends in school were all artists and drama kids, so we were all busy doing things instead of watching them. I didn't really miss it. The really painful part was not being allowed to watch Mtv, so I missed a whole swath of musical education. But Mtv doesn't apparently show music any more, so that's not an issue for your child as they get older.

Television is largely irrelevant at this point, because if a show gets enough positive comment on sites that I read I buy it on DVD after watching a couple of episodes on Hulu. The only significant way that television impacts me now is in the above comment - my coworkers are always banging on about some reality television show and I know nothing of them. I've given up reminding them I don't know who SheriAnne on Next Top Chef/Model/Bridezilla is and just nod.
posted by winna at 12:21 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I grew up without a TV. At the time, I resented it deeply and it caused a fair amount of teasing and generally feeling left out of conversations and even games with other kids. My sister and I were even in the newspaper once for not having a TV. Really. It wasn't the only reason I felt like an outsider, but it was a large part of it.

In retrospect, it was a great thing, as I read and read and read, but I sure hated it at the time. I did watch TV at friends' houses and at my grandparents. I probably over-compensated after college when I had a TV of my own, and it took me a while to become a careful consumer of TV, as I didn't have all of the quality filters my peers had developed.

Media is consumed so differently now, with this new-fangled internet and what not, that I'm not sure how much difference it will make. I say go for it, as a previously TV-deprived child.
posted by gingerbeer at 12:30 AM on December 30, 2010

Born in the mid70s, I also grew up without television. It was difficult in Jr. high and HS because so many of the conversations were about TV shows (Wonder Years, and so on). I tended not to be aware of current events because I wasn't a big newspaper reader. That said, I grew up in an era without the internet. I think it definitely hurt me socially. I was more resentful that my parents decided to get a TV as soon as I left for college than I was resentful for the lack of television.

As with others, I read an insane amount and that was extremely positive. I also, for many years after college, had no ability to turn off the TV and would get sucked into watching for hours. I've built up a resistance since.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:30 AM on December 30, 2010

I can't speak directly to the kid-raising part, but one, good, long, thoughtful look at what is on TV would have to leave you asking, "Why would I want to do this to my kids?".

It is two orders of magnitude away from the vast wasteland it was in the 1960's. The news is junk, biased and makes no distinction between Sarah Palin's family drama and genocide in Rwanda. The story lines, acting, and commercials of the rest of the entertainment crap are exercises in tweaking the minor intellects of infants. The documentaries, for the most part, have 10 minutes of content to fill an hour of screen time. War and Peace would be shown in a 2 hour blur.

A good 90% or more of my Vermont cohort do not have TV connections. Unless you want Junior to aspire to the levels of the masses, it seems he'd benefit more from a library card, a decent computer, and some running shoes. Worrying about how he'll interact with the troglodytes who confuse phosphor with reality seems a bit off the mark.

If you swim in grape juice, you're gonna get purple. If Junior lives where intellect is prized, reading is taken for granted, learning is deep, and together time precious, those are the values he'll eventually cherish. Running a remote isn't a life skill worth any effort to learn.
posted by FauxScot at 2:35 AM on December 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

Kids tease other kids over the smallest of things.

Whilst I don't advocate making the tv set central to his life, going completely overboard and removing it entirely is, sadly, going to give those kids some ammo against your son.

Only if you've never been bullied is this going to seem like a good idea.
posted by mr_silver at 3:51 AM on December 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

Anecdata: raised my son, now 16, without a TV from 0-8. When we finally (and spectacularly) caved with 4 TVs with 300-odd channels per, he was addicted for about a month. Now he's far more of a reader like his parents. He was never teased, but perhaps that's because we got one eventually.
posted by mozhet at 4:44 AM on December 30, 2010

My brother and I grew up without a tv, and we both value that. (We're both early 30s now.) We spent a lot more time reading and playing outside. My brother went through a phase where he would binge on tv at friends' houses, but I was never into it. I do remember being a little annoyed by my friends taking about tv shows in jr high, but I didn't really care that people teased me about it. (I got teased for a lot of other things that bothered me a lot was nothing compared to being teased about my last name, or my very small size.)

I am much less interested in movies these days than most people and have very little interest in tv (I've never owned one, though I've had roommates who had tvs). I watch Glee on Hulu, but that's about it. I get bored watching 5 minute videos on youtube, actually, though I can spend hours reading stuff online. The only time I miss having a tv is when I'm really sick. Given the amazing amount of stuff online these days, I think you're fine to get rid of your tv. It's really different than it was 20 years ago. As several others said--if you were asking about getting rid of your computer--that would be a far different story. I think your kid will do fine with just the computer.
posted by min at 5:28 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

the decision not to have a tv is no longer some kind of grand opt-out refusal

For sure. I don't understand what's going on when I see giant multi-thousand-dollar screens appear on friends' walls; I don't know what the point is. It's TV! Why spend so much money on something so obsolete?

I haven't had an actual TV for some years now. But I am very sick today, so I am typing this with my 3yo next to me watching "Noddy" on YouTube in another window.

She has been insulated from commercials, Dora, the more objectionable Disney; and we are really into a 1990s BBC sort of preschooler documentary program called "Come Outside." No TV is wonderful. But it is a different thing from no video, and a number of the answers here are missing that. No TV set is a very different thing in 2010 from what that was in 1980. Your YouTube-aware child will not end up socially awkward.

Some of the fall-out from this will depend a bit on where you live, and what socio-economic class[es] you are surrounded by. If your kids are friends with the TV-in-bedroom crowd it may be a rougher go than if they are friends with the strictly-limited-PBS types. We are, I only now realise, surrounded by a lot of TVless or strictly-limited folk and "no TV" does not raise any eyebrows.

I grew up with strictly-limited and was on the outside of the majority of schoolyard TV discussions (the weirdness of not watching MASH!), but this was in no way traumatic.
posted by kmennie at 6:05 AM on December 30, 2010

I didn't have TV from about the age of 8 onwards. As others mentioned above, it caused me to become a voracious reader at a young age, and I think I'm a better person for it. I will do the same to my kids. To this day, I never get the jokes about various TV shows, I never know who celebrities are, etc. But who cares? I think of that as more of a badge of pride than anything. I don't recall ever being bullied about it. Depends on the kind of people you're friends with, I guess.

I watch it today, but only occasionally.
posted by bpdavis at 6:39 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Worrying about how he'll interact with the troglodytes who confuse phosphor with reality seems a bit off the mark.

This is the sort of self righteous BS that is not going to help your children. I had a lot of friends who were very smart, went to good colleges, and are successful professionals now. And you know what? All of them grew up with a TV, and none of them are people I would say "confuse phosphor with reality." And we still watch TV from time to time, though most of us watch via Netflix, these days.

Right now, your child is just 2, so his preferences/needs do not come into play. You and your wife don't want a TV, so there is no reason to have one. In about 5 years, things might be different, and your child is going to have some preferences/needs of his own, and you should think about whether this is a hill you're willing to die on.
posted by deanc at 6:40 AM on December 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

My parents didn't own a TV until I was five or six, and I suffered no preschool bullying. Even after they bought a TV, we never had cable, and that wasn't a problem for me socially (though when we stayed at a hotel all I wanted to do was watch Nickelodeon). They restricted the amount of TV I watched, and that wasn't a problem for me socially. However, I think that a big part of the reason it wasn't a problem was that I never had to explain why my family rejected something my peers thought was normal--saying, "I'm not allowed to watch XYZ Show," or "I'm not allowed to watch TV on weeknights," is a lot different from saying, "My parents don't own a TV." Kids understand that different parents have different rules, they are less tolerant of whole families being "weird." I'm not saying that's a good thing, or that you should make your decisions based on fear of 11-year-olds, I'm just pointing out that it's a thing that happens.

I think the biggest risk is what Eyebrows McGee points out--"We don't have a TV because it rots your brain and makes you stupid! We do BETTER things with our time!". There were two brothers in my family's social circle growing up who didn't have a TV at home. Their parents were nice, if a bit odd, and didn't strike me as particularly shrill in their no-TV position. However, the boys habitually referred to television as "the dreaded box" and were generally obnoxious about how special they were for not watching TV, which alienated them from the other kids. I don't know if it was something they picked up from their parents, or a defense mechanism they used against kids calling them weird for not having TV. Whatever the reason, they were extremely irritating.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:03 AM on December 30, 2010

data point: My mom got rid of the TV when I was eight, and it was one of the best decisions she made for me (that and vetoing my decision to join cadets). I spent so much time reading throughout my childhood, and didn't feel like I was missing out on much. I watched TV at friends' places, and was an all-around more interesting and active person. In adulthood I've met many friends who didn't have a TV...I guess we're drawn to each other.
posted by whalebreath at 7:27 AM on December 30, 2010

"Worrying about how he'll interact with the troglodytes who confuse phosphor with reality seems a bit off the mark.
This is the sort of self righteous BS that is not going to help your children."


That's also a recipe for creating the sort of adults who are extremely intelligent but so, so dismissive of "regular" people that they're completely incapable of holding down jobs, keeping friends, or finding happiness. Having been in programs with highly intelligent people and seen this problem over and over, I know whereof I speak. Teaching your child that other people are worthless troglodytes and THEY are special and different basically equips them to fail miserably AND to be unhappy, since they lack the skills to succeed in a real world where one must interact with a wide variety of people, and they are unable to find happiness as a result of their inability to find fulfillment at work or through human relationships.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:28 AM on December 30, 2010 [5 favorites]

bonus: We smashed the TV. Lasting and formative memories.
posted by whalebreath at 7:29 AM on December 30, 2010

Your child has to live with you for another 15 years or so, but he has to socialize with his "peers" for decades. He will want to do what his age group is doing, whether that is TV, Youtube, reading, whatever. Kids end up more like their friends than their parents, in spite of all our efforts.
posted by acheekymonkey at 8:26 AM on December 30, 2010

While I'm not married and don't have kids, I can say that TV was relatively useful when I was younger. I certainly read -alot-, showing me through my memories that my parents limited TV especially early on. I also remember enjoying watching the Discovery Channel. Reading about cheetahs running after antelope and seeing cheetahs running after antelope are two very different experiences.
The result is that my third grade in-class made book about deer included two deer mating with a baby deer being born on the next page. Mind, you can take your kids to a farm to see animals being born for the same result of their not being disgusted by things that are just a part of life. If you take away TV, make sure there's lots of hands on learning and reading to make up for it. Dissect a worm together, shove 'em out the door to catch tadpoles and crayfish, watch bats come out in the evening, etc. You don't have to go all Jane Farmer with it, but for kids, especially boys but also girls (^_^ I'm female), learning the down n' dirty of animals and life is really exciting. We did everything from raise butterflies, to pulling over to the side of the road to see a sudden cow birthing, to helping out at homeless shelters, to taking road trips all up and down the east coast. And as a bonus to that, in-car books on tape are _fabulous_. I think we listened to Crime and Punishment when I was perhaps 10?
posted by DisreputableDog at 8:27 AM on December 30, 2010

>>Worrying about how he'll interact with the troglodytes who confuse phosphor with reality seems a bit off the mark.
>This is the sort of self righteous BS that is not going to help your children.

For a really extreme version of this, look at the character of the father in The Mosquito Coast. I've rarely met anyone that extreme on the subject, but my parents had some slight tinges of that attitude, and I'd guess that my picking up on it caused far more social awkwardness than did simply not having a TV.
posted by Forktine at 8:32 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think I just ran with a different crowd: I don't know anyone who grew up without a TV (though we all had different rules about who was allowed to watch what). And nowadays our "intellectual class" is less likely to contain members of the "I don't even own a TV" crowd than it once was. (who are now more likely to be "Mad Men" and "Glee" enthusiasts)

If I had to pick the 3 or 4 smartest people I've ever met, none of them were raised without a TV. I feel like if lack of any TV were a huge bonus to a person's intellectual development, I would encounter it a lot more. Though I will add that inability to talk about anything but TV and movies is a mark of some of the least intellectual people I know.

Access to Hulu and Netflix makes this all a completely different world, of course-- the cultural isolation factor without a TV is going to be much, much lower. I guess the answer is that you really have to look inside yourself about why you're getting rid of your TV. If it's because it's extraneous and you don't use it, then that's fine (but leave yourself open to getting one if it becomes useful again), but if it's because you want to insulate your child from television, then obviously it's going to cause the collateral damage you're concerned about.
posted by deanc at 8:36 AM on December 30, 2010

I was born in '69, and spent part of my childhood in the Serengeti, without TV. When we got back to the States when I was 6, I started watching it, but it took me a couple of years to understand what schedules were: I didn't realize that shows came on at specific times and specific days, and turned the TV on just hoping that Zoom! was playing. I don't recall having any problems during my early school years with this, but I was also a nerd and outcast for other reasons, and my friends and I didn't watch much TV then. I watched much more in later elementary and middle school years.

Then, when I was 15, we moved outside of the city limits and suddenly we only got 2 channels, neither of them very well, and my parents refused to buy a satellite dish. I stopped watching TV at home, and whined about not having a dish a lot, but all it did was garner sympathy from my friends. It helped a great deal that this was during the 80s with the rise of the VCR, so the main entertainment focus of the day was movies instead of TV. (Aaand my father researched carefully and bought a Betamax instead of a VHS, so there was a severely restricted number of movies I could rent, which was an entirely different matter.)

What it all means, I think, is that everyone is going to have a different experience depending on their personality and the people they're surrounded by. What I can tell I mostly missed was MacGuyver and The A-Team, so that I stare blankly when my boyfriend or one of our friends makes some reference to one or the other, but that's not a major loss in the grand scheme of things.

I'd say play it by ear: if your son starts having social problems because he doesn't fit in, then a TV with restricted watching may be one answer, but there's probably other options that will do just as well.
posted by telophase at 8:39 AM on December 30, 2010

For the opposite view point, I grew up with unfettered access to TV. I watched a lot of Sesame Street, Muppets, Bugs Bunny and whatever Mom & Dad had on. Also, good movies. My Dad would call me in to watch any time a Bogart movie was on, and Grandma saw to it that I saw the Shirley Temple films. I think it helped me develop my vocabulary early, because while I read a lot, they were Childrens books, and I could hear and understand words I would never come across in those books by watching TV.

However, by High School, the only thing I was watching on TV was The West Wing. Now, as an adult, I have a very nice HDTV but no cable. Invaluable for movie nights, watching Planet Earth and curling up to watch when I'm sick.

So what I'm saying is keep the TV but ditch cable. Watching movies off a computer just isn't the same.

I think the reason they don't show the old Mickey, Goofy or Looney Toons on TV anymore is they aren't quite up to today's don't-possibly-offend-anyone standards.
posted by miscbuff at 8:50 AM on December 30, 2010

Based on the variety of opinions, I think the answer may depend on the location and type of school your child ends up attending. In Berkeley, where our family lives, TV isn't as pervasive an influence. Other locations are certain to be different. Also, consider whether the school your son will attend is homogeneous. Perhaps TV/no TV is a big distinction in some locations. Here, there are at least a dozen other, more noticeable attributes that kids can use to be mean about if they are so inclined.

We got rid of the TV, and it's had no noticeable detrimental effect on how our 6 and 8 year old interact with others. The only "negative" is that we sometimes need to entertain our kids ourselves, when we'd both much prefer not to.
posted by ferdydurke at 12:04 PM on December 30, 2010

My parents limited TV when I was young, and we only had one (with no cable), so this meant that we basically watched whatever my mom wanted to watch. I don't remember having any problems as a kid in the late 80s and 90s. In college, people did look at me weird for never having watched the Simpsons.

Now, I am basically uninterested in television. We have one, but it's an analog TV plugged into an old-school Nintendo and it lives in the basement. Sometimes we ask our cable company to hook us up for things like the Olympics. I watch things on Hulu and Netflix, when I think to. This does mean that I often miss the kinds of "news" major media outlets focus on -- my parents were just in town, and I had no idea why they kept going on about Obama calling some football player.

My best friend, on the other hand, grew up in a house where the TV was locked up at night. She watches TV constantly as an adult.
posted by linettasky at 1:10 PM on December 30, 2010

the troglodytes who confuse phosphor with reality

hunt in the playground, people. By and large, they're not adults.

They're real, and their bullying hurts. But it hurts because they are arseholes, not because their victims don't have TV. Any bully who decides your kid is worth picking on will find some way to inflict pain; you can't armor a kid against bullying by helping them conform to every conceivable social norm.

In my own case, the lack of TV actually blunted their attacks a bit. I used to get followed around the schoolyard by a pack of these morons chanting "Kimbie, Kimbie, Kimbies" because I had a fat arse. Because I had no TV, I had no clue that they were reciting a high-rotation TV commercial for disposable nappies - I just thought they were dills. Eventually one of them felt a need to explain what they were doing, at which point he looked lame.

The ability to assume the personality of a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger and pretend to destroy all one's peers is not, I think, an essential life skill.
posted by flabdablet at 4:20 PM on December 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

As a teacher who observes adolescents and teenagers on a regular basis I can say that in many years I have never seen anyone teased because they didn't watch TV.

Obviously TV is a part of our culture and gives people and kids a common ground from which to relate and interact. But for God's sake, it's not the only way people interact. There are kids who don't watch TV. But they're not social outcasts or anything. Amazingly, they gravitate to other kids who don't watch TV. Or they find other common interests to talk to people about.

It's a non-issue.

Sure we've all known really weird kids. And some really weird kids don't watch TV. But the not watching TV is usually the least weird thing about them.
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 9:42 PM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

To offer a bit of a different perspective, I've lived in the US for several years, but grew up abroad, so I don't catch a lot of the pop culture references people here make. I also watch very little TV (and whenever I watch, it's usually news or comedy), I don't watch any reality shows, I don't listen to pop music, etc. Basically, I am pretty clueless about most things pop culture. I find that while this definitely comes up when meeting people, it's not a huge deterrent to making friendships. There are also many fascinating people I've met who similarly don't watch TV, don't listen to popular music, or choose not to have cell phones, for example.

I don't have kids, but if I do, I don't think I will have a TV in my home just for them. I don't think people experience many meaningful relationships throughout their lives, and there are enough people who aren't into the same mainstream lifestyle that my kids would still be able to have rewarding social lives.

You should look at studies on the effects of TV watching on adolescents, if good ones are available, rather than ask people on the interwebs, for whom a significant part of their personal identity has to do with their take on the mainstream, and would be speaking from the gut.
posted by adahn at 10:09 PM on December 30, 2010

Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television is a good read for those who have not already done so.
posted by flabdablet at 10:33 PM on December 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Give it a go one year at a time. See how it affects things the first year and decide if you want to try it another year. What do you have to lose if you re-evaluate every year or so? Good luck!
posted by boots77 at 12:01 AM on December 31, 2010

I grew up mostly without TV and although I wasn't thrilled about it at the time, lately I've been considering writing my dad a letter to officially say "omigod THANK YOU SO MUCH for that!" I don't feel that it had any negative effects on me, and it definitely had many positive ones.

My husband, on the other hand, grew up with TV and now, after we've gone almost ten years without having one, tends to say "I could probably handle heroin better than I could a television in the house."
posted by Lexica at 4:49 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't know about you, but I do not watch TV (the commercials and sitcom laugh tracks, for one thing, drive me insane) and when I was living on my own, in college and at graduate school for six years, I never owned one.

Then I missed watching live the WTC attack on September 11, 2001. That made me go out and get a cheap TV. Of course, I saw the WTC collapse in endless replay later.

Keep the TV in case some other historically horrible (or wonderful) event happens.
posted by bad grammar at 12:35 PM on January 1, 2011

Then I missed watching live the WTC attack on September 11, 2001.

The 9/11 attacks were not broadcast live on television - the attacks were a surprise. News crews were not alerted in advance. Furthermore, even to the extent that news choppers happened to be out there getting footage and caught some things on tape that made it into "Breaking News" reports early on, most Americans were either asleep, at work or school, or in the process of commuting to work when the attacks happened. Aspects of the developing story were broadcast throughout the day; on the east coast at least you couldn't walk 20 feet without seeing people clustered around the televisions in bars, restaurants, and laudromats - my neighborhood supermarket had their PA system tuned to radio coverage, for chrissakes. You didn't miss anything, I promise. Nobody could have missed anything, whether they had a TV at home or not.

I'm really not sure "but what if there is some kind of disaster and you want to watch endless hours of coverage on CNN?" is a great reason to buy a television. The same footage can be found online (and in more controlled doses) nowadays, and to be honest, that week of suspended programming and constant 9/11 footage wasn't a terribly productive way to process what happened.
posted by Sara C. at 12:42 PM on January 1, 2011

Then I missed watching live the WTC attack on September 11, 2001.

As soon as I got the news via phone call, I turned on the TV, saw the endless replay once, then turned my TV off for the rest of the day. Called my brother in New York to make sure his family was OK, then spent the day with as many friends as I could find.

I should have left the TV off for the next month.

I think for historic live speeches, election results, or anything that is live and/or immediately breaking news (i.e. sports for me), TV is best. But TVs will soon become "computers" in another form anyway.

Honestly, as a parent of another 2.5 year-old, I haven't let my child watch any television at all yet. We've occasionally had live sports on (Go Giants! Go Stanford!) when she is in the room, or had it on at other people's houses, but it's not TV aimed at her, e.g. Baby Genius, Barney, Yo Gabba, Sesame Street Elmo, etc.

She still can get transfixed by the TV if it is on (again, very rarely) and if she's not actively playing with something else. I see absolutely no reason whatsover for little kids to watch TV or videos. Learn to read or draw first.

When our daughter is at the age (I'm guessing 3 or 4 right now) when she is able to sit through a 1-2 hour movie/show and comprehend it, remember it, and discuss it, then we'll consider letting her watch video content.

And likely no commercial-based TV or video until she understands advertising completely (15, 16?). (I'm reminded of Carol Channing's Housework from "Free to Be You and Me.")

My parents let me watch an hour a day of TV growing up (it had to be a specific show). I used to think they were strict. Ha.

The only time I miss having a tv is when I'm really sick.

Yep. Daytime TV is pretty bad now, but it was a wonderful guilty pleasure in the 1970s.


The only time I miss having a tv is when I'm really sick stoned.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:49 AM on January 5, 2011

I'm jumping in late here, but I have what seems to be an unpopular opinion, so I'll share it: TV is AWESOME. It is an art form like many others and should be treated as such. I truly believe we are living in a golden age of television, in which there is more high-quality, artistically illuminating programming being made than ever before. Yes, there is also lots and lots of garbage, including plenty that is potentially harmful to a developing mind. But there is tons of literature like that too, and no one tries to derail that by taking away books altogether. I advocate a more nuanced approach.

Modern TVs provide fine levels of parental control over what can be viewed. But more important, this is an opportunity to do some parenting! This is what I plan to do with my children someday: Talk about why I like the shows I like, and what kind of stories they are telling. Analyze them as I would books. Talk about what I don't like—why most sitcoms are inane and most reality shows are demeaning to women and pretty much undermine humanity itself. Talk about how the world of cartoons is different than the real world. Set limits on household TV watching, and explain why this is important to do—TV can be wonderful entertainment, but nothing is good when we consume it to the exclusion of other things in our lives.

I know I haven't exactly answered the question you asked, so to that end, as has been suggested above—I don't think not having a TV will elicit resentment the way it might have some time ago, since so much TV programming is easily available on the Internet. But if I had been raised believing that TV per se was a vice, I think I might now be a little sad knowing all that I had missed out on.

I grew up watching a fair amount of TV and also reading a great deal. Today I am a writer, an avid literary reader, and someone who loves TV and will go down fighting for it.
posted by zadermatermorts at 11:22 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yes, there is also lots and lots of garbage, including plenty that is potentially harmful to a developing mind. But there is tons of literature like that too, and no one tries to derail that by taking away books altogether.

And you could say that about literally any medium.

One thing that crossed my mind is how so many dusty old TV shows are being released on DVD, and a lot of that is due to (old) people wanting to relive stuff they grew up watching.

No, emulating Power Rangers is not an essential life skill, but I'm sure any kid who was a fan of the show relishes their fond memories of it later on, as silly as it might seem in retrospect. (I was too old for Power Rangers, but the point remains). There's nothing essential about baseball cards, Halloween costumes, or dart guns either.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 10:11 PM on January 7, 2011

There's nothing essential about baseball cards, Halloween costumes, or dart guns either.

Yet all of those things are more interactive than watching tv. I watch plenty of tv. I have watched a lot of tv. It's mostly a waste of time.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:46 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

And you could say that about literally any medium.

Tv is a different medium
posted by mrgrimm at 10:52 PM on January 10, 2011

I grew up with no TV, and I was definitely weirder for it, but the massive reading I did instead made up for it. Also, I'm now very aware of when I'm being manipulated by advertising.

I think the ideal is showing quality, age-appropriate movies and shows on DVD. If not that, I feel no TV is far better than unfettered TV. And with the Internet these days, your kid can probably torrent any shows he really wants to his computer.
posted by sninctown at 1:46 AM on February 9, 2011

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