When I was a kid I attended the Waldorf School in Chicago. Waldorf schools are small private schools that exist in various parts of the country and focus on arts and a very specific method of education—they do not teach you how to read until about third grade—and they have been described by a few online articles as “cultish.” Part of the curriculum is the very specific requirement that students do not watch any TV or movies at home, a requirement that some families chose to follow. Mine did, to an extent.

So, between the ages of three and seven, I was not allowed to watch TV. Two exceptions were made for Barney (because I watched it one time at my friend’s house and became obsessed) and the movie “Aristocats,” which my sister and I watched over and over. I couldn’t read (since the school was not teaching me how to—I did not even know how to write lowercase letters by the end of first grade), so most of my free time was spent playing make–believe with my sister. At night, my dad would read to us before bed.

At the end of first grade my family moved from Chicago to outside of Philadelphia, where my sister and I enrolled in public school. My TV consumption was no longer restricted, but at this point I had become accustomed to not watching often. Once I learned how to read, I spent all of my time doing so, playing with my sister and our American Girl dolls and, when I did watch TV, I only watched the Star Wars movies (weird in itself, but this restriction came from me).

My parents had my brother when I was six, so when we moved he was only two. He never attended Waldorf, and his TV consumption was never restricted. He grew up watching cartoons after school and in the mornings. He didn’t have a sibling close in age to play make–believe with and the only times he would read were when my parents or his teachers forced him to.

Growing up with heavily restricted media consumption left a sizable gap in my cultural knowledge that I am still trying to fill. I don’t know if I would ever restrict my children’s media intake the way mine was, but I do firmly believe in it to some degree—provided it is coupled with an environment that encourages reading and other pastimes. While it may seem strange to most, I feel my lack of childhood television intake has had a positive and profound effect on who I am, and I would not want to change it.

Check out our other "Living Our Lives in Film" Identity Essays:

Alison Elliott

Julia Wang

Hallie Brookman

Dan Spinelli

Rebecca Gever


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