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My husband and I are visiting my family for Christmas. I moved out and have lived separately from them for 10 years or so. We're staying with my parents. The TV in their home is on all the time. We don't have a TV at home and generally find the constant noise in the background to be disruptive. Nonetheless, I can live with that. It's their choice and their house and I can cope with the TV noise for a few days.

Nonetheless, It seems like whenever all of us are together (8 or so of us) and the TV is there, the default is "let's watch something". It almost feels like the laziest option. I don't want to watch TV. I want to talk to them. My husband and I didn't drive 3 hours to watch TV. We drove to visit them. To talk to my family and spend quality time with them.

A few months ago my family came to visit at my place and it was so great! There was no TV and we sat around chatting and it was so nice! Last night I sat there watching random stuff on TV and just thinking "why can't we just turn this rubbish off and talk?!"

I know that my family have a very different view on TV. We didn't have a TV for years and when we did my parents were pretty strict about it. And perhaps they do view it as quality time even though I don't. Since becoming empty nesters it seems it has become a big part of how they spend their time. I know that not many people share my view. But I really don't like coming for Christmas if all were going to do is sit around watching TV.

How do I encourage my parents to turn the TV off and talk to us more?

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Interesting. I do share your view and this used to happen a lot to me during holidays when I visited my boyfriend's parents. It used to really bore me to have to watch TV to pass the time and I always wondered, "Don't these people have anything to talk about?". I realized that they probably don't communicate much when they are alone but I was finally able to chat a little with my boyfriend's mom while he watched TV with his dad.

Since this isn't your in-laws it might be easier to approach your parents with honesty. What I would do is have a conversation with either my mother or father, you pick the one who you think might understand this better, prior to visiting and just emphasize how much you had enjoyed it when they had visited you at your place, without the TV.

I don't see anything wrong with you telling them straight up that you don't particularly enjoy watching TV and ask them, include them in coming up with alternatives together. That way you avoid feelings of awkwardness and misery during Christmas day.

OR

if you think this won't cause problems if done while you're at their place, the key to

just thinking "why can't we just turn this rubbish off and talk?!

is to share that thought out loud with a sense of humor and by counter-suggesting when you hear the familiar "let's watch something".

A good idea is to have some things in mind for when you get there. Bring some board games or have some activity ready. Or simply start talking about a subject that you know is engaging to them.

I used to live with my boyfriend's family in a city (south US) that got hit by a tornado once. There was no electricity for a week. I had one of the best times of my life away from TV, computers and phones, playing card games, board games, and just chatting or spending time outside in nature.

I'm sure you can come up with examples like that to show your parents what quality time with them really means to you and how much you would like it if they valued or appreciated that. You're exactly right when you say that you didn't drive for three hours to watch TV. Even if you said just that to them in a warm tone, would be enough for most people to get the message.

Or if you have other than watching TV past Christmas memories with your family, when you used to do X, Y, or Z instead, bring that up, too.

Get your husband to also suggest alternatives when you raise the issue with your parents.

8

Why not try the direct approach?

Simply ask:

Can we turn the TV off for a while and just talk?

Not everything needs a careful nuanced approach. Sometimes just asking is a good way to go. If you ask and they're resistant to turning it off, then it's probably worth explaining why you'd like to turn it off.

We don't get to spend a lot of time together, and I'd like to make the most of it.

Try not to make it about a general aversion to television. Rather lean towards things you'd like to do instead. Conversation, card games, or what have you. Sometimes a deck of cards can help to create some room for good conversation.

8

As a family that has the TV on a lot, I'd like to offer a different perspective of this. This answer works primarily for sports though, where you can ignore the TV for a while without missing much. If your family puts on a TV show where they have to pay attention, this isn't the answer for you.

My family and I have football on most of the day for most holidays. We don't have it on because we're riveted to each and every play, though; most of the time, we don't actually care that much about the game. Instead, we have it on because it gives us a conversational "meeting point".

For example, this Christmas, we had the Steelers-Texans game on (among others). For those who aren't football fans, it was pretty obvious this was a one-sided matchup, which usually translates into an uninteresting game. That didn't really matter though! None of us wanted to watch football in silence after all, we wanted an excuse to start up conversation. The Texans have a star defender, JJ Watt, who raised $37 million in relief for Hurricane Harvey, so we spent a good deal talking about that, about fundraising, about Houston's recovery after the hurricane, and so on. My brother's girlfriend lives in Wisconsin, where JJ Watt is from. She moved the conversation to Wisconsin in general, which led to its own long tangent! One of the Texans recovered from cancer and was playing yesterday. We obviously spoke a while about him too.

I'll concede that most of us enjoy talking about football itself, but most of our conversation didn't really involve football at all. In addition, if anyone suggested something besides watching football, we were quick to jump on it! My brother suggested playing Settlers of Catan, and 4 of us went to play that, while those uninterested kept watching. After our game, we reconvened and rejoined the conversation. That's why I describe the TV as a "meeting point". Any of us are happy to do something else, but barring that we have an easy option to gather together and talk.

But Lord Farquaad, I don't know anything about football! It's hard to jump into conversation!

I know, I felt the same way for a long time. I found learning a conversational amount about whatever they're watching goes a long way (I also ended up loving football, but your mileage may vary there). My brother's girlfriend doesn't care that much about football, but by keeping tabs on JJ Watt, a prominent player from her city, she was able to move the conversation to something she was interested in.

This is actually just a good IPS skill in general. You'll find that regardless of your family's interests, it will be much easier to jump into conversation if you're a little familiar with that area. It also makes it easier to identify if and when you should suggest another activity. If the game were tied with a minute to go when my brother suggested Settlers of Catan, noone would've joined him. Instead, he waited until one team (I won't say which) was up by a good amount, knowing we'd care less about the game.

All in all, I suggest you observe your family a little and see why they have the TV on. If they're giving it their undivided attention, you will have to suggest turning it off. If they're talking over it though, or willing to do other activities, join in on that! Suggest things they might like to do, and many are likely to join! Learn a little about what they're watching, and use that to move the conversation to things you'd like to talk about! They're using the TV as a social tool, you can too!

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    "we don't actually care that much about the game" - +1 for this, if TV on is the norm the brief silences during conversation become very uncomfortable so it could well be that the TV is on, not to watch but to fill the gaps. It also ensures there is always something to talk about if ever everyone runs out of topics at the same time. – Lord Jebus VII Jan 8 '18 at 17:04
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For a most people, myself included, we have a tendency to do what is easiest or comfortable in the absence of something better. You could call it a default setting. And yes it can be a laziness. At other times it can be an aversion to something different.

As the other person has stated. You can simply ask them to turn it off, but I would also add, you need a substitute activity to fill the empty space, especially one that will pike their interest. You could suggest activities like going out, or playing games, and if nothing invent a new kind of past time.

I would also suggest that you make your desire known prior to visiting so that they are more open to it ahead of time. In fact you could even enlist them in helping arrange said activity. The more effort they have invested the more committed they will become. It's all a matter of bringing people out of their comfort zone.

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I've actually done this at a friend's house (with their permission). They had complained about the excessive TV watching by their kids when friends were visiting, so I dummied up a power cable with the actual wires cut in the middle. About half an hour before arrival, the cables were switched.

You'd be surprised how little TV watching goes on when there's no way for the electrons to get to the TV. Just keep in mind that, if you pull this trick too often, even the dumbest people will begin to suspect something :-)

  • Haha, this wouldn't work at all in my parents household, my dad's an engineer, he'd have that debugged in no time. Good idea for non-technical households though. What I ended up doing was just telling my mom about it. Not in a big deal kind of way, rather a "I'm so over TV" kind of way which started the topic and they were happy to turn it off more often. – user6818 Jan 2 '18 at 12:48
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    we went to a big house party and just locked the tv cable away. The kids went and played in the huge garden and woods, rather than spending ALL day watching films in the dark. – WendyG Jan 25 '18 at 12:37
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Lead, and engage people in activity - eg if you are a skilled cook, plan a meal that will be outstanding but requires everyone's assistance. Bonus points for managing to send groups of two or more people on errands - that tends to have them bring up topics amongst them that can enter the bigger conversation circle later. This will keep everyone off TV for a while, and might make YOU more TV tolerant later on since you will enjoy relaxation after activity.

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Be positive. Don't complain about the TV, talk up the joys of conversation or some other activity.

Aim small: Don't ask for no TV the whole time, just an hour or so here or there. "Hey, I'd be able to concentrate better without the TV on for a bit, would that be ok?"

Be prepared to lead: Suggest the activity and run with it. Maybe you have some photos you want to share. Or a story. Or a game. Even just "Who's up for some good old fashioned family conversation?"

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