Turning off the tube


TV-free week provides more family time


Gina Ulrich always thought it would be fun to see a television shatter. But the mother of two never imagined how exhilarated she would feel until last month when she threw her 36-inch TV off her Oak Park balcony.

Ironically, Ulrich says she is a television fan. But she limits her daughters’ viewing, and she and her husband have gone up to two years without television in the past. This time, she knew they all needed a break when she and her husband were “self-medicating” with television—watching it from 7:30 p.m. until bedtime—to avoid confronting their stress about an upcoming move. One night she even found herself shushing her 5-year-old daughter during an episode of “Friends.”

“That’s it,” she thought. “That thing has got to go.”

If you want to bid your tube adieu, but know that a crashing set would have your neighbors whispering for weeks, TV-Turnoff Week is a milder approach. From April 21-27, the TV-Turnoff Network is encouraging families to turn off the TV and turn on family interaction by enjoying life’s many remote-control-free pleasures.

“Parents need to emphasize the good things that come from not watching television,” says Loyola University’s Dr. Miriam Bar-On. “Once children get into the swing of things and bypass the TV withdrawal stage, they don’t seem to miss it.”

Research shows American children spend, on average, 19 hours a week watching TV and just 38 minutes a week engaged in meaningful conversation. The key to helping kids resist the alluring flicker is to keep them busy, says Bar-On, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Commitee on Public Education. “Have great activities planned. Do things together as a family.”

Plan weekend museum visits, picnics or day trips. During the week, suggest board games, jigsaw puzzles or reading aloud. Finding alternatives for even a few days can impact future habits, the TV-Turnoff Network says. Ninety percent of past participants say they now watch less television or choose to watch it more selectively.

For some, TV-Turnoff Week is a good first step. For others, like Ulrich, more extreme measures are needed to improve family and community interaction. “Even with as little TV as I watch, I know more about J. Lo and Ben Affleck than I do about my neighbors,” she says. “That’s just sad.”

To learn more, visit www.tvfa.org. or call (202) 518-5556.


-- Stephanie Pfeffer


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