10th TV turnoff week is April 19-25 By Susy Schultzphoto illustration by Jason Smith
"Please Mom, can't we just turn off the TV? At least for one week? Everybody is doing it. Please." I don't think I will hear this coming from my boys, but I have hopes. And I have the remote control.
That is why from April 19-25, we will turn off the TV. Along with millions of other families, we will take part in TV Turnoff Week 2004.
This is the 10th year the Washington D.C. based TV Turnoff Network has organized the national effort. Last year, the group estimates, about 7 million people voluntarily endured one week without television.
This year, they hope even more families join, thanks to the halftime Super Bowl show in which Justin Timberlake ripped off Janet Jackson's costume, exposing her breast on national TV.
As a result, the Federal Communications Commission has cracked down on both television and radio. Hearings have been held and people are looking a bit more carefully at what is being aired.
"The public has never been more upset about what is happening on television," says Karen Lewis, TV Turnoff Network's program director. "This anything-goes spirit is rooted in an advertising industry that is without limits."
Being aware of what children are watching is important, but Lewis' group believes parents must also be concerned with the amount of television children are watching.
Lewis says it's important to remember that TV, like any industry, is driven by revenues. The more people watch a program, the more the stations charge for commercials. And children are a big target for advertisers. It is estimated that more than $12 billion a year is spent in advertising to children.
Some of the largest advertisers-the fast-food industry and drink companies-target children aggressively, according to Susan Linn, associate director of the Media Center of Judge Baker Children's Center at Harvard Medical School. These commercials are a key contribution to the rise in childhood obesity and the epidemic of type 2 diabetes in children, according to a report issued last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The average child watches three hours of television a day and, as a result, spends more time in front of the TV than at school over the course of a year. The more time a child spends in front of TV, the more likely the child is to be overweight, the Kaiser report concludes. Children ages 8 and under are vulnerable to commercials because they don't yet have the cognitive ability to understand the persuasive intent of commercials.
Children see about 40,000 commercials a year. Last month, the American Psychological Association recommended that advertising to children under age 8 should be banned because children are so susceptible.
Turning off the TV for one week helps families re-examine their TV habits and adjust to new ones that might promote more family time, more conversation, more reading or more exercise.
There is still time to organize a turnoff in your neighborhood and use peer pressure as a helpful parenting tool. You will find what you need to know at TV Turnoff Network's Web site www.tvturnoff.org.
Susy Schultz is editor of Chicago Parent.