23 April 2007

TV Turnoff Week: What's your plan?

It's TV Turnoff Week, and parents all over the country are shaking in their boots wondering what life without "screen time" will look, sound and feel like. I'm one of those parents. Compared to the national stats, we don't watch nearly as much TV as most families, but we do like our Wii, our Gameboy, and our hour or two per week of post-bedtime TiVo-based mindless entertainment (read: Lost and Battlestar Gallactica). Any "screen time" counts -- it's more about unplugging than television, specifically.

We don't have a specific plan this week, but I do intend to talk to the kids about why TV Turnoff week exists. Do you plan to participate? If so, what's your plan?

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I have a kid with a significant speech delay. It was a video, Baby Babble, that first got him to attempt speech. And it is Blue's Clues that prompted most of his first words. So, no, I won't turn off the TV. I'm highly selective about what and how much my kids watch -- my kids are ONLY allowed to watch TiVo, NEVER TV -- but the shows I have selected are all there for a reason, and I consider them part of my son's therapy.

We turn off the TV every weekday anyway. Caveat: we do watch about 5 minutes a day of the Weather Channel to prep for the next day, but that's all the Sunday evening through Friday afternoon viewing we do. Turning off the TV during the week is the second most positive family decision we've made (second behind dh starting his own business so he's more available to the family) and I don't regret it for a minute.

When we do watch, it's almost always Tivo so we see programming we want to see instead of whatever is on. With great weather, 2 kids in soccer, and church commitments, we're not that tuned in on the weekends either. I encourage other families to see what turning the screen to black will do for their families.

We weren't going to participate, but Teela (now 11) insisted. (I'm Teela's dad.) The weather is cooperating, so we're at least going to start with a walk to the park. She is also working on a Social Studies project that will get us to a local newsstand for out-of-town newspapers.

I have two books arriving tomorrow, and Teela and her mother both have a backlog of books, so that will get us through. The roughly hour a night of TV we like is getting recorded anyway (another DVR family), so I don't know that taking a week off will matter, or whether our total annual TV watching will be conserved.

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My son's elementary school does a huge weeklong blowout for this week every year, and they host PTA-sponsored events every schoolday after school. Unfortunately, there isn't transportation, so parents who work full-time can't really have their (our) kids take advantage of all this great stuff.

I'm very pleased that TV-Turnoff Week is coinciding with the appearance of spring here in the Chicagoland area, so our TV alternative will likely be riding bikes/trikes, going to the playground, etc.

I'm probably more anxious about this than my kids; the rule is they're not allowed to watch any TV until after I get home from work and "okay" it, so they have to amuse themselves in the afternoon anyway. However, if I'm forced to go on hiatus from the Food Network and HBO for a week, I go into severe withdrawal...

You mean this includes adults too? That didn't occur to me. My kids have never watched any TV (3 & 6) but I turn it on after they go to bed and my eyes have quit focusing on reading- usually at about 9 pm every night. I'm actually not sure if I'll participate or not.

Back in our DINK decade, we found out about TV Turnoff Week through AdBusters (www.adbusters.org).

My anti-corporate sentiment won out against my massive TV addiction for 7 days- and then longer. It was very surprising how much more time, energy, and fun we had- especially during the week.

We eventually moved the tv into a closet only dragging it out for specific programs of interest (and we watch stuff on DVD through our computers too).

We listen to music a lot with our son, and he's far more interested in music than in television (which makes us very happy).

This may not be the case for every family, but for us, not watching much tv has greatly improved our quality of life.

Thanks for mentioning this event, Asha!

We're actually taking the plunge and turning the television off FOREVER!

My parents did this when I was around 6yrs old. My siblings and I were basically addicted to TV and my parents were also worried that the newly expanding channel selection on cable would greatly increase the chances that we would stumble upon inappropriate content (no parental control codes back then). So, they decided to cut the cord. We kept the TV set, but the cable box disappeared and the antenna removed and taken to the basement. We had a VCR and an Atari (both kept in a closet). The antenna only came out for the occasional football game and election coverage. The VCR and video games were only allowed as family activities (ex. family movie night, playing Space Invaders with dad) and typically only comprised 3-4 hrs total per week.

The result... I had read several hundred classic works of English and American literature, Greek mythology, and thousands of mystery, spy, and adventure novels before I entered high-school. My siblings and I also wrote stories, plays, poems. I became seriously interested in the piano, the guitar, and in singing. My 4 siblings also developed similar creative interests such as painting/drawing/sculpting... dance, theatre... and we all read voraciously.

Today, all 5 of us have bachelors degrees in the arts (2 in music, dance, graphic-design, theatre) and post-graduate degrees (business, dance, film, veteranary medicine, history). We each play at least one instrument, speak at least 3 languages, have written at least two books of poetry/short stories/novels. We all enjoy theatre, great books, and 3 of the 5 of us have taken up gourmet cooking as a serious hobby.

I won't say that not having a TV as a kid was THE reason for all of us developing these interests, but considering the 12 or so hours per week that I sit and stare at the TV today (and I don't even play any video games) its easy to see how our life as a family could quickly be reduced to work, sleep, and TV if we continue the way we're going now.

My wife is due with our first in July. Our plan is to keep the Tivo running until the first few months of late-night feedings are behind us... then, dust off the library cards and pull the plug.

PS. I'm the oldest sibling and the first to have kids, but 2 of my other siblings have already fired their TVs in the past couple of years citing a massive decrease in their reading speed since they got hooked on the tube.

PPS. This post is, in no way, meant to judge other parents' TV choices. I truly admire all of you who have the ability to enjoy a moderate amount of TV. For me this just doesn't seem possible... If I have TV available, I will watch it too much.

Michael,

As Adrienne stated, we've participated in TV turn-off week when we were DINKs.

It did affect my moods and general consumerism. Later research showed that people that don't watch TV are generally happier with their station in life and their life choices. They have less of a need to keep up with the Joneses (funny as that's our last name).

I found the same effect in myself. I bought less and generally felt happier. Generally we would end up drifting back to TV, but we've never had cable.

Anyway, when our son was due Adrienne asked me to consider us giving up TV as a family. After all, she found that the American Association of Pediatricians recommends absolutely no TV for children under the the age of 2 and less than 2 hours a week (I believe) for kids under three.

So, I agreed and we took the plunge. We only see "TV" when at friend's or family's homes or when traveling. At night we might watch DVD's on a laptop or shows here and there from things like inntertube (far fewer commericials about lamer things).

Our son doesn't watch TV and is in love with music, which is basically always playing at our house. He listens to everything from Dan Zanes to delta blues to bluegrass to bollywood favorites. If he hears music anywhere, he starts dancing.

I can't express how much I love that. The joy on his face is priceless.

We had a recent hospital stay for him and it was my first exposure to kids DVDs. We were amazed by the number of commercials for toys and other videos that happen AFTER you hit play. It just reinforced our decision for ourselves.

I can agree that I don't judge other people for their TV viewing habits. As parents, we do what appears to work for us and if you can control it, you are my hero. I am an addict. If it is around, I. can't. look. away.

As someone who has resisted turning off the TV every time, I can say that it isn't that bad at first and is completely a non-issue after a while. I have found that I much prefer other activities and don't miss the extra baggage that comes with TV.

Then again, we've never had cable or a Tivo.

We had a teenage niece visit us last week, which was wonderful for the help she gave us with the kids, and abject torture because of the steady stream of crap she watched virtually all day.

I was a TV addict as a kid, too, but "in my day" there weren't (always) multiple channels dedicated 24 hours a day to filling my head with total crap targeted JUST at me and my money. What was scarier was that for every crap food product advertised, my niece had an opinion, because she'd tried it all. Eesh. What was my SIL DOING?

Well, we learned sidelong that she doesn't watch like that at home. Her parents actually block all but the main networks. So every chance she gets, she acts like a starving person at the TV buffet. So in a week at my house, she left it exactly twice. Sigh. Maybe that's what she needed for her spring break.

But TV turnoff week will be very welcome. As for eliminating excess screen time, that's harder for my husband because of his online moonlighting. But we'll see.

Wow, am I impressed. So many of you don't allow your kids to watch tv on a regular basis and that is great. I really applaud you. We have an 18-month-old daughter who does not watch tv. We are constantly barraged by family members asking when we're going to let her watch tv (they think it's a crime!). Personally, I don't see a need for it for her at this time in her life. Our daughter can sit with her books for 20 minutes at a time (and has done this for about six months) just paging through her books picking out animals and objects. She can also recognize printed words and has a vocabulary of hundreds of words. I attribute this to two things - her individual personality/learning ability and that she hasn't been allowed to turn her mind off to watch tv. With that said, I love my DVR and there is a time and a place for drama, but when our daughter was born we changed our viewing habits and have realized we are doing many more meaningful things now.

If you are looking for something to do while your TV is off, how about going to (or mapping) a playground? You can search for one in your neighborhood at http://www.kaboom.org/playspacefinder. If you don't see your local playground, add one. You can even put in pictures, so bring a camera.

KaBOOM! is a nonprofit organization that helps communities build and maintain playgrounds. No one is making money off of the data.

We had planned to participate, I was even set to keep my computer off for the whole week. But my 4-year-old wasn't at all keen on the idea of breaking her routines and I got a short-term computer gig. So we're working to cut down the daily media habit instead of cutting it out entirely.

I never had a TV of my own until we finally caved last November and bought one. We have a DVD player and an antenna and watch TV twice a week-- LOST and Grey's Anatomy. We watch 1-3 movies a week, too (although sometimes a movie is an episode of a TV show on DVD). Total, we watch probably 5 hours a week, which feels like a lot. I don't know how people could watch more!
My problem is the computer. I need to cut it out and start reading more. So I'm going to keep my 5 hours of TV and turn off my laptop, now, and only use it to check email for the week. Wish me luck.

I stopped watching TV last May - got bored with the few shows I had been watching sporadically, and finally decided to see how long I could go without. I have barely missed it. My husband, a news junkie and former reporter, has even stopped watching. I never thought he would give up his TV habit!

It probably helps that we haven't had cable for years, and the TV is kept in a cabinet in the sunroom, which is hot in the summer and unheated/draughty in the winter.

Our toddler is much more interested in books and music (listening or making it himself). The times he has been around a TV, he hasn't shown much interest in it. When he is older, we'll probably let him watch a few shows, but I hope he continues to prefer books, music, and entertaining himself.

This device helps good parents be GREAT parents by limiting the amount of time their kids are watching tv, playing video games, or using the computer.

Ok. I guess I'll be the bad guy. First I really respect folks without tv in their home. I've always wanted to but I don't think I could ever get my family on board. We have grown to love our DVR because we no longer channel surf, we no longer watch total crap ALL the time. I can say I watch four shows a week in the evening after the kids are in bed.

With that said. My kids watch tv. I had aspirations that when *I* had children THEY would NEVER watch TV as young children. The truth of the matter is that media isn't going away. It's here to stay. I choose instead to let my kids watch tv. As toddlers we use commercial free tv on PBS or Noggin. Now that my daughter is starting to become interested in Saturday morning cartoons we've been openly discussing advertising and what it means. She knows that if an ad comes on for a certain breakfast cereal she doesn't have to have it. It also seems that since she spends a lot of time with commercial free tv when she does watch mainstream tv she gets angry everytime an ad makes her show stop. Not a bad thing.

Do I wish my kids didn't watch tv at all? Sometimes. However I have the power to turn it off when I choose and I do. My kids attend daycare where there is no tv allowed. They play all day, they have lessons. We sing and dance every night. We read every night no matter where we are. My daughter actually sleeps with books rather than stuffed animals and it's not uncommon for me to wake up at 2am and hear her reading if she awakes. She carries a bag of books with her everywhere.

I admire those that eliminate the stress of tv from their lives. I don't believe eliminating it will make my children any more gifted or intelligent though. I agree with others and believe it can be harmful in quantity. However I also feel an obligation to help my children understand the media around them and be sensible about it.

What will we do? We'll do what we always do: watch the same quality shows we always enjoy, and not waste time on ones we don't. Everything in moderation.

I think some board games, scrable and the likes would be a good alternative. Although it is not as fun as other activities, it's a good way to have the family enjoy something together.

Our elementary has TV-turnoff for the school year starting in late September and running to June. It grew off the TV-turnonff week. Kids make a pledge of three levels - gold, silver, bronze - for having zero/thirty/sixty minutes of screen time Sunday through Thursday nights. Parent participation is optional and parents sign at the end of the run to verify if the kids made their goal 80-90% of the time, then kids receive an award. There are also exception days for watching like sick days, and other perks like getting extra books from the school library each week.
It is not that hard to do once you get into it, test scores are better among the kids that participate, and the kids actually like it.
Books - the other channel!!

I don't know about lumping TV in with other kinds of screen time. I see a big difference between zoning out in front of Nickelodeon and doing some Wii bowling or reading a Wikipedia article.

I've been TV free since high school- 20 years and counting. People ask me what I do at night. I ask them how in the world they find time for TV... Now, with two boys, we did buy a TV for movies- one a day- which they never seem to finish watching.

Try it, you might like it!

We will not be participating in TV turn-off week. Our family doesn't watch a significant amount of television anyway though. We also believe in doing things --including watching television-- in moderation.
We try to engage the kids in activities --games, discussions, outings, reading of books together, music practice, cooking, and classic movies to ensure that they see all of the wonderful things that they can do that don't involve staring off at the television. But if we put a ban on the television altogether it would be like Prohibition --and the television would be all the more alluring.

Of course, things were not always this way ... We passcoded our cable so that my daughter would not watch endless hours of nonsense (it became necessary years ago when after we put in the block, she would stare at the guide that is still visible and say things like "Sponge Bob --episode 34 that was a good one").

I’m with TV turn off week. Every kid deserves the way nature intends them to play which is interaction with other kid. TV doesn’t need someone esle inorder to enjoy it. It degrades their social life.

Ok... I'm the same Michael that posted the no TV FOREVER comment earlier. I thought I'd throw in a short response to some of the peeps who have commented since, particularly Jennifer.

I agree that there are some benefits from TV for adults and kids alike. Before my parents cut the cord on our TV (and even afterward on video tapes) Sesame Street was a fun way to learn and had a big impact on me. I know that there are lots of good programs out there for kids today too. Also, I do think Jennifer has found a fantastic teaching opportunity since she's talking with her kids about advertising, what's real, what's important, what's not. Fantastic.

I'll also agree that Tivo is a life-changing technology. We have been able to completely screen out the crap that dominates each and every channel and skipping commercials is a beautiful thing.

So, then why would I still want to cut the cord on my TV? It's really a question of time. Sure, my Tivo gives me only good quality programming, commercial-free... but I still sit, inert, on my butt, for hours at a time, staring at a screen and basically zoning out.

Again, for me, its really tough to limit the amount of time I spend watching TV. If I really felt we could keep our TV time to only a couple hours per week, maybe I'd consider keeping it. But as it stands today, I think the TV is more likely to become the boss in our house. (imagine if your boss asked you to spend 10 extra hours per week away from your spouse and kids.)

One last quick comment in response to those who suggest that a permanent TV shut-off will cause prohibition-esque TV-bootlegger reactions... As I will be a first-time parent this summer and since I don't know your situation (or child) specifically anyway, I probably can't agree or disagree with you. But I will say, as someone who grew up in a house where my parents permanently cut the cord, this was really not an issue. Sure, we were prone to gorging ourselves on TV once in a while when sleeping over at a friend's house, but I can honestly say we never really missed it at home and never once (in my recollection) asked my parents to bring back the TV (whereas, our insane lust for a swimming pool was a daily battle).

To sum up, I applaud those who give the boob-tube the boot and those who thoughtfully and purposefully (and with much self-control) make TV an entertaining and educational part of their family's life. Your mileage may vary.

I wish I could come on and talk about banning tv from my house. But I am, admittedly, an addict. At the end of the day my husband and I are exhausted, him from work, me from taking care of our "spirited" 9 month old. We want to collapse on the couch and flip on the tv from 8 to 10 or 11. This isn't entirely inactive time. We talk, Rob does some work on his laptop, I fold laundry. Its very relaxing. And there are really well written, intelligent programs out there that are as much art as a lot of books.

As for my baby, she watchs a little commercial free children's programming every day. Frankly, she's always been an extremely demanding baby and sometimes Backyardigans is the only way I can get her to stop crying or let me get some lunch. What it comes down to for me is, you do what you need to do. We still go to the park and on stroller walks two or three times a day, play with toys, read, etc.

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