Turn it Off and Tune it Out
by Kim Green-Spangler
Did you know that the average American watches approximately four hours of television each day, including children? That by age 18 the average American child will see more than 200,000 violent acts (including murders) on television? That the proportion of overweight children has more than doubled in the last 25 years, and that approximately 2/3 of the American population has a weight related issue?
What is the relationship between television and weight? A sedentary lifestyle due to the invention of the remote (at least before the remote controlled television one had to get up to at least change a station) and the glorification of an unhealthy diet (exactly how many fast food and cake/cookie/chip or sugary cereal commercials can be squeezed into a one hour television show?) due to maximum exposure. The average American household has more than one television and most children even have a television in their rooms. The readily available television has made it easy to embrace a lifestyle almost completely devoid of physical activity and it's created a national epidemic.
Not only is television unhealthy physically, but research shows that children who watch television for an hour or less each day are better readers and perform better at school work, so television is adversely impacting education as well. Most children who spend less time watching television transfer some of that time to reading and imaginative/creative play, thus improving reading skills and developing brain activity.
April 24-30 is National Turn off Television Week. Educators and parents across the country are encouraged to embrace the concept of this week to get children involved in healthier habits. In fact, More Reading, Less TV (MRLTV) is a program designed and dedicated to promoting less television in households in order to increase reading time/skills, screen-free activities and family time.
Since its implementation, more than 30,000 children nationwide have benefited from the MRLTV program. Children that were classified as poor readers were more than twice as likely to opt for a book after participating in the program. For more information visit www.tvturnoff.org.
Once television is reinstated - try to keep it to a minimum, by substituting activities that are more fun, preferably activities that involve the whole family. Yes, parents should also reduce their television viewing habits as role models for children. While substitutions to television may initially be met with some resistance, once young family members realize that this is not a passing phase and the adults are strongly committed to making the alternatives work - they'll come around. They'll probably even come to look forward to the new activities. Just be prepared in case it takes a little time.
How to make less television a way of everyday life
- Allow no more than an hour of favorite programming each day. Better yet, record the program and fast forward through commercials, or purchase a system that allows commercials to be eliminated altogether.
- Implement a family reading time each day, where adults read to younger children and take turns having the older children read to them.
- Make a list of 15 to 20 other things to do as a family and plan to do at least one new activity on a weekly basis. Add to the list regularly.
- Visit the library and take out a few new books on a regular basis. Provide books and gift cards/certificates to local or online bookstores as gifts.
- Get moving. Exercise as a family. Take walks, schedule nature hikes, ride bikes together, etc. Just start moving together and watch energy levels, moods and productivity soar.
Just remember, it's never to early or to late to try to tame television viewing habits. Minimizing the amount of time spent watching television can improve education, health, and the family bond.
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