A Week with No TV


How did families in a Cub Scout den fare during their participation in National TV-Turnoff Week? First, they survived. Second, they even enjoyed it!

Pondering his next move in a game of checkers with his dad, Brian Allen realizes changing channels isn’t an option.

Cub Scout Brian Allen doesn’t understand what all this TV fuss is about—and that’s a healthy sign.

Last April, Brian and the families of Den 1, Pack 7, of Roanoke, Va., joined the almost 24 million Americans who have done the unthinkable one week a year since 1995: They ignored their televisions for seven straight days.

“I didn’t miss TV at all,” Brian said. However, the experiment did force him to change his routine of eating both breakfast and a snack after school in front of the TV. Instead, he joined his family for breakfast in the dining room, and after school he read, used his Game Boy, or played outdoors.


Simple and rewarding

Lauren Wolowski enjoys a book, which, unlike TV, isn’t interrupted by commercials.

The TV-Turnoff Network reports that the average American spends four hours daily in front of the tube. Two out of three children age 8 and older have a TV in their room, according to a study by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (http://www.kff.org/). And about half the 3,100 children in that study said the family television set is on during dinnertime.

While such statistics show how TV consumes the lives of young people, there is good news. The experiences of the Cub Scouts in Den 1 (and of other families who participate in the TV-Turnoff Week) demonstrate that altering the pattern—if only for seven days— is not difficult. And it can lead to positive changes in viewing habits.

Yard play for Frankie Wolowski (top right) included bug-catching and a water fight.

The Cub Scouts agreed that doing without TV was simple—and even rewarding. They were surprised at how little they missed television and how much more time they had for other endeavors, especially family-related ones.

Frankie Wolowski, for example, listed the things he did during the times he would usually watch TV, such as after school or on the weekend: went fishing with his dad, Frank; played hide-and-go-seek; took naps; put together a jigsaw puzzle; listened to his dad talk about his experiences in Vietnam; caught bugs in the yard; and had a water fight.

The joy of reading fiction

Sean Flynn said doing without TV was not difficult mainly because he doesn’t watch much during the week. And on Sunday, his heavy TV day, he used the free time for some extra effort on his schoolwork.

Sean’s dad, Dan, checked the morning stock market reports on the computer instead of turning on the TV and replaced his late-night Sunday viewing with a more thorough reading of the Sunday newspaper and a book. In the process, he found some new reading interests.

Dan Flynn replaced TV viewing by reading the newspaper and enjoying two books of fiction.

“In our 15 years of marriage, I had never seen Dan read any fiction, but he was able to really enjoy two fiction books,” said Sean’s mother, Anna. “And I enjoyed the quiet at night. [During the week] the kids kept themselves busy with activities like Scouts, swimming, and baseball. Plus, the weather was beautiful, so we played outside a lot.”

“I was surprised at how well the kids did without TV,” Brian Allen’s mom, Margaret, said. “They didn’t complain at all and found things to do on their own.

“My husband and I missed the TV some, especially later on in the evenings, after the kids were in bed. But it was easy to find other equally rewarding things to do. It’s good to know that everyone in our family can survive—and even be enriched—without television.”

Tyler Campbell finished his homework, then worked on improving his baseball skills instead of turning on the TV set.

Tyler Campbell replaced his after-homework television with baseball practice, working on his batting and throwing skills. Later in the evening, he read or spread out on the floor with his set of plastic construction blocks, where his father, Kirby, sometimes joined him. On other days, “when I finished dinner, Dad and I played a game of chess.”

“I didn’t miss television at all,” Zachary Zoller reported. Instead, he “helped my mom [Sue] plant flowers; raced on my skateboard with my sister, Annemarie, and my brother, Christopher; played baseball and soccer; watered plants; and helped Dad [Jeff] mow the yard.”


Zachary Zoller filled his TV time with outdoor family activities, like planting flowers with his mom, Sue …

… and practicing the piano, undisturbed by TV sounds. “I didn’t miss television at all,” Zachary reported when the week was over.

Changing viewing habits

“The interest in TV-Turnoff Week continues to grow,” says TV-Turnoff Network’s executive director Frank Vespe. “All kinds of places—schools, churches, and organizations—are participating … We’re becoming more and more part of the annual fabric for a lot of people.”

A week of no television is a personal statement about TV’s excessive demand on our time, Vespe says. He notes that even when viewing is limited to quality programs, too much time in front of the tube is still not good.

Resources that help parents and children make wise choices about what to watch are valuable, he says. “But we encourage parents not to use television as a baby sitter. Parents need to help their kids develop interests that take them away from TV. A lot of people don’t know how to not watch television anymore.”

Helping out in the kitchen, Charles Blevins learns what it takes to make a perfect meatball.


A different point of view

Can avoiding TV for a week help to change one’s viewing habits afterward?

“In our organizer’s kit, we have a questionnaire about how the week went,” says Vespe. “A lot of people report that they … watch a lot less and a lot smarter. They tend to surf much less.”

John Bentley (middle) and friends discover that, unlike watching most TV programs, working in the garden can provide both satisfaction and rewarding results.

And almost three months after their TV-free experiment, the families in Den 1 reported that, to varying degrees, they had changed how they watch TV.

Some pay more attention to program choice. “The experience has made us a little more selective,” Margaret Allen says. “We have about three shows that we regularly watch.” Their son, Brian, “was surprised about how little [not having TV] mattered,” she adds. “Now it’s not that big a deal for him if he misses a show he was interested in.”

And that type of reaction, says TV-Turnoff Network’s Frank Vespe, is a good example of the goal of TV-Turnoff Week—to help people focus “on the time spent and how much of your life you give to television.”

Writer John H. Ostdick is committee chairman of Troop 80 in Dallas, Tex.

Seven Ways to Unplug Children From the TV Set

To help diminish the negative impact that excessive television viewing has on the quality of family life, parents can institute year-round rules that set some viewing parameters for their children. Joan Anderson, the co-author of the 1998 book Getting Unplugged (John Wiley & Sons), recommends some basic television guidelines devised by educators for parents:

  • Allow no television on school nights.
  • Make children accountable for their tasks in the evening. Empty their backpacks and look for instructions from their teachers.
  • Participate in a no-TV week, if only because it forces you to spend more time doing something different with your kids.
  • Have more conversations with your kids. When they come home, they have so much to say and want to tell you about their day.
  • Limit the amount of time children can watch TV. Children actually want appropriate boundaries and limits.
  • Make bedtime 8 or 8:30 p.m. for most elementary school-age children. They need more sleep than most parents realize.
  • Allow no television viewing before school.

Too Much TV? Take the TV Quiz

1. How many television sets do you own?
2. Where are the sets located?
 Living room
 Family room
3. How many hours a day do you watch?
4. How many hours of TV does each child watch every day? 
How many children are in your household? 
5. Do you watch TV alone or with others? 
6. Do you/they watch TV because you are bored or have nothing to do? 
7. Do you/they ever turn off a show that doesn’t interest you? 
8. Does your TV set(s) remain on for long periods of time, or even when you or your children are not watching? 
9. Do you/they watch TV in bed at night? 
10. Is the TV on during meals? 
11. Do you turn off the set when someone drops in to visit? 
12. Do certain TV shows have an emotional effect on you/them? 
13. Do you ever turn on the set to entertain your preschoolers? 
14. Do you ever rent videos to entertain your preschoolers? 
15. Do you watch TV mainly to relax? 
16. Would you miss TV if you didn’t have a set? 

Don’t be surprised if you scored more than 85. Ninety percent of those who have taken this test score well over 85, and there is no reason your family should be any different. Remember, television was designed to entice, electrify, and entertain, so it’s really not your fault that it has wormed its way into your life.

However, after reading the symptoms and dangers of television addiction, it is your fault if you allow you and your family to continue to be held by television’s power. It’s time to get unplugged and begin to control your television instead of the other way around.

Reprinted from Getting Unplugged, © 1998, by Joan Anderson and Robin Wilkins, John Wiley & Sons Inc.

National TV-Turnoff Week is the last week in April

To promote healthier lives and communities, the TV-Turnoff Network encourages children and adults to watch less television every April by participating in National TV-Turnoff Week.

The event, scheduled for April 23-29 this year, “helps move beyond discussions about program content and instead focuses on what all TV-viewing displaces—creativity, productivity, healthy physical activity, civic engagement, reading, thinking, and doing,” says Frank Vespe, executive director of the national nonprofit organization.

Last year’s TV-free exercise was endorsed by U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, 32 state governors, and 61 other organizations. The event is now observed in 50,000 schools throughout the country, with organizers providing a variety of activities for students and families.

Individuals or organizations interested in participating can order an organizer’s kit fromhttp://www.tvturnoff.org or by phone, (800) 939-6737.

Studies Reveal Scope and Impact of Too Much TV

With Americans spending an average of 40 percent of their free time viewing television, the negative effects of excessive TV-watching are taking a serious toll. Major studies reveal thesignificant extent to which TV dominates the lives of American children and their families and the negative impact that can result from a too-much-TV lifestyle.

More TVs, less parent involvement. In many homes, opportunities to watch TV in some form are more available than ever. According to studies by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center (http://www.appcpenn.org), almost half of families with children age 2 to 17 have a television, VCR, computer, and video game player. More of these families subscribe to an Internet service than a daily newspaper. They average nearly three TV sets per household.

The studies found 85 percent of parents worry about what their children watch on TV, but only 40 percent have sets equipped with V-chips or other blocking technology. Further, according to the studies, the percentage of parents who are familiar with rating guidelines for TV shows has declined from 70 percent in 1997 to 50 percent in 2000.

A link to violence. More than 2,000 studies have linked TV-violence to real-life violence. In reporting one study that shows children’s TV programs contain about 20 violent acts each hour, the Washington, D.C.-based American Psychological Association (http://www.apa.org/pubinfo/violence.html) notes that children who watch a lot of television are more likely to think that the world is a mean and dangerous place.

Studies cited by the Minneapolis-based National Institute on Media and the Family (http://www.mediafamily.org) show that a child who watches an average of two to four hours of television daily will witness 8,000 murders and more than 100,000 other acts of violence by the end of elementary school, and by age 18, 200,000 acts of violence, including 40,000 murders.

Health and quality of life. Major medical studies link excessive TV watching to heightened obesity. Watching TV 10 or more hours a week negatively affects academic achievement. More than half of 4- to 6-year-olds would rather watch TV than be with their fathers. By age 65, the average American will have spent nine years watching TV.


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