Turn off the TV week begins Jan. 24 at in Sammamish. The goal is to look at life beyond the tube, even for just seven days. It’s a good idea, especially since the ban will end in time for the Super Bowl. But seriously, the problem is getting out of hand, especially when the average child watches 1,650 minutes of TV a week, while spending only 3.5 minutes in meaningful dialogue with their parents, according to a California State University Northridge website. What’s wrong with this picture? Everything. And that’s why Sunny Hills wants to buck the trend.
Last year, half of all Sunny Hills students made it through a whole week without grabbing the remote. Many more were able to go screen-less for at least a day. Kim Spataro, this year’s TV Turnoff chairwoman, is encouraging kids to avoid all flickering screens, including computers and video games, unless needed for homework. She’s hoping the abstinence will extend beyond a week and that students discover other fun activities. “Things they don’t think about now when they get home,” she said.
Spataro is not only a parent but a teacher. She compares TV watching to eating junk food. “It’s like sweets and fat," she said. "If that’s all you ate you’d feel awful.” Spataro cites studies that show too much TV leads to childhood obesity, attention problems and sleep difficulties.
When I was a kid, we played outdoors with arms and legs instead of inside with a mouse and joystick. Of course, technology wasn’t what it is now and therein lies the temptation. I remember our first TV was a black and white Motorola, as big as a VW bug and weighing about the same. The set took forever to warm up. We would click it on, see a tiny gray dot on the screen and wait for it to grow bigger. About two minutes later, there would be a grainy picture of Captain Kangaroo. It often took so long to warm up that my brother and I got bored waiting and went out to play. Now we need a designated week to encourage that.
Television is a tough habit to kick. Instead of one clunky old set, the average home today has almost three. Most are high-definition widescreens that use half the power but take twice the space. Remotes and 3-D glasses have become part of America’s family room furniture. I confess I’m just as guilty. We bought our first flat panel set last year and of course had to ask the kids how to program the remote to turn it on. Never mind looking for the power switch. It's as tiny as a grain of salt and hidden in the back behind about 217 HDMI inputs.
But that's all a moot point next week, at least for Sunny Hills. The PTA is sending cards home to parents to encourage other activities in place of TV and computer games. Some, like Kim Spataro won’t need the reminder. She said her house is already TV-free, except for the occasional family video. I admire that and as a guy who has made a living being on TV, I support those who turn off the tube. I will do the same, as soon as I find the remote.
Editor's note: Rick Van Cise is a broadcast journalist, meteorologist and freelance writer. If you think a week without TV is a long time, have you considered going unplugged for half a year? One family in New York did, as The Associated Press reports.