Adding to family togetherness by subtracting TV

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 24, 2001

Monday a week without television began at our house.

Tuesday, April 24, 2001

Monday a week without television began at our house. We’ve been participating in TV Free Week for a couple of years, usually at the parents’ suggestion, but this year the kids brought it up and seemed be excited about it. Maybe it’s one of those things they can brag about in front of their friends. &uot;Open heart surgery? A metal spike sticking out of your skull? That’s nothing. We didn’t watch TV for ONE WHOLE WEEK!&uot;

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Each year it gets a little easier, but it’s still hard to give up those precious moments spent in front of the tube each week. Little kids will miss out on Zoboomafoo and Between the Lions. The bigger kid will skip her weekly visit to Ballykissangel and the Grace Bros. Department Store (from Are You Being Served?). All of us will miss Arthur and The Red Green Show. Mama and Papa will have to find a different &uot;babysitter&uot; for after school and rainy days.

I already know we’re going to cheat, though, because we’re ending TV Free Week on Friday, instead of Sunday, so that mama and papa get to watch Star Trek: Voyager on Saturday night. Turning off the TV for a week is fine, just don’t mess with our Star Trek!

I think giving up TV for a while is good for us. One reason I enjoy vacations in general (and trips to Whitefish Lake north of Brainerd in particular) is the absence of the TV in our lives. We can do things without having to worry about this show or that one being on at a particular time.

Watching less TV all of the time would be even better. More and more it seems as though kids come home from school or wake up on Saturday morning acting as if watching TV were a right, granted them by God or the Constitution. Once that tube gets turned on, kids sit, slack jawed and inattentive to any comments, questions or directives issued at them by anyone. And I’m no better. I generally prefer books to TV, but there are times when people have to stand between me and the set in order to get my attention. There are plenty of other adults like that out there.

How many of us visit someone’s home and find that the TV is left on the entire time, whether anyone is watching it or not? Why are there three televisions in the fitness room at the Y? Why are we surrounded by television sets at restaurants like Applebees? There’s a lot of good stuff on television, but there’s more junk than treasure. Who really cares about the winner of Survivor? Or of Millionaire? Will we remember who they are a year from now?

Here are some hard numbers to go with my opinions. According to Barbara Brock, a researcher from Eastern Washington University, parents in households with little or no television time spent over four hours each week just &uot;chatting&uot; with their kids, ten times the national average. More facts?

Children in homes with little or no TV time are 80 percent more likely to participate in a sport and 70 percent more likely to be practicing a musical instrument or singing. TV viewing takes up a lot of time and sucks up a lot of energy. When we look for reasons that explain an almost 25 percent obesity rate among children, I don’t think we have to look much further than the average living room.

What will our family do with the hours of family togetherness created by a silent television set? Go for walks when the weather allows. Play tag or hide and seek. Bring out the board games. Read more books and listen to more music. The week will pass more quickly than we think.

Oh, and I almost forgot one thing. TV Free week will be easier at our house this year for one very important, and very unexpected reason: the great windstorm back in April that pulled down barns and silos knocked down our TV antenna. We get our usual channels, but the reception is often so poor that I can’t watch more than an hour at a time without getting a headache from all of the snow and static. Maybe it’s time to invest in satellite …

David Behling is a rural Albert Lea resident. His column appears Tuesdays.