Thursday, April 22, 2010

Beyond National TV-Turnoff Week

I like the amount of support that my kids' school provides for National TV-Turnoff Week. They promote the concept verbally with the kids, but they also offer a range of supportive activities. For instance, the kids are given reading logs a couple weeks ahead of time to track their reading on. If they get up to seven hours over about an 18-day time period, they each get a free ticket to Darien Lake (worth around $20). Next, during National TV-Turnoff Week itself, they get a packet that includes five raffle tickets. Each day, their parents would sign a ticket if the child didn't watch TV the day before. The tickets are brought to school and there's a daily drawing for prizes ranging from gift cards to bookstores to the grand prize - a "swap day" with the school principal. That day, the winning student gets to sit in the principal's office and do all the things she would normally do, while the principal goes to the student's classroom and does his or her lessons for the day.

The teachers also call random students during "prime-time" each night, and if the TV is off when they call, the child gets a coupon for a free snack at lunch. Finally, the school's library sponsors a game night during the week, with everything from Legos to jump-ropes to board games and puzzles. All of this adds up to a lot of incentive for the kids to do something besides watch TV for a week. I think it's a great program.

So great, in fact, that I upped the ante at our house. First, I included non-academic use of the computer as well as video games like the Wii. Second, I made participation in the week mandatory. This was for a couple of reasons. First, I felt that the kid(s) most likely to pass on the whole affair (my boys - in particular my older son) were the ones who needed it the most. Second, it seemed that if some of my kids were participating and others weren't, it put a big burden on the participants to leave the room whenever the non-participants decided to crank on the TV. Besides all that, I'm Dad - I get to make the rules.

It was glorious. My kids were playing board games, reading, playing outside, and generally doing all sorts of healthy activities that challenged mind and body rather than just injecting sounds and images straight into the brain and generally turning the whole mass of gray matter to mush. Don't get me wrong, I like TV and I think it's a wonderful form of entertainment. I'm a big fan of computers and the Internet as well. But when I was a kid, I balanced these activities with LOTS of reading and outdoor play. I don't see my kids striking that same balance, one that I believe is healthy, without some help from me. My older son, especially, would alternate between plopping in front of the TV and mindlessly playing computer games all day if I let him.

Best of all, the kids didn't really seem to mind the lack of TV and computer, at least based on the extremely low volume of complaints that I heard. Now, part of this is that I've got really good kids who know that rules, especially Dad's rules, are not subject to debate. But part of it is that all kids like to play and don't really need programmed entertainment beamed at them to have fun. So I considered National TV-Turnoff Week 2010 to be a huge success.

So huge, in fact, that I decided to make it a year-round event. For the last several weeks, my kids have been on a "reduced multimedia" schedule. They're allowed 30 minutes of TV/Computer/Wii on weekdays, and 60 minutes on weekends and holidays. This has proven to be PLENTY. After all, they only have a couple of hours before school in the morning, most of which is taken up with dressing, eating, and instrument practice. Likewise, they only have about three hours in the afternoon, of which anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 hours are taken up with homework, dinner, and activities like karate. Add in that half-hour of multimedia time, and they've only got a couple of hours to kill. I'd much prefer them to kill that time with activities that engage mind and body.

This may not end up being a permanent state of affairs. We'll see. I definitely don't want to drive my kids to other friends' houses all the time because those friends get to do fun stuff that's not allowed here, and I'm very sensitive to that. In fact, I'd like our house to be the place that friends want to come, so that as much as possible I know where my kids are and that they're safe. Unless and until that becomes a factor, however, I think my kids will get a lot more benefit out of alternative activities than they will as couch potatoes in front of the boob tube. Right now? They're out in the driveway drawing with chalk. The TV is off.

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