The only way to avoid TV's negative impact is not to watch it -- or to watch less. As a general rule, children should spend no more than five hours a week in front of television. After five hours, studies have found that grades begin to go down, and the desire to read is reduced.
What can happen when we turn off the TV? Healy says the only way to find out is to try. Not forever, necessarily. "I'm pragmatic about this," says Healy. "There are people who do not own a TV (about 2 percent of the population in the United States). But I have raised children and have grandchildren, and I would not choose to go without a TV."
Here are some tips on how to stop or reduce your TV viewing:
- How you limit viewing is less important than just doing it. Don't forget to set a good example by limiting your own watching as well. Otherwise, you'll only make TV into a forbidden fruit.
- Having a TV in an easy-access place makes tuning in too tempting. Curb the urge by moving your TV to the basement, sunroom, or attic. When you want to watch a show, move the tube back to the living room. You may be surprised at how few programs you find worth all this lugging.
- Have everyone in the family make lists of activities to do besides watching TV. Then start doing them, perhaps with one family member per day planning the activities.
- Disconnect cable, which reduces exposure to scores of channels and saves you money each month. Use the money to buy books, go dancing, attend plays, whatever.
- Sell all but one TV. Remove extras from bedrooms, the kitchen, the garage, etc. Use books on tape or the radio instead of TV as background noise. Instead of using the TV as an electronic baby-sitter as you make dinner, invite children to help plan and make meals. Then leave the TV off while you eat.
- Try to limit TV viewing to under five hours a week, not by browbeating but by providing fun alternatives for everyone in the family. Avoid using TV as a reward and punishment; this increases its power. Have a family meeting and agree on such limits as no morning TV or no TV before all homework is done.
Continued on page 3: Age-by-Age Suggestions