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End Your Family's TV Addiction

By taking steps to break your and your children's television addictions, you will gain more than you lose.

| January/February 1986

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    Some effects of television addiction on children include reduced social skills and poor academic performances.
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    After breaking your famiy's TV addiction, you may discover there is more time for other hobbies, such as reading.

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In 1974, the Denver Post persuaded 25 families with young children to participate in an experiment: Go one month without watching any television. The 15 families that managed to stick with that boob tube blackout reported that, after the initial adjustment, their homes were more peaceful and relaxed. The children helped out more (with the dishes, in the garden, etc.). They played together better and played outside more often. They became more involved with crafts, puzzles, family games, reading, and model building. The parents spent more time on their own projects, such as sewing, woodworking and reading. Meals were more leisurely and enjoyable. Everyone got more sleep. They all interacted better, and generally felt much closer as families. It was as if someone had given them all a gift of extra hours in the day.

After the month-long experiment was over, every one of the 15 families resumed its former television viewing habits.

That sums it up, doesn't it? Many of us feel that watching television isn't conducive to good family interrelationships. But what's a body to do? The kids want to watch . . . and they'll likely raise Cain if you don't let them. Then too, TV keeps them out of your hair when you're trying to get something done. Besides, you like to watch some programs yourself (everybody deserves a chance to relax sometime, right?). And, finally, there are some worthwhile programs on the tube.

Still, who's in control—you or the TV? Most of us, if we're honest with ourselves, will admit that, more often than we'd like, the TV seems to be in charge. The average American family watches seven hours of television a day; statistics show that TV viewing has become the single most common childhood activity. It has also polled out as the second biggest obstacle to family harmony (behind money, but well ahead of sex).

This article has one purpose: to help people who want to take charge of the family TV. Since most of us probably won't muster the willpower to do so if we're not utterly convinced we should, I'm going to first briefly relate why controlling TV viewing is important. Then I'll move on to the heart of the matter: how you really can take charge, for the good of all.

The Negative Effects of Television

Most of the following arguments come from Marie Winn's The Plug-In Drug and from Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook. Winn's thoughtful, compassionate, and detailed book is full of studies and stories — the thoughts, struggles, and insights of scores of TV-hooked families. If you want more support, evidence or ideas concerning this problem, read The Plug-In Drug. Trelease's Read-Aloud Handbook is a guide to get you started on reading stories to your kids. It contains 300 reviews of recommended books and includes a good chapter on excessive television watching, which tells what happened when the Trelease household tried to break television's grip.

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