According to a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, American children in grades 3-12 spend an average of nearly 4 hours a day watching TV or other prerecorded movies or shows.  That’s more time than they reported spending each day hanging out with family, doing chores, or working on homework - combined! Today, a majority of families recognize the downside to so much TV watching, but feel helpless on how to cut back.  

“Television has replaced family, school, and religion as the primary teacher of cultural values,” says Cheryl Pawlowski, author of the book Glued to the Tube: The Threat of Television Addiction to Today's Family.  “By the time a child graduates from high school, she will have spent more time with the TV than with both parents combined.”

So, what can you do about it? This year (2009), April 20 – 26 is National TV Turn Off Week, so take advantage of the opportunity to get unplugged and find other things for your family to do!

“Spring is a wonderful time to get outside and be active with your family and friends,” says Craig Buschner, Ed. D., President of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education.  “When it comes to staying active, think differently."  He suggests consulting your local newspaper for outdoor events that include physical activity, like hiking trail building days, physical activity fundraisers for charity, spring river cleanups in canoes, or walking the pets at a local animal shelter. The possibilities are endless!

Other things your family can do instead of sucking up some screen time:

  • Get outside!  Go to a park and swing.  Go on a hike or a climb.  Or just go for a walk around the block.
  • Play games – word games, board games, card games. You name it!
  • Tell stories.  Turn off the lights and make them spooky.  Or keep the lights on and reminisce about the kids when they were younger.
  • Look through old family photos.  (Good time to sort them and get them into albums too!)
  • Write letters.  Convince your child there was life before email.  Find some fun stationary and write to friends who have moved or relatives who live far away.
  • Read!  Spend some time each night reading a classic aloud such as Charlotte’s Web or Harry Potter

Be prepared.  Turning off the screen means that your kids will demand more attention.  But that also means you will spend more time together as a family. You can take turns and have each family member choose the TV free activity for each night.  Though your kids may moan and groan about going screen free, there’s also a good chance they’ll have fun during TV Free Week.  And an even better chance that you will want to do this again.