Unplug the Television
Consider these statistics from the Center for Screen Time Awareness, founded in 1994, to warn about the evils of excessive tube time: The average child watches 1,680 minutes of TV per week. The average student spends 1,500 hours watching TV versus 900 hours in school. And the number of 30-second commercials seen in a year by an average child is 20,000.
"Television is a great enabler," says Robert Kesten, the center's executive director. It enables us to be sedentary, to buy unhealthy food products, and our kids to watch bad role models." For the past two or three years, Kesten's kids, now 12 and 13, can't watch TV from Monday to Friday and are restricted to two hours per day on the weekends. Their grades have gone up, and they read and run around outside more than they used to, he says.
Brent Bozell, president of Parents Television Council, a group that advocates decency in entertainment, favors not completely unplugging the TV but limiting and monitoring instead, as he did for his five children, whose ages now range from 9 to 28. "It takes a herculean effort, but if you involve your child in an activity with you or with another person, instead of sitting passively in front of the TV, the child will develop better," he says. Bozell's a fan of substituting board games, cards, and musical instruments.
Service project. Alternative activities to watching TV also can include after-school clubs, family walks, puzzles, organizing a photo album, drawing, the children reading to each other, and learning a foreign language. On weekends, ask your child to be your exercise partner, invite family over, or do a community service project.
Kesten warns that it's not so easy to turn the TV off, and parents should steel themselves for complaints. To be fair, he doesn't work on his computer until after his sons go to bed. Now, a few years later, everyone has adjusted so well that his sons often don't even use up their allotted two hours of TV on the weekends.
This story appears in the December 25, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.