Children today may hear this familiar refrain from their grandparents: "We had one television set and it was black-and-white, and we all gathered around for our favorite weekly program."
Things are quite different for children today, with television and other screens that lure us during much of our free time.
Joining the national effort to remind families to turn off the TV, our area elementary schools participated in TV Turnoff Week last week. Did it have any effect? Did it prompt discussion and perhaps encourage some new or forgotten family activities?
Laurabeth Gilman, a Katonah mom of four, said the week had little effect on her family's viewing habits. "We had in past years, done things like leave notes on the TV to remind us to turn it off. Now I find we are out doing things most of the day and during the school week, TV is not the biggest problem."
Her challenge of curbing television viewing seemed to be easier than trying to limit computer time. "I think the week should be re-named "Turn Off Screens Week". Even my first-grader is addicted to the computer," said Gilman.
The national campaign is sponsored by the Center for Screentime Awareness, and they have dropped "TV" from their "Turnoff Week" slogan. Many would agree that TV is now an equal or lesser draw of the many screens that attract schoolchildren (and some grown-ups), keeping them away from doing other things.
The computer calls us to check email, do research, Facebook, and play games. Then there is the Wii, the DS, XBox and various other video games that can keep kids from being outdoors, doing imaginative play, reading and from meaningfully interacting with people.
A deliberate effort to keep at least the television off for a week may be a good thing. As Patch reported in our preliminary look at TV Turnoff, according to a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, eight to 18 year-olds spend over seven hours per day on entertainment media. This includes TV, music/audio, video, cell phone and computer games.
Even Kerri Wolfe, the PTA chair for TV Turnoff Week at Lewisboro Elementary School, found it challenging in her own home to follow through. "My kids, who were committed to keeping the TV off all week, had no problem switching to their DS instead," she chuckled. She agreed that perhaps TV Turnoff Week should be renamed as to include all screens and to better reflect its purpose: the importance of balancing electronic media usage and engaging in creative, off-screen activities.
"The week was successful in an important way," she added. "We had over 100 kids participating in one form or another, doing lots of different activities. And that means the discussion of limiting TV use came up in 100 homes. That is a good thing."
Studies show that having any rules or limits to television usage at home serves to lessen overall screen time.
Bedford's West Patent Elementary School cleverly got local businesses on board. Borders in Mt. Kisco, Bellizi, even Ben & Jerry's offered storytellers, tokens, discounts and free ice cream to students who went screen-free. The school held a poster contest, a game-night, sports night and bedtime stories. Fourth-grade teacher Denise Connelly said these incentives worked really well to get the students involved.
"They loved that there were fun things planned and really wanted to challenge themselves to keep the screens off," said Connelly. The school's daily TV Turnoff "fun facts" opened a few eyes. "The kids learned that if they watched the national daily average of four hours of TV, then by age 65, they would have spent a total of nine years of their lives in front of the television."
TV Turnoff Week reminds us all that if electronic media is playing too large a role in our lives and having a negative effect on schoolwork or behavior, then a digital detox may be in order.