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One more reason to get involved in
'turn off your TV' week
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[APRIL 17, 2004]  URBANA -- If you need another reason to participate in TV-Turnoff Week, April 19-25, here's a good one. Researchers at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle have found that every hour preschoolers watch television each day boosts their chances, by about 10 percent, of developing attention difficulties in later life.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of 2 not watch television at all.

"There's a lot of research on the effects of television on children, and these studies usually find no effect or a negative effect -- rarely are the outcomes positive. Children who watch a lot of TV from an early age are at greater risk for violence and obesity and are more susceptible to commercial messages," said Aaron Ebata, a family life specialist with University of Illinois Extension.

"It's not clear how much of these effects are due just to TV, but we do know that watching television also takes time away from families, who are already in a time crunch," he added.

Ebata cites statistics from Extension's new "Intentional Harmony: Balancing Work and Life" curriculum:

  • The average person spends 40 percent of his free time watching TV.
  • In studies that keep track of time usage, people spent three to four times more time watching TV than talking with their spouse.
  • Most TV watching time is alone time, time not spent with family or friends.
  • About half of all Americans report watching TV during dinner, missing a prime opportunity for catching up and relaxing together. Nearly a third say they watch during breakfast and lunch.

Time spent watching television today is time that earlier generations used to make social connections in their communities, says Robert Putnam in "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community." Hobbies and volunteer work or simply sitting and chatting with friends over a cup of coffee is time better spent, Putnam contends. He says being connected to the social world is vital to our well-being.


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Ebata, who says he enjoys TV as much as anyone else, suggests limiting and planning your television watching. Have a particular show in mind, and don't watch simply to fill time. "And turn the television off when you're not watching," he said. "Don't keep it on for background noise. Turn it off during specified family times, such as meals."

He also said it can help to have only one television in the house, in a common area such as a living room.

"In some households, there are three or four televisions, with each family member tuned to a different program," the specialist said. "Obviously, when people are watching television alone, they're not interacting with each other. Plan your free time so that you're including things like talking and having fun with family members, exercising, and getting involved in worthwhile efforts in your community."

When you do watch TV, Ebata recommends watching shows together that the whole family can enjoy or selecting specific videos or DVDs rather than watching whatever might be on the networks or cable. Many public libraries now have good collections of videos that are "family friendly." Then, when the program's over, turn off the television and talk about it to help your children develop "media literacy."

"As you slowly begin to wean yourself away from the television, you may find that family members are resistant," Ebata said. "When people are used to a lot of TV, they may feel bored and irritable at first. Have a plan and fill the time with activities, such as games, walks, bike riding, cooking and reading."

You'll need this plan if you plan to go cold turkey for a week starting April 19. As you rediscover your family and friends though, you may wonder what took you so long.

[University of Illinois news release]

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