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Tv Addiction Getting Tube Time to a MinimumT V ADDICTION
Getting Tube Time to a Minimum
Six-year-old Alex's family was planning an extraspecial cross-country trip in a camper. When Alex found out there would be no television for the entire three weeks, he couldn't believe it. 'But what will Ido?' he squawked.
Whenever ten-year-old Tracy enters her room, she turns on her T V set. It's as automatic as flipping on the light switch. Whether she is doing homework, playing with friends or talking on the phone, her T V is always on.
Both Alex and Tracy are T V addicts. In some ways, they are as dependent on the flickering screen images as many grown-ups are on cigarettes or alcohol. And the consequences can be serious.
As many studies have shown, children who watch a lot of television are fatter and less fit and have higher cholesterol levels than kids who watch less. Some experts think excessive tube-watching may even foster a more accepting attitude toward violence and promote aggressive behavior.
If you're concerned that your child is watching too much television, here are some tips for cutting back.
Log in those viewing hours. 'Keep a record of how much television your child actually watches,' suggests Nicholas A. Roes, president of the Education Guild and author of Helping Children Watch T V. You may be quite surprised at how many hours per week are spent that way. Once you know the extent of the problem, you'll be in a better position to institute needed changes, says Roes.
Short-circuit the electronic babysitter. 'Don't get in the habit of using television as a babysitter, no matter how busy you are,' says Marie Winn, author of Unplugging the Plug-In Drug. Instead, come up with some active pastimes your child can pursue when you're not available to supervise.
You might provide a wide variety of drawing materials, for instance, or purchase some simple musical instruments for your child to play with on his own. If you read to your child--and do a lot of reading yourself--you'll encourage your child to be entertained by books as well as television.
Map out a week's worth of watching. 'Go through the channel listings with your child each weekend and select programs for the coming week that you would feel comfortable having her watch,' says Carole Lieberman, M.D., a Beverly Hills psychiatrist, media consultant and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles. 'Choose programs that are educational and nonviolent, that espouse the kinds of values you want your child to have.'
If the show is part of a series, she suggests you watch at least one episode with your child to make sure it's really suitable. Important: As soon as the chosen program is over, and before your child can get hooked on the one that happens to follow, turn the set off, Dr. Lieberman says.
Take a day off. 'Designate a single day every week as No-T V Day,' suggests Winn. 'Some families do this on Saturday or Sunday as part of their Sabbath observance.' Explain that everyone--Mom and Dad included--will just have to find more creative ways to fill their free time on that day.
Make time for homework. Try the 'no T V on school nights' rule, which is the easiest one to enforce, according to Winn. Discuss the rule first in a family meeting, so your child knows why you feel it's so important.
'Children won't necessarily watch T V all weekend to make up for what they've missed on week nights,' says Winn. In fact, because they haven't fallen into the viewing habit during the week, they'll be more likely to look to other leisure activities once Saturday rolls around.
Try a T V Turn-Off Week. Occasionally, you can present your children with the challenge of keeping the set turned off for a whole week, suggests Winn, who has organized T V Turn-offs around the country. 'That's when you'll see how dependent your family is on television.' The insight may be sobering, but it could help you to set limits in the future, she points out.
How to Turn the Enemy into an Ally
Used intelligently, television can be a positive, educational force in your child's life, says Nicholas A. Roes, president of the Education Guild and author of Helping Children Watch T V. Here are a few of his suggestions.
* If your child enjoys watching game shows, make it a wholefamily activity. Pick some topics that come up regularly on the shows, and spend time together with an almanac or encyclopedia preparing for next week. Then tune in and let your child field each question and keep his own score.
* To encourage critical viewing, assign 'T V show reports' to your child in the same way book reports are assigned in school. Depending on your child's age, each report might contain comments on factors including plot, pacing, character development, clichés, setting, music and special effects.
* If violence crops up on a show you're watching, discuss alternative, nonviolent means the characters might have used to solve their problems.
* Suggest that your child write letters to producers, advertisers and networks to express his feelings about various programs.
Expect withdrawal symptoms: Your kids may beg to watch 'just one' favorite show. But hold firm.
'Just be sure you present it as a scientific experiment or an adventure--absolutely not as a punishment,' says Winn. 'As additional motivation, think up a reward for the end of the week. You might decide to take a special family trip or purchase a new game or other play equipment.'
Enlist the aid of your VCR. 'By making more use of videotaping, you can gain more control over what your children watch, and when' says Dr. Lieberman. Also, if a troubling or confusing issue arises in a taped program you're viewing, you can hit the pause button and talk things over with your child.
' You can also fast-forward through offensive commercials,' she adds. Or you can choose to watch some of the commercials with your child, then pause the tape to teach some healthy skepticism. ' You might discuss how the ad suggests that if your child gets this toy, she'll be the most popular child on the block,' says Dr. Lieberman. ' You can point out just how unrealistic that is.'
Don't let T V intrude on sleep time. Set a regular bedtime for your child that doesn't change from night to night depending on when certain television programs end, advises Bobbi Vogel, Ph.D., a family counselor in Woodland Hills, California, and director of the Adolescent Outpatient Program at Tarzana Treatment Center in Tarzana. And don't put a T V set in your child's bedroom, unless you want to completely lose control of how and when she uses it.
Switch off background temptation. Discourage your child from leaving the television on as background noise, advises Dr. Vogel. 'It's too visually stimulating,' she says. Before you know it, she could be watching instead of just listening. If she likes to hear something while she's drawing or doing other things, she can play a record or listen to the radio instead.
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