IDEA #52. Turn off the television for a week (or a month); consider that a billion people on this planet have no access to television at all. Do it right—no computer streaming, no videos, video games, or DVDs, either. Try reading aloud as a family or playing some of those board games stashed in the closet. You may find there are plenty of ways to keep yourself and your household entertained without what some people used to call The Idiot Box.
Advocates of this activity, which even has a “National TV-Turnoff Week” (May 5-11 this year, if you choose to wait) cite benefits ranging from nutritional to mental health, but a more profound reason to shun television is simply that the thinking, curious child should be able to make the transition to TV-free life without much fuss or bother. Rather than presenting the absence of television as a sacrifice that is somehow “good for” kids, like castor oil or standardized tests, it might be better to plan television-free time as part of a broader program of alternative experience—a hiking trip, a visit to a relative, or something closer to home like a family chess or Monopoly tournament or a communal read-aloud of the latest Harry Potter or other series book. In other words, plan on doing something so that the absence of television is not the focus but rather a natural byproduct.
Admittedly, this may be easier said than done, especially for children who are dependent on television or other video-based entertainment as their primary form of recreation. If it has to be a battle, going television-free is probably not worth it, although a moderate level of reward for compliance is not an admission of bad parenting.
We would go out on a limb here so far as to suggest that families who make access to video entertainment too easy or too ubiquitous a part of their children’s lives (in-car television and movies come to mind here) give up a tremendous amount of ground in the struggle to turn their children into observant, thinking beings; we always wonder what a child engrossed in a video in the back seat misses by way of watching the world or of actual conversation, even on the most uninspiring of commutes. While there is nothing wrong with watching television, movies, or playing video games, too much of these activities unmediated by either more active forms of entertainment or critical reflection engenders, we believe, a cognitive sacrifice from which it may be very difficult to recover.
So turn the television off for a week, or a month, or a couple of days not as a punishment or a cold-water cure but because the child, and preferably the whole household, might have better and more interesting things to do.