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Things had clearly gotten out of control. My 3-year-old daughter, Tiny Girl, was waking up each morning, carrying her blanket and stuffed lamb to the couch, plopping herself down, staring at me, and demanding, "TV! TV!"
What had started as an innocent way to occupy her as everyone else prepared for work and school had become a serious habit. As for my 5-year-old son, Fellow, he had spent so much idle early morning time scanning the cable dial, he had begun requesting that I record Texas Hold 'Em tournaments for him.
And there were the channel fights: "Science show!" "No, kids' show!" "No, science show!" We were a family with a screen problem.
The solution, surprisingly, came in a simple handout from the librarian at my son's public school, encouraging families to take part in TV-Turnoff Week (www.tvturnoff.org). My son, still young enough to take recommendations from school as commands from heaven, told me we had to turn the TV off for the week. My daughter, still young enough to do what her brother told her, agreed.
And so for a week, there was no morning TV before school (which was their only regular viewing time). The results were startling. When they woke up on Monday, we put on a CD and peacefully listened to music over breakfast. By Wednesday, they were working on puzzles together before school.
And as if that weren't enough, then came...the compliments! Thursday morning, Tiny said to Fellow: "You look very handsome today," then Fellow told her, "YOU really look like you're ready to get your picture taken today!"
Finally, on Friday, Tiny awoke first, and since she'd been struggling with a cold for a couple of days, I turned the TV on for her while she lay on the couch. Then Fellow woke up, heard the sounds of "Caillou," and stood stock-still in the hallway, out of sight of the set with his hands on his ears, until I turned it off so he could enter the room without breaking his vow.
All in all, it was an impressive experiment, and I look forward to repeating it this year. (This year it's April 21-27 -- of course, I'll tape "Lost.")
You don't need to agree with all the arguments and warnings that you'll see on the websites related to TV-Turnoff Week, about the perils of kids watching TV, or spending too much time in front of screens. You don't need to go along with any of it to appreciate the simple benefits of five days with the set off. Who knows, maybe your kids will start complimenting each other, too.