Millions plan to pull plug on TV for a week

April 22, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Millions of Americans, including hundreds in the Tri-State area, will pull the plug on television today.

In an effort to reduce dependence on the tube, almost four dozen organizations and 31 governors have signed on to TV-Free America's fourth National TV Turnoff Week.

"The idea is to address the largest issue in television, which is the amount of television being watched," said Monte Burke, a spokesman for TV-Free America.

Burke said a record 5 million people are expected to participate this week.

The organization decided to start its seven-day TV turnoff effort in the middle of the week in order to gain momentum for the weekend, when people have more free time, he said.


Hagerstown-area resident Chris Woodard said her 7-year-old daughter Emily and best friend Caitlin O'Shea decided on Tuesday to forgo television.

Woodard said she and her husband will not have much trouble doing without the few shows they watch, but she said Emily watches about two hours a day.

"For my daughter it will be tough. It's pretty admirable that she's willing to do it," said Woodard, who lives on Bakersville Road.

Burke said participants will have more time for reading, homework and outdoor activities.

One substitute is conversation among family members, Burke said.

"TV is the great silencer," he said.

North Berkeley Elementary School Principal Larry Messner, whose Berkeley Springs, W.Va., school is sponsoring a TV turnoff week beginning next Wednesday, said doing without television is easier in the spring.

Messner said children play T-ball and other sports at this time of year and have less desire to watch television.

But he said it is a battle nonetheless.

"That's tough to get them to do it. We'll probably have participation on a partial basis," he said.

The same goes for parents, Messner said.

"Probably in some cases, it's harder," he said.

For that reason, several schools in West Virginia and Pennsylvania promote a similar effort called "TV Turnaround Week."

Jim Holland, principal of Bedington Elementary School in Martinsburg, W.Va., said the school began sponsoring a local version of TV Turnoff Week eight years ago. He said school officials turned it into two weeks of promoting better television in an effort to have a lasting impact on students.

"We think if we can get a pattern of behavior for two weeks, we can get them going in the right direction for the summer," he said.

During the two weeks, children and their parents will watch shows and videos from a list of recommended viewing, Holland said. The idea is to get children to replace sitcoms and cartoons with the Discovery Channel, public television and other educational choices.

When used properly, television can be a valuable tool, Holland said.

"We liken it to a diet versus fasting," he said. "We feel that TV can be a real plus. Where else can you visit Africa in the evening?"

For the first time, all 270 students at the school have volunteered to participate, Holland said. That means he will make good on his promise to spend the entire day of May 1 in a tree.

Kim Eifert, who lives in Whiting's Neck near Martinsburg, said her fourth-grade twins have few options, since most of the shows on the list are on cable, which they don't get.

"There isn't a whole lot that they can watch. But they don't really care," she said.

The Waynesboro (Pa.) Area School District last year modeled a similar program on Bedington's efforts.

Elementary schools will again participate, school system officials said.

"People, when you say turn it off, they say you're nuts. They think you think television is bad," said Ruth Phlager, a member of the TV Tune-in Committee, which promotes responsible TV viewing. "We don't think TV is bad."

Woodrow Kadel, principal of Hooverville Elementary School near Waynesboro, said students review their viewing habits after the first week and then make adjustments for the second week.

Hooverville parent Jeff Rhodes said he monitors his children's television watching throughout the year. He estimated that his 9-year-old son watches between six and eight hours per week.

During the turnaround program, that will be even less. Occasionally, Rhodes said his son watches a show like "The Simpsons," but won't over the next two weeks.

"He probably wouldn't. We'd read instead," he said.

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