Spending time together

April 16, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

Frank McCourt, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Angela's Ashes," grew up poor - really poor - in Limerick, Ireland. His family often didn't have enough to eat, and they certainly didn't have a television.

When he and his friends gathered, they didn't talk about what they watched the night before. They talked about what they did, McCourt has said.

It's likely that the best-selling writer would like the idea of TV-Turnoff Week, a program of the nonprofit TV-Turnoff Network founded in 1994. "Turn off TV - Turn on Life!" is the group's slogan.


The organization encourages people "to watch much less television in order to promote healthier lives and communities," according to its Web site at


It's not a news flash that Americans don't get enough physical exercise. The office of the U.S. Surgeon General has said that.

Obesity is rivaling smoking as the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

Childhood obesity is a growing problem. The proportion of overweight children has doubled since 1980. "One in 10 American children is obese; one in four is overweight," according to

The average American kid will spend more time in front of the television this year - 1,023 hours - than in school - 900 hours, according to the organization.

Studies have linked kids' viewing of television violence to aggression later in life.

And recent research suggests that TV watching by young children - 1- to 3-year-olds - is linked to attention problems later in childhood.

What to do, what to do?

Since 1995, millions of people have turned off their televisions during the designated week. This year's "celebration" begins Monday, April 19, and runs through Sunday, April 25.

Jeff Ridgeway, children's librarian at Washington County Free Library in downtown Hagerstown, supports TV-Turnoff Week. He lives it.

A few years ago, his daughters' Berkeley County, W.Va., elementary school sent home information about the program.

"We turned it off and never turned it back on," he said.

His daughters didn't watch "boatloads" of television before, and Ridgeway said he has nothing against television. He enjoyed watching the Masters golf tournament last weekend and admitted to recently overdosing on a "Green Acres" marathon while visiting someone who has cable television. He doesn't have cable.

Ridgeway said what amazed him is that turning off the TV didn't matter to Joanna, 8, and Elizabeth, 7.

Does third-grader Joanna miss watching television?

Her answer is a simple "No."

She said she likes to read and just finished "The Indian in the Cupboard." She's read books in the "American Girl" series and enjoys playing with her American Girl doll, Kirsten.

Her mother, Amy Ridgeway, likes the quiet in her house and enjoys grocery shopping with her girls, who don't ask for stuff that's been advertised on TV.

They read, play outside and develop their imaginations, she said.

"We try to do things as a family," Jeff Ridgeway said. Walking or riding bicycles on the C&O Canal towpath is something they have time for.

In Waynesboro, Pa., schools, the approach to cutting television viewing is less drastic.

Some programming is worthwhile, said Woody Kadel, principal at Summitview Elementary School. "You can find good things and bad things in everything."

Since Monday, April 12, and continuing through Sunday, April 18, students have been involved in TV Turn Around. The program's goal is to reduce the amount and improve the quality of television watching, Kadel said. Students keep logs of programs and how many minutes of television they watch. They review their viewing, talk about and set goals for changing their habits. Kids also come up with ideas for activities to substitute for watching television.

Waynesboro resident Ruth Pflager, who said she raised four children, is a member of the TV Turn Around Steering Committee.

She's seen kids who relate only to the television screen, kids who can't entertain themselves.

The TV Turn Around program gets people thinking about what's happening, she said.

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