Can you turn off TV for a week?

Voices Of The Peninsula

Posted: Monday, April 19, 2004

This is National TV-Turnoff Week, and many Kenai Peninsula residents are participating in the annual challenge.

The Learning Center at Kenai Peninsula College is promoting Turnoff Week for students and staff, as are many local schools.

Participants are invited to sign a pledge card, promising to keep their TV off for the full week of April 19 to 25. KPC students are posting sticky notes about TV-free activities on the unplugged TV in the commons area. Students can enter to win the "Turn On Your Life" prize by depositing their pledge cards in a drawing can.

"There's so much more to do instead of watching TV," said Caitlin Zimpelmann, a student at KPC. "Libraries are there for a reason, and books are great for stimulating the imagination. They weren't made to collect dust."

The National TV Turnoff Network, sponsor of TV Turnoff Week, reports that by age 18, the average American child has seen 200,000 violent acts on TV. Its studies find that 10 percent of youth violence is directly attributable to TV viewing.

Americans watch an average of four hours or more of TV a day, according to the Turnoff Network.

During TV Turnoff Week, those who follow the "rules" are even staying off videos, movies, Nintendo and Internet games.

For David Thomas and his family, following the rules will be easy. Thomas, a Kenai environmental engineer, has no TV set in his home.

"We moved into our current house four days before our first son was born. Between the time demands of parenthood and wanting to avoid that slippery slope, it didn't make sense to us to move the TV as well," he said.

Thomas's son, Drake, is now 4 years old. He reads, writes, does math, knows parts of three foreign languages and enjoys drawing and puzzles. Thomas believes this is in part due to the lack of television in the house.

"The negotiation at bedtime is not about watching TV, but about how many stories we read together. Five stories if the pajamas and tooth-brushing are done quickly and fewer the longer it takes," Thomas said. "It is gratifying to see a child want to read as many books as possible."

Zimpelmann remembers rigid TV-watching rules when she was growing up.

"When I was 13, my friends were into the latest music, lots of new clothes, and MTV," she said. "But my mother restricted the channels I could watch. She emphasized book learning."

Although Zimpelmann complained then, she's now grateful for the firm guidelines that kept her from developing a TV habit. She has a collection of broadway musical videos and enjoys movies based on books, including Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.

"I'm not into chick flicks, overly sexed or violent movies," she said.

Why the annual challenge to avoid TV?

"I think television can be good for some things, but network TV rots people's brains," said Brian Keith, president of Kenai Peninsula College's Media Association.

Keith, 19, said many TV sitcoms portray people in degrading ways. Gender roles, such as the "dumb sexy blonde" or racial type-casting are two examples.

"Real people are not like what they show on those sitcoms," Keith said.

"The cheap jokes and canned laughter are an insult to our intelligence," Keith said. "I think the 'laugh tracks' were made about 50 years ago. That means the people you hear 'laughing' in the background are actually dead by now."

A good thing about having a TV is that you can plug in whatever video you choose, Keith said. "And sometimes you can see good programs, but you really have to search for them," he added.

Zimpelmann lived in Japan for a year when she was 16. She finds it interesting that many Japanese movies have a lot of violence in them, but Japan doesn't have a high rate of violence and murders, as does the United States.

"More Americans seem to value fighting," Zimpelmann said. Programs like "Survivor," "Fear Factor" and "Apprentice" seem to condone people winning or getting ahead by backstabbing and betrayal, she said.

"I think there's an underlying element of fear being broadcast in some American TV news and other programs, more than what you find in most other countries," Zimpelmann said.

Keith said he'd like to see a return to the pastimes of pre-TV days, such as problem-solving games and listening to the radio. "People need to interact with each other more, and not just stare at the TV," he said.

When considering how TV affects us, Thomas made an analogy to choosing the foods we eat.

"A TV in the house would seem like those cursed candy displays at the Safeway checkout aisle.'No, we came to the store to buy real food today,'" he said.

"Books seem like real food for the mind. Television seems like junk food for the mind," Thomas said.

"While our decision to have no television was mostly about the beginning of life, I also think about it for those near the end of life," Thomas noted.

"My older relatives who watched a lot of television had the poorest social skills, the least contact with others and lost more of their cognitive abilities. And those who didn't got out more to meet people, stayed in touch and were sharp till the end."

Ann Marina is a writer and educator who lives in Kenai. She's grateful to her parents for encouraging her interest in reading at an early age. Marina admits to one TV vice: She sometimes enjoys laughing along with "Seinfeld," a late-night sitcom. For more information about TV Turnoff Week, visit or call the National TV Turnoff Network at (202) 333-9220.,/i>

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