WESTMINSTER — The edict -- no television -- came down in the Shields home two years ago after mother, Eileen, found that her teen-age daughter spent most of the summer in front of the box.
"Instead of being with friends or swimming, she was hooked on soap operas," recalled Shields. "I found that to be disturbing. A 13-year-old's summer only comes once in a child's life."
Her daughters, Rachel and Meredith, greeted the announcement, which came the first day of school in fall 1989, with alarm.
"I thinkthey're proud of not having a TV now," said Shields, marketing manager in the county's Office of Economic Development. "It didn't happen overnight, but I think they've come to realize that you really can live a rich and fulfilling life without TV."
The average American might not think so.
A recent study by the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency showed the average American watches 30 hours of television a week, an increase of nearly two hours from a decade ago.
Womenwatch the most television, 32 hours and five minutes a week, while teen-agers watch the least, 23 hours and eight minutes.
Rachel, now15, spends her hours and minutes outside of school doing homework, talking on the telephone and visiting family and friends. The Westminster High sophomore plays basketball, lacrosse and is class historian.
She admitted, though, that life without a television has taken some getting used to.
"I used to complain about it a lot," she said."I used to throw temper tantrums. But once I got into high school, there was more to do and I just got used to not watching it."
Shields said the family spends a lot more time in conversation.
"We do a lot of talking," she said. "I know that sounds simple. But I think I have a pretty good handle on how my kids are doing in school and what's going on with their friends."
Do they miss TV? Yes. They especially miss shows like "MASH," "Cheers" and "The Wonder Years."
Rebecca Orenstein doesn't watch television either. The Westminster citycouncilwoman prefers to spend her time reading or carrying on debates and conversation with friends.
"I do an incredible amount of reading," she said. "I'm not sure what I would watch on TV now. I can't sit and watch that long without doing something."
Orenstein, a Westminster commercial photographer, likes to stay on top of local, state and national news. She listens regularly to the radio "to get news and political information" and subscribes to several newspapers.
"As an elected official, I feel responsible to know what's going on locally and in the country," she said.
Another pastime is conversation.
"I love to talk," she said. "I have wonderful conversations with friends. We talk a lot and debate political events on all levels. My son would bring his friends here and we would debate. I was alwaysflattered teen-agers would come here to talk."
She does have a television in her son's room. But it's been years
since she watched television. She doesn't miss any type of programs.
"I grew up in afamily where my father would say (the television) would rot your brain," she recalled. "My father believed reading is the best way of getting intellectual information. It was OK to watch TV at some point. It wasn't forbidden. Intellectually, though, it wasn't the best route to go."
Orenstein has followed that philosophy.
"My philosophy is that life is for the living and not for the watching," she said. "Living is where the magic and the passion are for me. I think that's what I taught (my son) Adam."