TV 'Tater Tots' in Training HOWARD COUNTY

April 07, 1993

For parents concerned about television's impact on their children, the question isn't "TV or not TV?" Rather, it's "How much TV?" Also, "What kinds of programs?"

Barring television from the home would seem too extreme a step for the citizens of a country where 98 percent of the households have at least one TV set, and 65 percent have two sets or more. Besides, for all its negatives, TV can be a wonderfully accessible and instructive "window on the world," a distinctively impressive medium.

Yet if they listen to education and health experts, parents would conclude their kids suffer from spending too much time in front of the tube.

How much is too much? No one has hit on a hard-and-fast figure, but these findings from a 1992 Nielsen Media Research study won't shock those who decry America's TV addiction: Teens watch an average of 17 hours of TV per week. Two- to five-year-olds put in 18 hours of TV-viewing per week. The weekly average for six- to 11-year-olds is just slightly less, at 14 hours.

These habits, say the experts, have created a nation full of children who are passive about learning and loath to exercise -- "tater tots" in training to become the couch potatoes of tomorrow.

Some worried parents are fighting back. In a small Minnesota town, they've arranged to buy devices that will shut out MTV, one of the most popular cable channels among youths. And a Florida man has devised a gadget he calls TV Allowance (it's also been called "TV chastity belt"), which programs a specific allotment of viewing time and then turns off the set when the time is up.

Closer to home, families of the 400 students at Pointers Run Elementary School in Howard County recently observed a "Pull the Plug Week." The participants viewed no TV and played no video games for five days.

What some Pointers Run students and their parents discovered, to their happy surprise, was that they read more, conversed more and spent more time together in family activities. They learned that while TV can be a helpful tool, it need not be the focus of family life or for society in general.

As one fifth-grader said of Pull the Plug Week, it made some people "realize there are other things in the world besides watching TV."

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