For TV-Turnoff Week, some families choose life without the tube Stay Tuned

April 24, 1995|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Sun Staff Writer

No one in the Whye family really keeps track of how much time they spend watching TV. But, like most American households, once the set gets turned on in their Northeast Baltimore home, it pretty much stays on for hours.

Beginning today, though, things are going to be different. Lynn Whye has decided that she, her husband, Milford, and their three daughters are going to participate in the first annual "National TV-Turnoff Week," an event being sponsored by a Washington-based group called TV-Free America.

For the next seven days, the Whyes are going to try to live without TV. No cartoons. No Discovery Channel. No Fox sitcoms.

Mrs. Whye, 38, a business analyst for Blue Cross/Blue Shield, can hardly wait to turn the set off and start spending more time with her family.

"I want them to learn that television is not the center of their lives," she said last week as her family prepared to go cold turkey. "We can have quality time together."

The Sun will check in with the Whyes as the week progresses to see how they are coping without the tube.

Mrs. Whye's youngest daughter, Candace, an effervescent 5-year-old, thinks it sounds like a big adventure. And the easy-going middle child, Alicia, 10, shrugs it off as no big deal.

But her husband and her oldest daughter, Shanna, 16, aren't exactly enthusiastic participants.

"I feel like we are not going to have anything to do!" said Shanna, a sophomore at Polytechnic High School. "What are we going to talk about? We are not going to have anything to talk about. I'm going to just stay in my room."

Mrs. Whye is forging ahead anyway. As soon as she read about National TV-Turnoff Week, she wanted to be a part of it.

Henry Labalme, executive director of TV-Free America, said he expects more than 250,000 people to take part in the week-long campaign through their schools and libraries. But although four Baltimore-area schools are listed as participating, only one, St. Paul's, seemed to know anything about it.

The non-profit organization hopes it will encourage people to spend less time in front of television and more time on "productive" activities.

According to TV-Free America, there's at least one television in 99 percent of American households. On average, Americans spend about four hours a day watching television.

"The point is not what we watch but that we watch so much television indiscriminately," Mr. Labalme said. "This campaign represents a significant departure from the stale debate about program content and the endlessly unsuccessful attempts to improve the quality of television."

Mrs. Whye couldn't agree more.

"Television has become such a major time consumer in our lives," she said.

The Whyes have two TVs in their comfortable Gardenville home -- one in the living room and the other in the master bedroom. Unless she declares an occasional television-free hour or day, the set is almost always on in the evenings.

Three days before the campaign began, Candace and Alicia were spending a rainy Friday morning plopped in the living room watching -- what else? -- television.

"It's the 'Muppet' babies," Alicia said. At least, it was the "Muppet" babies before Mrs. Whye clicked the television off.

"Listen to that," she said. "It's quiet. It's nice!"

Mrs. Whye believes television robs the family of quality time together.

"We don't get to communicate as a family. We don't get to talk. We don't get any quiet time," she said.

She isn't saying the family will give up television forever, but maybe this week will be the catalyst for cutting down on the viewing.

"We can do things outside," she said. "We'll play games, and we will have reading time."

The teen-ager in the house gave her mom that skeptical look that seems to come so naturally to those her age. Shanna loves Fox television's Thursday night lineup, including "Martin" and "Living Single."

In the course of the conversation, Shanna inadvertently tipped her hand to an alternative. A friend sympathized when she heard of Shanna's dilemma. "She was like, 'Well, you're just going to have to spend all of your time over here!' " Shanna said. Her mother listened, shaking her head "no."

Mrs. Whye will also have to keep an eagle eye on her husband, who works in the housekeeping department at St. Agnes Hospital.

"He's already been grumbling about it," she said. "It's going to be a struggle to get him to do this."

Not so with the two youngest.

"We can play outside. We can skate," said Candace, bouncing around the room in anticipation.

"I kind of like it," said Alicia, who goes to Cardinal Shehan School. "I like having this social time together."

Candace, who is in day care, will miss watching her favorite show, "Wild and Crazy Kids" on Nickelodeon. Alicia is a fan of the Discovery Channel.

"And my husband will watch anything," Mrs. Whye said.

On Wednesday, we'll learn how the family is coping with life without television. Will Milford Whye resist? Can Shana Whye survive? Stay tuned.

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