Tuned Out On Tv, But Not Turned On

April 28, 1995|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Sun Staff Writer

No cartoons. No Power Rangers. No television for a week.

Any longer, and 11-year-old Jay Chesley thinks he might die.

"I haven't been able to eat breakfast or dinner," said the Bollman Bridge Elementary School student. "I can't eat without the TV."

This week, Jay and his classmates at the Jessup school have been participating in National TV Turn Off Week, a project aimed at encouraging people to reduce the amount of television they watch.

The students are taking the opportunity to study how television influences people, under the guidance of Marlene Iris, a gifted and talented resource teacher at Bollman Bridge.

Throughout the school year, students in Ms. Iris' gifted and talented class have been looking critically at television viewing habits.

"TV has become a routine," said Ms. Iris, who is working with fourth- and fifth-graders. "We don't even know we're turning it on. . . . That's the whole point of TV Turn Off Week. It's an opportunity to evaluate what you're doing."

Citing statistics from TV-Free America -- the Washington group that sponsored TV Turn Off Week -- Ms. Iris told her students how much time children their age spend watching television.

The group's statistics show that 10-year-olds turn on a television set as early as 6 a.m., she said. More than half watch TV at night. And many turn the tube off as late as 11:45 p.m.

Such statistics show the inordinate amount of time children spend watching television, said Sarah Farnsworth, coordinator of the TV Turn Off Week campaign, which claims 1.5 million participants.

"There's nothing on television that you cannot get from a library, by going to a local community center or from looking in your own back yard," Ms. Farnsworth said. "Most people run home from work so they can catch their favorite TV show. We think that communication is more important."

Ms. Iris' fourth- and fifth-graders have been keeping journals about what it's like not watching television for a week.

Yesterday, during an hourlong class with Ms. Iris, the fifth-graders talked about what they had written.

Alex Prior, 10, is one of the students who have been living without their daily diet for the eyes -- just a glimpse of a sitcom or cartoon. Alex said he is suffering from withdrawal.

"I feel weird, but I mostly feel weird during the prime time hours," he told his classmates.

Andrew Leonard, 11, was determined to find a substitute to help him cope a little better. "Are we allowed to watch videos?" he asked.

"We have to be creative," Ms. Iris told the class.

Although she said she would not preach TV-Free America's message of no television at all, Ms. Iris encouraged the students to find alternatives to spending hours each day watching TV.

This week, some students used the time away from television to listen to compact discs or take part in after-school sports. Some visited friends. Others read books or did their homework.

But as the weekend rolled around, tension began to rise -- and some students said they were about to crack at the prospect of missing their favorite shows.

"I think I'm going to feel pretty mad when Friday night comes," said 10-year-old Christopher Sullivan.

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