Channeling energy away from the TV

July 16, 1996|By SUSAN REIMER

IT IS SUMMERTIME and there is no homework and the Draconian rules regarding television have been eased and my children are trying to see just how much of it can be watched in a 24-hour period.

My children have grown roots and grown stupid in front of the television set. They do not hear me call them for meals or bedtime. They speak to me only in commercial jingles or sitcom dialogue. I live with Steve Urkel and the kid chorus that sings the Kit Kat candy bar song.

The conversations we have, and there are few enough, begin with questions about something they've seen on "The Montel Williams Show." Like the addicts they are, my children are jumpy enough to want the evening news on during dinner. "It's educational," my son says in pathetic justification.

It is summertime, and the only time my children are not watching TV is when they are not wearing sunscreen at the pool.

I decided that I could turn the air conditioning off and drive them out of doors or I could do what I usually do when I have a crisis of confidence as a parent.

Buy a book.

"Couch Potato Kids: Teaching Kids to Turn Off the TV and Tune In to Fun," by child-rearing and educational lecturers Lee and Marlene Canter, has few pages and big print and looks as though it should have "4.0 reading level" on the back cover.

But it is just right for those of us who don't need to read 250 pages to learn what we already know on a gut level: Our kids

watch too much television and it is bad for them.

"That's the response we are getting from parents and it is the most gratifying," said Lee Canter. "In an evening, they can get an answer to a problem: My kids watch too much TV. This isn't some deep think about the moral development of children."

He defines the problem in the most brief terms: children watch an average of 3.5 hours of television a day -- six to eight hours is not unusual for children whose parents work -- and this is making them fat, stupid, passive and insensitive to violence.

The rest of the book takes parents through the steps of a two-week "TV diet." Just like the food kind, this diet is not a starvation diet but a plan to reduce consumption by offering healthier choices. And, also like the food kind, the hardest part of this diet is sticking to it after the first blush of commitment fades.

"There is more and more sentiment among parents to something about this because of cable and the kinds of things that are coming to television and catching them unaware," said Canter.

"Parents thought 'Beavis and Butt-head' was just another cartoon show until they walked into the room when their kids were watching it."

Canter's TV diet is more complicated than pulling the plug, cutting off the cable or installing an electronic time lock. That is because television viewing is more complicated than that.

"Those things are the last resort," he says. "There is a much bigger issue here. As parents, we can't allow our kids to do anything that will cause permanent harm, but we also have to prepare kids to be self-reliant.

"What kind of person do you want your child to be?"

We don't want our kids to be couch potatoes. And we don't want them to be the kind of adults who would choose to be couch potatoes.

If we just pull the plug (or take the TV to be repaired and simply not pick it up, which is what I have done this summer), kids will not learn how to deal with the Big Eye that will hypnotize them every time they look at it.

The key to Canter's TV diet is lots of choices -- athletic, intellectual, artistic, interactive choices -- and it rewards the kids for making these choices. Not with more TV time, but often with more mom-and-dad time.

They may not say it out loud or around their friends, but our kids want more of that from us than we know.

Pub Date: 7/16/96

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