Many families find no TV not a big turnoff ...

April 27, 2001|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Something was missing this week at the Buddemeyer house in Kingsville. After dinner, Brian Buddemeyer cut firewood for a weekend camping trip. His wife, Colleen, tended the garden. Daughters Miranda and Maci played on the backyard trampoline. But there wasn't a sound from any of the family's seven television sets.

From the kitchen to the bedrooms to the basement, the TVs had been shut off and labeled with a reminder: "No TV Week."

"It's a challenge," Colleen said of living without TV for a week. "It's such an addiction."

Colleen, 33, wasn't sure she wanted to take part in the national effort to get families to give up television for the week - it would be such a struggle.

The family also was reluctant - 9-year-old Miranda compared the loss of TV to living without electricity. "It's hard. We watch TV almost every day," said Miranda, a fan of sitcoms on the Nickelodeon network. Sister Maci, 7, prefers cartoons.

Colleen admitted that it was tough missing her weekly dose of "Once and Again." Brian said he was lucky there were no car races on, or he might have turned on the tube.

But finding other ways to fill their time was easier than they thought. Brian and Colleen played card games with their daughters. Everyone grabbed a book and read together in the backyard hammock. And Colleen and the girls took over the kitchen and baked chocolate chip cookies.

"It was really different. It was really neat," said Colleen.

Led by the National TV-Turnoff Network with support from 67 national organizations, schools, churches and other groups encouraged the weeklong turnoff hoping that families would see the benefits and think about long-term changes.

"A lot of it is just looking at their own habits," said Michael Pollock, principal of education at Cambridge Academy in Hunt Valley. "I ask [the students] `what are you missing?' "

According to the TV-Turnoff Network, the average American watches more than four hours of television per day, cutting into family time, impeding reading and other school studies, exposing viewers to violence and encouraging a sedentary lifestyle.

Breaking away from the box can be a challenge. Television is a big part of American culture. Peer pressure to be up on the latest shows can be strong, and many parents are not able to monitor their children all the time.

For many families, force of habit is the biggest obstacle.

"Since I've grown up with TV, it would be hard to go without," said Josh Long, 15, of Pikesville, whose family joined the TV turnoff along with other members of their church.

His mother, Terri Long, 42, a part-time credit counselor, said she misses her morning news and weather. Husband Stan, 47, co-pastor of the Faith Christian Fellowship church, said the worst thing was missing basketball playoffs this week. Son Tim, 12, usually watches such cartoons as "Rugrats" and "Dragonball Z." James, Daniel and Grace, 8-year-old triplets, miss them, too.

But they agreed that there were benefits to their alternate activities: games such as Pieface and Uno, reading Pokemon books, drawing and playing piano.

"The house, to me, has seemed quieter, much more peaceful," said Terri.

Along with the time spent watching television, parents and educators also worry about the content of television shows, movies and video games.

"We're very concerned about moral issues and the worldview [programs] promote," said Stan Long.

Colleen Buddemeyer said she is upset by some of the content that appears on the usually family-friendly Nickelodeon network and in movies rated PG and PG-13. Sexual and gross-out humor on reruns of "Three's Company" and in the movies "The Klumps," and "Look Who's Talking Too," came to mind.

Kim Sutter, of Hamilton, makes an effort to monitor her teen-age sons' television choices, but often finds too much violence and sex in movies, video games and music.

"Popular culture pits me against my child almost," said Sutter, 42, a consultant. "It's exhausting."

Still, school media specialist Marcy Jubach has seen positive trends at Deer Crossing Elementary School in New Market. An increasing number of students say they already have limits on how much and what they can watch.

"Each year it seems more and more parents are being very involved in what kids are watching," said Jubach. That is important because, "It doesn't work unless you have the participation of the parents."

Doug and Martha MacIver, of Pen Lucy, have set limits on their family's TV habits for years, but they are using TV-turnoff week as an opportunity to go the extra mile in finding non-television activities.

This week they were going to the neighborhood playground with sons Peter, 8, and Daniel, 7. The boys also wanted to explore walking trails at the area parks. At home, they enjoy writing poems and stories.

"Watching TV is not the way to create lasting memories," said Doug MacIver, 43. "Sitting in front of the TV ... the only thing that grows is my waistline."

Nicky and Scott Styer, of Catonsville, believe that getting rid of TV can be more than a weekly event. Five years ago they decided to ban TV in their home. At the time, their oldest son Clay, now 10, was adding more and more television shows to his afternoon routine. They told their children the television was broken and it had been sent to Japan to be fixed. After a while the boys caught on that it was never coming back.

"I don't want my kid to come home from school [where he's] sitting for six hours, and sit for two hours more," said Nicky Styer, 36, a homemaker.

The Buddemeyers will likely return to watching TV after the week is up. In particular, Brian Buddemeyer feels watching videos as a family, a common evening activity, can be positive time together. But the couple appreciated the opportunity to think more carefully about their TV habits.

"I know what's right for my family," said Colleen, "but so often you go with what's convenient."

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