Familes spend time without TV

By Teresa A. Sewell

Today is the third day of National TV Turn-Off week, when Champaign-Urbana residences have locally been encouraged to turn their television sets off for the entire week and spend time as a family.

On Monday, the week began with a “Family Fun Night,” given by administrators at Urbana Middle School, where dozens of parents and their children filled the gymnasium to play ping-pong, basketball, board games and other activities meant for family bonding time – versus staying at home and watching television.

Barbara Linder, the community connections coordinator of UMS, said this week is a national effort to raise awareness about the amount of television families watch and get them out of the habit of watching so much.

Linder said each spring, families are asked to not watch television for a week and instead participate in media literacy education.

She said she hopes this week raises consciousness about the impact that television has on society and its children.

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There are several studies that link excessive television viewing to an increase of obesity, a decrease in educational success and a greater likelihood of diabetes. It’s hard to get children to watch more educational television versus commercial television, Linder said.

“We, as educators, need to do more media literacy and help our students be able to interpret and be critical of a media … just as reading a text,” Linder said.

The school also gave out bingo cards that listed activities for the children to do and at the end of the week the students can win a prize for their completion of the card.

The middle school students and their parents were also asked to sign a contract in order to promote the family effort to completely stop watching television for a week.

“The parents love it,” said Linder, laughing, even though some parents were skeptical that their children would actually not watch their favorite television programs.

Nonetheless, Linder said she hopes the parents will encourage the students and “take control of the remote.”

Bobbi Nance, the Urbana park district community program coordinator, said that the park district tries to get people to be active, whether it is through swimming, running or just standing outside in the park.

“We like to offer family things to do that don’t involve television,” said Nance, who believes if families spent more time together, there wouldn’t be such a problem with excessive television viewing among children.

She said there is nothing wrong with television as long as it is watched in moderation, but “families need to make sure that it’s (television viewing) balanced with other activities.”

She said this week has made herself more aware of the amount of television she watches and feels that it’s important for the parents to turn off their television sets as well.

Nance said that it can be hard to stop watching television because it is such an easy trap – it is readily available entertainment and people don’t have to travel to use it.

Din Ming Seto, sophomore in education, said she came out to volunteer at Family Fun Night because the idea of the fun night is an important way to spend time with kids and get away from the media – which can sometimes negatively influence children.

She said even though some violent and sexually explicit television shows give the ratings before it is shown, the ratings don’t stop kids from watching. So events like this can give children something more productive to do.

Seto also said she believes this is why it is important for parents to become active and monitor their children’s television viewing.

Tanya Durst, a mother who will graduate from Parkland College this spring, said she believes television is an “overrated form of easy entertainment.”

Durst said she and her daughters came out on Monday night because she wants her children to understand that there are more important things they need to learn, versus being immobile in front of a television set.

“There’s more things to do … homework, yard work, reading,” Durst said, as she played a board game with her daughters.

She said she allows her two daughters, 12-year-old Shawna and eight-year-old Brittianie, to have some freedom when it comes to choosing what television shows to watch, but she makes sure her daughters understand that not everything they see is appropriate and they are not to act out or repeat something just because it’s on television.

She described television as a visual aspect that has more influence on children than almost anything else.

“It (television) is my favorite thing to do,” said Brittianie, as her mother explained to her the importance of doing more engaging activities.

As he played basketball with his father in the school’s gym, Devin Frisby of UMS said his father taught him that family time is more important than watching television.

He said even though there are a lot of shows that he loves, he will try his best to not watch television all week.

His father, Eric Frisby, said he thinks National TV Turn-Off Week is an excellent idea because it brings the family together and he spends time with his son that they wouldn’t normally spend.

Eric Frisby said even though some shows have descent and appropriate content, he teaches his son to become more active and be more creative with his time.

The principal of UMS, Nancy Clinton, said she hopes this week will help people make more intelligent decisions about their television shows and help families reconnect.

She said a lot of behaviors that are inappropriate in school are becoming common, in her opinion, because of the exposure of too much video games, television and other media influences.

“We have to remind our parents that there are more important things to do with their family besides watching TV,” Clinton said.