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Commentary: National TV Turnoff Week

By Dawn McMullan, KERA 90.1 commentator

Dallas, TX –

I don't take showers. Don't worry, I bathe regularly. But I am 37 years old and do not take showers. I haven't since I saw the movie Psycho sometime in the mid 80's. I'm sure some psychiatrist could spend hours on the topic, but the bottom line is that what happened on that screen between Janet Leigh and that knife affects my life every single day.

And I'm not alone. 91 percent of children polled say they have felt upset or scared by some sort of violence they saw on TV. Perhaps not scared enough to permanently remove shower curtains from their home, but still, they were scared.

This is National TV Turnoff Week. It's a family favorite at my house. Well, my husband says he can only do it between episodes of Desperate Housewives, and my 5-year-old spent last week eking out every bit of TV I would allow. But my 7-year-old and I look forward to this all year.

One year we got him a library card. Another morning we made pancakes together. We wrote a letter to a friend in Florida. We built forts. Rode bikes. Had a scavenger hunt in the neighborhood. Visited grandparents. We listen to music at night and dance. Sure, this is stuff an ideal mom should plan all the time. But I must admit I don't truly get into Julie McCoy mode until I'm faced with a week without the electronic babysitter.

My kids will have seven extra hours this week, as they're only allowed an hour of screen time each day. Most Americans watch more than four hours of TV daily. For children between the ages of 6 and under, that number is about two hours. Compare this to the amount of time this age group is reading or being read to each day: 41 minutes.

Sure, we limit TV viewing in our household to one hour a day, which has me patting myself on the back until I realize we probably spend about half that time reading to our kids at night - less if bedtime creeps up on us. If we made a list of priorities for our children versus hours in the day, how much time would we deem appropriate for the TV?

What children are watching on TV is as important as how much time they're spending in front of it. It amazes me what people let children watch. Did you know 80 percent of Hollywood executives believe there is a link between TV violence and real violence? Yet a good friend of mine walked into her parents' house one day, only to find them allowing her 6-year-old son to watch The Pelican Brief. Just before a man got shot in the forehead, my friend called her son to divert his eyes from the TV. Her dad's response? "We wouldn't want him to know anything about real life, would we?"

Interesting. I wonder how many times he's seen a man get shot in the head?

Here are a few more statistics that should have us unplugging for more than a week each year:

- 40 percent of Americans always or often watch TV while they eat dinner.

- 54 percent of our 4- to 6-year-olds say they would rather watch TV than spend time with their dads.

- American children spend 900 hours a year in school and 1,023 hours a year watching TV.

- 73 percent of parents say they would like to limit the amount of time their children spend watching TV.

Well, why don't they? Do it now. My 7-year-old will never remember what he was watching on TV at 4:35 pm last Tuesday. But he will always remember his first library card. Sure, I enjoy a show every now and then. But I consider TV time we'll never get back. As precious as our children's time is these days, I like the idea of making each 30-minute segment as memorable as possible. Shouldn't we make as big an impression on our children as Anthony Perkins?


Dawn McMullen is a writer from Dallas. If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.