Turn Off The TV This Summer

From my Healthy Living column in Moncton’s Times & Transcript.

What are you going to do this summer? If you can’t think of a clear answer, you might want to start planning, lest you end up spending your time in front of the television. Summer is a time when television channels launch attractive programs, designed to captivate bored kids. 

Although older teens are perhaps less susceptible to watching hours of television during the summer because of summer jobs and activities with friends, television watching will probably be an activity of choice for many preteens and younger teens.

Unfortunately not only is watching TV a boring way to spend your summer, it isn’t good for you:

  • According to the Active Healthy Kids Report, ”Canadian youth are accumulating 6 hours of screen time on weekdays and more than 7 hours on weekend days.” This is thought to contribute to lower physical activity levels.
  • According to the Media Awarness Network, ”…61 per cent of young teens… (rate) entertainment media as their top source of information on sexuality and sex health. …although two-thirds of TV shows contain sexual content, only one in ten includes any reference to safe sex or the consequences…”.
  • According to the TV Turn-off Factsheet, ”people who watched TV or used a computer more than three hours per evening were more likely than others to report insufficient sleep-even though their actual sleep duration was only 12 minutes less, on average.  Electronic media may increase your need for sleep and undercut its quality, say the researchers.” 

The list goes on from here; there are even studies that show a strong correlation between television watching and poor test scores. What to do?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that people aged over the age of two limit their television watching to one to two hours.

To get under this limit, try firstly to limit your TV time by avoiding it– remove the television in your bedroom if you have one and plan other activities for times when you usually watch television (e.g. If you usually watch television after doing homework, walk the family dog or read a book instead.).

One summer, I made a list of activities (at least one for each day of the summer) that I could do instead of watching television and being bored. Although I didn’t do all of the activities on my list, I still have fond memories of those I did do.

Next, change the way you think about television watching. Rather than considering it an activity, consider it a source of information. Plan which programs and movies you want to see ahead of time and try to choose at least some educational programs.

While watching your preselected programs and movies, do other activities simultaneously (e.g. organize a desk drawer, stretch or strengthen your muscles; note that studying shouldn’t be done during this time) and turn off the television as soon as the program or movie is finished.

To help motivate you, enlist your parents. Inform them of your plans to cut down on television and ask them to support you, but don’t expect them to nag you, even at your own request.

With time, you should find that your new habits are so deeply ingrained that you simply don’t have time to watch television anymore.

I did this a few years ago and it works. I don’t even remember how to turn on our television anymore (although I won’t be forgetting how to operate a computer any time soon).

The second TV Turn-off week of 2010 is scheduled for September 18th to 24th.


Originally published in the Times & Transcript on May 29th, 2010.


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