Sunday, February 4, 2007

Fighting television addiction - Part 4 - Curing the Children

Whenever anyone out of my 3 nephews, 1 niece, 2 elder brothers or their wives enter a particular room they switch on the television.

2 of my nephews wake up and reach for the remote control (one of them is only 3 years old). When the other nephew and niece wake up they will first go to the television room and not brush their teeth or do anything else.

They will usually all be in front of the television by 9:30am on holidays and will breakfast till 11:30am. How anyone can spend 2 hours on breakfast should be apparent - they are not eating breakfast, they are watching television.

If you do not let them go out to play and they have finished their homework they have a problem. "What should I do?"

Their respective mothers will sit beside them with remote in hand watching all sorts of immoral women on television while the children attempt to do their homework.

The truth is that these children are as addicted to television as any adult might be addicted to alcohol, smoking, or drugs.

They wake up in the morning and in a half-asleep zombie state will shuffle to worship the television. They cannot eat anything without the television on. They cannot spend one minute of their free time doing anything except watching television. All curricular activities are done at school. At home it is either schoolwork or television.

The consequences of such habits can be serious because numerous studies evidence the fact that children that watch television tend to be fatter and have higher cholesterol levels when compared to children that do not (or watch less). Because of the hypnotic-suggestive state induced by television some medical experts also argue that children may become violent, depressed, short on temper, intolerant, and anti-social through excessive watching.

These are children, our children, the future of the human species and I think we all should be taking better care of them. We have laws to protect our children from exposure to drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.

It is time you became responsible and followed some laws to protect your children from the dangers of television addiction.

  • Track viewing time
    In his book Helping Children Watch TV, Nicholas A. Roes suggests that parents are never aware of how much time their children spend watching the TV. He suggests maintaining a log. Most parents are shocked to know that the children spend an average of more than 30 hours per week on television.

  • The TV is not a pacifier
    In my family the television is used as a pacifier. When a small child becomes uncontrollable there is a always the tendency to, "Heeeey, look at that. What is that on the TV?" If a child refuses to eat then, "Why don't you watch this cartoon and I will feed you?" The Television is used as a device to get children to do something or to control them. Busy parents are more guilty of this as they leave their children to the television while finishing chores.

    In her book Unplugging the Plug-in Drug, Marie Winn says, "Don't get in the habit of using television as a babysitter, no matter how busy you are." Seek out things that your children can do instead of turning them into addicts. If it's wrong to give them marijuana it is wrong to let them watch television.

  • Be Prepared
    Go through the list of programs for the upcoming week and make a careful selection that balances time and program value. Remember that television creates a suggestive state like hypnosis and children absorb the values they see. Cut out all the violence and add more educational value to the programs you choose for your children.

    Always watch at least one episode on your own to make sure that these are the values your child should learn. If it does not measure up, never try it again.

    One important thing here is that as soon as the program is over you must unplug the television and lock up the remote. There should be no delay for any reason that serves as an excuse to watch more television.

  • Weekly off
    There are two easy (for parents at least) ways of cutting out television. The first is to make a rule that there will be no television on school days. Marie Winn recommends discussing this openly with your children so they understand why this is important. The second way is to again discuss things with the children and designate either Saturday or Sunday as the weekly "No Television For Anyone" day. On this day no child or adult will switch the television on - for any reason.
People mistakenly believe that this will turn the children toward needless rebellion but as Marie Winn explains in her book, if you discuss it properly with them so that they understand there will be no rebellion.

Once the children fall into the habit of filling their leisure time with other activities their chances of reverting to television depends on their level of addiction. Needless to say, as a parent you have to provide the right support to help the children recover.

The weekly television off method will also make it clear how dependent the family is on television. You may almost feel ashamed but that cannot be helped.

You are dealing with addiction and you cannot cure it without facing withdrawal.

The children will beg, plead, cry, throw tantrums, and do everything in their power to melt you or manipulate you into letting them watch television. If you give in then picture yourself as a dope dealer giving one more fix to a dope fiend because you felt sorry for him.

Would you do that to your own children?

The important thing here is to explain to the children that this is not punishment but the right and healthy way to live. The children will assume punishment and it is your job to explain the difference. Use the reward method if required. Promise them something by the weekend if they are willing to give up on television.

Modern technologies can help you manipulate television programs. It is recommended you never watch anything live. Use timers to record programs and then watch them on replay. This gives you tremendous control on what your children get to see. You can pause during conflicting or violent content to explain things to the children and fast-forward during commercials to protect them from mindless advertisements. You could also watch the commercials and discuss with slightly older children the benefits of skepticism at advertisements. Buying this toy, that deodorant, some toothpaste, or anything is not likely to make them achieve the same things the commercial says - explain this to them.

In my own family there is no fixed bedtime for anyone. Bedtime is when the movie or program is over. Dishes are not done, beds are not made, sleep is insufficient and all the countless evils of arranging life around television are perpetrated every day.

It is critical that the bedtime for children be fixed and television must not be even the last reason to change that. An addition to this rule is that there should be no television in the room where children sleep.

These are some of the things that you can do to control television addiction in your children.

It may not be easy but it must be done if you wish your children to lead healthy and normal lives without sacrificing their respective minds and bodies.

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