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Don't Buy-In to the Turnoff Hype

By April 20, 2009

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Today marks the beginning of "Turnoff Week." For a week, we're supposed to turn off all screens from TVs to computers to cell phones. This one week without any connectivity is supposed to make us healthier, smarter and more close to our families. I find the whole thing absurd.

I understand the theories. We're spending too much time isolated in front of screens and not enough time outside, being active and just socializing together. Children, in particular are spending far too much time being pacified by passive media such as TV programming and mindless video games.

Unfortunately, the over-simplified arguments from the Center for Screen-Time Awareness and other Turnoff Week advocates don't add up:

1. All screen time is not created equal. Designing your own video game is not the same as playing one. Filming your own movie isn't the same as watching one. And writing a book on your computer isn't the same as reading one. Oh, wait...

2. Print media receives no comment. Print media is somehow exempt from the evils of electronic media. Despite the fact that it also is a passive, inactive and individual activity, consuming print media is somehow better according to screen-time activists.

3. It just doesn't add up. Electronic media doesn't equal passive time. It doesn't equal solo time. And it doesn't equal sedentary time. Sure, there are plenty of electronic activities that fall into those categories, but there are more than enough that don't.

4. Turnoff week is the media equivalent of the fad diet. Turning off all electronic media for a week is not a solution. It's not even a step in the right direction. Anyone with a basic understanding of human psychology knows that depriving someone of something they enjoy just makes them want it all that much more. Fad diets don't work for a reason. Most nutritionists will tell you that there is no magic pill to a healthy lifestyle. It's simply about making healthy choices every day and keeping unhealthy choices to a minimum.

Rather than going without any electronic media for a week, how about encouraging people to spend an hour more family time each week all year long? Or to spend another 45 minutes a week doing something fun outside? Electronic media isn't the enemy. Those of us who succeed in living balanced, healthy lives should be able to incorporate a variety of activities. That we fail at that has nothing to do with media and everything to do with human nature.

My one concession to Turnoff week is that it is environmentally friendly. So, I say rather than turning off all of your electronic media, try something different. Make it a point to spend some extra family time together engaged with each other. Add in some physical activity (even if it's a bowling tournament on your Wii), and allow yourself to be aware of how much time you're spending watching TV, playing solo video games and brainlessly surfing the web. Cut back a little on all of your passive time and use it towards something you feel is productive. Then come back and let me know how it goes...

Read More About Turnoff Week

April 20, 2009 at 11:02 am
(1) Susan Adcox says:

Families who have participated in Turnoff Week in the past typically report that it’s helpful in reminding them of all the activities they can do without electronics. Last year when my area was without electricity for a week or more following a hurricane, we were amazed at all the ways the kids came up with to amuse themselves. People came out of their houses, and families became acquainted with neighbors they had never talked to before. It was like a big forced Turnoff Week, and most of us do have good memories of the bonding and camaraderie that resulted, in spite of the damage and hardships.

April 20, 2009 at 2:40 pm
(2) Laureen Miles Brunelli says:

I agree that not all screen time is equal and some can be quite good for kids. But I disagree that reading printed material is anywhere close to as passive as TV or video games.

Reading is not a physically active pursuit, but that doesn’t make it passive.

The mind is extremely active when reading. First there is the decoding of words, which is easy for adults but children are just learning it. And then there is the understanding of ideas and themes, forming opinions on them and anticipating what’s next. Plus there is all new information about people and places to process. And maybe most important, there’s using the imagination to convert the printed words into pictures.

That’s not passive at all.

April 20, 2009 at 3:03 pm
(3) Christy says:

I agree that watching TV is high on the spectrum of passive activities, but reading is not less passive than playing a video game. Obviously it depends on the game, but video games require critical thinking, strategy, creativity, hand-eye coordination and often life skills like budgeting and time management. My point was that it makes no sense to ban anything with a screen and then say nothing about print media. I’ve got a friend who only reads e-books. Which camp does that fall into? If we want kids outside playing together, scrap all media for a week. If we want kids being active and creative, scrap inactive/passive media. Lumping screen media together makes no sense, other than the fact that it uses a screen.

April 20, 2009 at 3:36 pm
(4) Maggie says:

As an antiques and collectibles dealer we have plenty of old-fashioned fun stuff around – and we use it. But I think a better solution to turning off the TV for a week is to make sure you have alternatives available, and then teach your children (and yourselves) to be more discerning about what you watch.

For instance, we play with our Lionel trains, old board games, and outdoor games. But we still have TV night with popcorn and our favorite shows. Ditto on movie rental night.

In the summer my teenage son spends his day in the pool and yard, does his chores, and then has time for TV or video games.

April 21, 2009 at 4:19 pm
(5) Jim says:

And what about those who need to use the computer for things such as work? Yes, some may spend too much time with electronics, but sometimes using the electronics is completely necessary.

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