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Turn it Off... the Reality of TV
By Lindsay LaShell - May 6, 2005

Were you tuned in? National Turn off Your TV Week just concluded, prompting folks to pull the plug on their televisions, Internet and video games from April 25 to May 1.

About TV Turnoff Week

On average, American children ages 2-17 watch 2 hours and 45 minutes of tv every day
On average, American children ages 2-17 watch 2 hours and 45 minutes of tv every day

According to a CNN story, this has become an international movement where organizers are proclaiming, "Turn off the TV, turn on life!" An estimated eight million viewers participated in the eleventh annual TV-Turnoff Week.

Sound radical?

The non-profit organization TV-Turnoff Network behind the event insists that it's not about the quality of programming, but instead about the quantity. They cite a Kaiser Family Foundation survey released in March that found on average, children grades three through 12 spent nearly six and a half hours per day on TV, videos, music, video games and computers.

With adolescent obesity and violent and risqué programming on the rise, encouraging families to turn off the TV is clearly a worthwhile endeavor.

Personally, I can enjoy a good half hour of Friends pretty much any time. I often base my foreign policy beliefs on what I've seen on The West Wing, and though I won't rearrange my schedule for it, I have appreciated the occasional episode of The Bachelor.

But, as someone who is called to live in the world without being of the world, Turn off Your TV Week seemed like a good time to reflect on why I turn it on in the first place.

Seeing Television More Clearly

My experience has always been that TV is there to give me a break from my life. Especially at the end of an emotionally exhausting day, I actually feel like I need to watch something.

But why?

Aside from gathering information from the nightly news, I have to admit there are some darker motivations driving me to spend the evening with the remote.

In the end, it's all about escapism. It's been a long day, I don't want to think about what happened, I don't want to worry about my relationship, I don't want to admit my dissatisfaction, I'm not really feeling any joy… So, I will watch someone else's long day, worry about their relationship, sympathize with their dissatisfaction, and share with their joys.

Television, it turns out, provides all of the emotional experiences of living without any of the associated risks and benefits.

To Watch or Not to Watch

The average American watches over four hours of television a day
The average American watches over four hours of television a day

When I really stop to reflect, I find that watching TV is all about not living my own life-the life that God gave me and that Jesus redeemed.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that as Christians, we should never watch television, play video games or use the Internet.

It would be too easy to argue that time spent in study, fellowship, and service is always more beneficial than watching TV, so we shouldn't even bother turning it on at all. My problem with this attitude is that it robs God of the power to use TV for His purposes.

On the other hand, sometimes our viewing habits rob God of the power to use us for his purposes.

So, what's to be done? How much is too much? What amount of vicarious romance or dramatic escapism is allowable is God's kingdom?

I don't know. What I do know is that as believers, we have been blessed with freedom to make those decisions for ourselves.

For me, the answer has been taped to my remote: So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31

TV Watching Statistics

  • Time the TV is on each day in the average US home: 7 hours and 40 minutes
  • Number of violent acts the average American child sees on TV by age 18: 200,000
  • Number of TV commercials viewed by American children a year: 40,000
  • Number of TV commercials seen by the average American by age 65: 2 million

Tips to Help Keep the TV Off

  • Keep the TV off during meals.
  • Exercise as a family by taking walks, riding bikes, or learning a sport.
  • Move your television to a less prominent location.
  • Designate certain days of the week as TV-free days.
  • Do not use television as a reward.
  • Remove the TV set from your child’s bedroom.
  • Hide the remote.
  • Don’t worry if children say they are bored. Boredom passes and often leads to creativity.

Tips and statistics collected from the TV Turnoff Network: http://www.tvturnoff.org.