Saying "No" to TV

a radio commentary broadcast on Jefferson Public Radio's The Jefferson Daily
Tuesday, August 19, 1997
(c)1997 by Fred Flaxman

HOST: When commentator Fred Flaxman's son was 10 and his daughter, 6, they caught that terrible disease that has plagued youngsters (and some not-so-youngsters) ever since television sets first came into our homes -- video-eye-tis. This ailment's principal symptoms were clear: a complete inability to stop staring at an illuminated picture tube, no matter what was on it, combined with an intense craving for anything seen advertised, as long as it was unhealthy, unnecessary or unaffordable. Unlike other parents, Fred found a cure for this affliction.

FLAXMAN: Doctors, hospitals, pills and syrups, of course, were all out of the question. My wife and I tried gold star awards, allowance incentives and outright bribes. But none of these methods worked.

Then one day, by chance, I discovered a very simple but effective means of treating video-eye-tis. We happened to have one of those old-fashioned Zenith consoles with two doors covering the screen, each with a U-shaped handle. While cleaning out the garage, I came across a padlock I still had from my gym locker in high school. It occurred to me that the lock might just fit around the two handles. It did.

I wasn't trying to stop my children from watching television. My goal was simply to limit its use, to teach our kids to be selective and to spend at least some of their time doing active, creative things -- like playing, for example. Or maybe even some homework.

Some parents, faced with this problem, have gone so far as to get rid of their TV sets altogether. I think that is as foolish as letting kids watch television all they want. After all, there are worthwhile TV programs as well as worthless ones, and children can learn a great deal from television, just as they can from books.

So my wife and I set up some simple ground rules: Our children could each watch only one hour of TV a day. But they could look at anything they wanted -- well, almost anything.

Our six-year-old had little difficulty adjusting to the new house rule, but our 10-year-old boy at first deeply resented the limitation on his viewing freedom. I even recall being compared to a certain past German leader -- Adolf Hitler, I think it was.

But the kids had to do something with the time they were not spending watching television, and they did. Our son practiced the piano (without nagging), created fantastic buildings with wood blocks, mastered a labyrinth game, and joined a soccer team. Our daughter painted one picture after another, played for hours with characters from outer space she made herself out of clothespins and corks, and even spent a great deal of time reading.

In short, they both found time to be children, to use their imaginations, and to get outdoors for fresh air and exercise.

After only a week they even forgot to check the TV listings, and sometimes days would go by with the padlock firmly in place. My son's resentment subsided, as did most of the pressure from both kids to buy products they saw advertised on the tube.

Our children are now old enough to control the TV set, the stereo, and the refrigerator, too. And my daughter has a seven-year-old daughter of her own. But she doesn't have a TV set.

This is Fred Flaxman.

HOST: Commentator Fred Flaxman is a writer and editor who lives in the Griffin Creek area of Jackson County.