STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep. Renee Montagne is on assignment.
Today in Your Health, we'll focus on what goes in your ears and what's in front of your eyes. This is TV-Turnoff Week. For some reason, my family still spent time with Brian Williams and Homer Simpson, but this nationwide campaign does encourage families to experience what it's like to unplug. We asked NPR's Allison Aubrey to find out how it's going.
ALLISON AUBREY: Ten-year-old Julia Gorman is a fifth-grader at Cranbury Elementary School in Norwalk, Connecticut. And a typical weeknight for her includes a little playtime, some reading time, and, normally, watching her favorite TV show.
Ms. JULIA GORMAN (Fifth Grader, Connecticut): I like to watch "American Idol" and "Dancing with the Stars" on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesdays.
AUBREY: But Sunday night, Julia's family turned the TV off, and so far it stayed off all week. Screen time with computers has been out too.
Mr. ROBERT KESTEN (Director, Center for Screen-Time Awareness): The point of turning things off for a week is to give people the opportunity to realize just how attached to these devices they are.
AUBREY: Robert Kesten directs the non-profit organization called the Center for Screen-Time Awareness, which sponsors Turnoff Week each spring. He got involved a few years ago, after his neighborhood school encouraged families to try a weeklong media blackout. Kesten says he never realized how different his house would feel.
Mr. KESTEN: Well, the first thing you notice is that you have time. The second thing is that things slow down a great deal.
AUBREY: Kesten says with the TV and electronic gadgets off, his kids rediscovered all sorts of ways to play together.
Mr. KESTEN: One of my sons got a book about all these different card games, so we played War and Go Fish and — I mean, you name it, we played it - Slap Jack -over and over again. And it really was fun.
AUBREY: Eventually, the novelty wore off. And Kesten says at the end of the week his kids definitely wanted to go back to watching some TV. So the family compromise has been to watch much less.
Dr. SHARI BARKIN (Pediatrician, Vanderbilt Children's Hospital): Television is like dessert. Children want more of it.
AUBREY: Shari Barkin is a pediatrician at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital. She says there is plenty of research to suggest that too much TV is harmful. It's linked to aggressive behavior, weight gain and attention problems - issues that don't crop up overnight.
Barkin has some advice for parents who are trying to keep the TV off this week. She says just observe how your kid's behavior may have begun to change.
Dr. BARKIN: I think you would notice it within a couple of days. First clue, I think, is better listening. I don't mean perfect listening. I mean better listening.
AUBREY: Maybe less prompting to get homework started or to come to dinner. Barkin says the reason is that when children are exposed to less stimuli — less noise and distraction that comes with TV — the easier it is to stay focused on the task at hand. Barkin says not every child will respond this way. And certainly there are plenty of kids who don't watch enough television to be harmed by it.
As for 10-year-old Julia Gorman, she says turning off television this week has helped her remember how much fun it is to play with her siblings.
Ms. GORMAN: Yesterday afternoon, when I would finished my homework, instead of going to watch a show, me and my sister, we both read in bed and played outside more.
AUBREY: Was it more fun to play outside or did you kind of wished that you'd gotten to watch TV last night?
Ms. GORMAN: Well, I like to watch those shows a lot, but it's also still fun to play outside — they're kind of like equal.
AUBREY: Playing outside and TV equal? Lots of parents might consider that a breakthrough.
Allison Aubrey, NPR News, Washington.
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