Random thoughts on television, life, parenting and kids.
I just read a compelling article in The Oregonian, a newspaper that still arrives in my driveway each day. The article is about television (a big surprise), and it doesn’t pull any punches. Here’s the first paragraph:
“A potentially dangerous substance found in nearly every Oregon home—and many day care centers—threatens thousands of Oregon kids with a life plagued by heart disease, cancer or diabetes.”
The article goes on to mention the research about the effects of television on children, which include an increased chance of becoming overweight, performing poorly in school, having sleep problems, bullying other kids and developing attention deficit disorder.
Apparently, even alcohol use and smoking are correlated with watching too much television. According to the article, kids who watch at least four hours of TV a day are 524 percent as likely to smoke as kids who watch less than two hours.
As Thanksgiving draws near, I hope the message in this Oregonian article will motivate more parents to turn off the television during the holidays, especially if they have small children. Without hours and hours of televised sports in the background, families might even have more fun on Thanksgiving. They might decide to watch less television next year, too. That would indeed be a blessing (even for die-hard sports fanatics, who could throw the ball around outside for a change).
For years the American Academy of Pediatrics has been saying that television isn't good for babies and toddlers, and now, amazingly enough, Disney seems to have gotten the message. Starting this month, they're offering refunds for their Baby Einstein videos. Of course Disney was pressured to do this, but if it helps parents learn the truth about so-called educational television for babies, I applaud the action no matter how it came about.
My hope is that this move by Disney will inspire parents not only to return the videos they bought, but also encourage new parents to keep the set off from the beginning.
It won't be easy, mostly because small children can drive even the most even-keeled parent up the wall. New moms and dads who choose to forgo the electronic babysitter are likely to need a lot of support, including help from neighbors, friends and family members. They might also need caregivers and daycare providers who are willing to interact with children, rather than simply putting them in front of a big screen.
Fortunately, the extra work required in the beginning will pay off within a short time. Kids who haven't learned to rely on television use their imaginations more and are better at entertaining themselves. They're smarter, too. And as I once said in an article I wrote for the Oregonian, that's something that Baby Einstein just can't offer.
Recently I was on a radio show in Portland called Parenting Unplugged Radio. Naturally I love the title of this show, but it’s the hosts of the show, Laura and Todd Mansfield, who really make it a success. They made me laugh, they made me sigh, and then they somehow talked me into singing the beginning of the “Brady Bunch” song. (Yes, I still know it.)
After my little performance, I started listening to some of Todd and Laura’s other podcasts and was impressed with the topics they’ve tackled so far, everything from water birth to parent activism. I hope you will listen, too, and read their blogs about the same topics as well.
We are fortunate to have so many opportunities to learn and grow as parents. We are no longer dependent on major news networks to stay informed or to let our own voices as mothers and fathers be heard. Parenting Unplugged Radio is just one example of this phenomenon, but it’s one of the best. The more ways we have to inspire, empower and entertain parents, the better the future will be for all of us.
I am sitting on the deck of an old log cabin facing the San Francisco Peaks outside of Flagstaff, Arizona. My husband spent nearly every summer of his childhood here. He and his siblings didn’t have television. They had books and board games and horses and forts they built from fallen branches. They also had parents who gave them the chance to run free—to explore acres and acres of prairie land, to wander through Aspen groves and climb nearby mountains.
We are here now to visit my mother-in-law, Jean, who is in Flagstaff. She isn’t well enough to visit the family cabin, but I hope to see her soon. I want to tell her what I wish I had told her a long time ago. I want her to know what she has meant to me.
I was just 24 when I met her, and like many future daughters-in-law, I was nervous and worried about making a good impression. But Jean welcomed me with a warm smile and open arms, and immediately put me at ease. I soon discovered that unlike my friends who had mothers-in law who left them feeling insecure and inadequate, my mother-in-law accepted me unconditionally. Her love, and more importantly her patience, has never wavered. How else could she have managed to refrain from getting upset with a daughter-in-law who decided to wait 11 years before giving her a grandchild!
Jean is gifted with the skills advice columnists try so hard to instill in less-abled mothers-in-law. As my mother-in-law, she seemed to instinctively know what to do from the beginning. She didn’t tell me how to raise my child or offer house-cleaning tips (and I have never been tidy). Instead she lavished me with kindness and praise. As if that wasn’t enough, she took me and my husband on vacations to fabulous resorts, giving us private suites and encouraging us to order room service and a massage if we so desired.
When my son was born, she lavished him with the same attention. She followed his interests, giving him chess books, building blocks and science sets. Although he was shy, Jean was the first person outside of immediate family with whom he willingly bestowed with a hug. She has continued to express pride in his accomplishments, both big and small.
Raised in Texas, Jean has always had an unprecedented amount of Southern charm. She is a sparkling conversationalist, someone who takes an interest in what others have to say, whether they’re talking about politics or the virtues of adopting a feral cat. She’s an avid reader, the person who introduced me to Barbara Kingsolver’s books and a host of others.
Through her work as a community activist, she has inspired me to do more in my own neighborhood. She opened an animal shelter, ran a bookstore, and has worked hard to keep our natural landscape free from development. Yet, with all that she has accomplished, Jean prefers to shine the light on others. Like a successful politician with a wealth of Dale Carnegie wisdom, Jean will ask what you’ve been up to before she talks about herself.
They say that a man often marries someone who is like his mother, and if that’s the case, I know I’ve fallen short. What I can say to my mother-in-law is that I’m doing the best I can with her grandson. I see now how challenging it is to raise a family, and she had six kids, as well as countless dogs and at least one skunk! My respect and admiration for her and my father-in-law has increased with every passing year.
I know I am tremendously fortunate to have the best mother-in-law in the world. She has given me the blueprint I will need when my own son gets married. I want to thank her for everything she has done for me, and most of all, for always making me feel a part of her family.
School will be out soon and once again parents will be looking for television substitutes. In honor of TV-Turnoff Week I said in my April blog that planting a garden would be a great way to fill those TV-free hours with the kids. Naturally after making this suggestion to others, I was committed to starting my own garden as well. (This is one of reasons I don’t blog more.)
Although I’m sure my organic vegetable garden doesn’t begin to rival that of the First Lady’s garden, I am nonetheless pleased. Since I was afraid I would kill everything I planted without help from my husband and son, my garden soon became a family endeavor. To insure that we would all be invested in the garden’s success, we only planted fruits and vegetables we all like eating. This is why we now have three separate strawberry patches and three types of lettuce but no zucchini.
I love walking outside in bare feet in the morning to grab a few strawberries for my cereal or some spinach for an omelet. I like the other gardens in our neighborhood, too, which I wrote about in the Hillsdale News. More and more Portlanders are using their backyards as well as their front yards for vegetable gardens and enjoying the fruits of their labor. And for families who want to watch less television this summer, that’s a great decision.
TV-Turnoff Week is just around the corner, April 20–26, to be exact. People have been asking me for ideas on how to keep kids busy and happy (and parents sane) without television and video games.
With Michelle Obama’s White House vegetable garden in the works, I would like to suggest that TV-Turnoff Week be used to plant more gardens wherever possible. In fact, a garden can be created on an apartment balcony with just a couple of pots. A neighbor of mine just dug out a few large rocks in his well-landscaped yard to make room for some onions and carrots, among other things.
Everyone in the family can help with a vegetable garden. Even toddlers can learn to dig holes and pull weeds, and later on they’ll be more willing to try the fruits and vegetables they’ve planted. When my son was three, he ate one of the carrots we grew when the dirt was barely washed off.
I plan to use part of my front yard for my garden because it gets a lot of sun. I don’t have much experience gardening, but that doesn’t matter. My neighbors can help me and there are lots of other resources available, such as Organic Gardening, which is full of information for beginners. A non-profit organization in Portland called Growing Gardens helps low-income families have vegetable gardens and Portland Yard Sharing hooks people up with others to share gardens.
If you’re not interested in gardening, don’t fret. TV-Turnoff Week is also a good time to do other things outside, rain or shine. Families can take more walks together, ride bikes and take the bus, if they don’t already. Kids can explore nearby creeks and climb trees.
For families who want to explore the scene beyond their own neighborhoods, the Sierra Club and Kaiser are hosting a series of hikes around town, beginning April 18, to help kick off TV-Turn-off Week. For the more adventurous, you can also go to my son’s website to check out his featured hikes.
Lately in Portland, we’ve been enduring unseasonably cold weather, and so I should point out the benefits of TV-free time spent inside as well. It’s a great time to try new recipes, read new books, do art projects, play board games, sing and play musical instruments, and interact with family members and friends (without a remote or an X-Box).
It really is easier to raise kids with less television or none at all, although it can be hard in the beginning. The good news is that kids who learn not to rely on television develop their imaginations more and get better at entertaining themselves sooner, which is good for everyone.
I wish all of you who are participating in TV-Turnoff Week the best of luck and best wishes on your garden this year should you choose to have one!
I watched President Barack Obama’s speech Tuesday night. For those of you who missed it, he covered everything from the economy to the war in Iraq. And once again he urged parents to turn off the television and read to their kids.
I’m beginning to think that President Obama really cares about the topic of television and children. After all, he’s been talking about it since at least 2004, when he made the same plea at the Democratic convention in the speech that brought him into the national arena.
It makes sense for Obama to be passionate about inspiring parents to use the off button a little more on the idiot box. The amount of TV kids watch affects their health and school performance, two other topics Obama cares a lot about. Kids who grow up in poor health and without a good education can’t do as much to improve the economic situation or the environment.
Obama has an uphill battle ahead of him, which is probably why he keeps repeating his message about television and video games. I’m hoping that expectant parents and the parents of young children in particular are listening to him. Creating good habits in the beginning is so much easier than waiting until kids are already hooked, and the evidence about the effects of television on babies and toddlers is well documented now.
I like what author Elizabeth Pantley has to say on the subject in an excerpt from her book, Gentle Baby Care. She gives new parents much-needed information, listing the pros and cons of television and citing the recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics that children under two not watch television. Although she strongly discourages its use, she is sympathetic in her approach.
“Using extraordinarily careful selection and restraint, a little bit of television can provide a parent with much-needed down time, or time to catch up on tasks that need adult-only attention,” Pantley says.
Surely, parents can hear what she has to say, and if our new president continues to reinforce the message as well, we might just experience a change we can believe in. I’m counting on as much.
I don’t know about you, but I really am experiencing a change I can believe in, and I wasn’t even at Obama’s inauguration. Although I like to talk about the importance of experiencing real-life events in person rather than watching them on a TV screen, I have to say that I still felt the magic of inauguration day while sitting right in front of my television. So, you see, even anti-TV zealots know when it’s time to tune in and grab the remote.
As I watched the inauguration, I could feel the tide turning, particularly when I saw George’s helicopter take off. We really are going to be all right now. In spite of the seemingly insurmountable challenges we face, we are nonetheless truly blessed, all of us--Christians, Jews, Muslims and non-believers (and I do think non-believers wouldn’t mind referring to themselves as blessed at this point in history).
And so, I hope we will all experience a lot of joy in the coming eight years. In particular I wish the best for our children, including, but not limited to, giving them a decent education, good health care, clean air, a peaceful world, and of course, more time actively experiencing life and interacting with real people, especially with those who love them. Barack and Michelle would agree with me on this, even though they’re fabulous TV stars. They still know when to turn the set off for the sake of Sasha and Malia.
I wish them my best, too.
Well, it has been a while since I’ve blogged. I’ve been wondering if I will ever be able to write about anything without weaving Barack Obama into the text. (Apparently not.)
Of course I still realize that this website does exist in part to provide readers with information about kids and media, rather than simply serving as an online Obama fan club. Therefore, I’ll do my best to switch gears.
I’ll start by mentioning a study from the University of Maryland that came out last month about the effects of television on our well being. The researchers found that happier people watched less television than unhappy people. This finding made me wonder if watching TV made people unhappy or if people who are already unhappy simply watch more television. The study doesn’t say. And would the people studied have been happier if they were mostly watching Obama on television? We don’t know.
In addition to staying up-to-date on research about television, I’ve also been looking into the latest information about cell phones and radiation, texting, the internet and other technologies used by teens. I’ll blog more about this in the future.
And still on the subject of teenagers, I would like to mention something exciting that my son (an actual teenager) and thousands of middle schoolers across the country are doing (and I don’t mean texting and talking on cell phones).
They’re participating in FIRST Lego League, which is about to have its annual qualifying tournaments. For the competition my son’s team created a website to inform architects, city planners and others about a cutting-edge construction idea to help solve storm water problems caused by climate change. Check out their site and let my son and his teammates know what you think. Naturally, I will be sending the link to Obama as well.
What a night! Barack Obama sent me an email as soon as he declared victory. I will write him back and I’m sure I will hear from him again soon. Like millions everywhere, I will be helping him change the world.
Because of the internet, we are no longer passive and helpless in front of our ubiquitous television screens, should we choose to watch them. When we don’t like what we see, we can blog about it, send emails or make our own commercials.
That’s what the Obama campaign understood. And in the end that’s why the smears aimed at him didn’t stick. Obama communicated with us directly and we did the same with him, his campaign and with each other. That’s why he received a record number of donations and created a passionate group of supporters.
Barack has proven himself to be brilliant and unflappable, and more spiritually evolved than leaders we have seen in recent times. I am deeply grateful today for this monumental opportunity before us, and I am thankful for my friends, Democrats and Republicans alike, who chose to vote for Obama.
We are all more empowered now. We have a voice. Let’s make the most of it. The world is watching us, and not just from television sets anymore.
I just learned about something called "Take a Child Outside Week." It’s this week (Sept. 24-30) and it’s designed to raise awareness about childhood obesity and children’s disconnection from nature. The idea is to get kids to play outside and explore the natural world more.
Of course it’s a bit sad that a designated week is even needed to motivate people to do something that used to come naturally for families. Increased screen time is just part of the reason for the move indoors. Lots of parents are afraid to allow their kids to venture too far from home. In some cases, their fear is warranted. In other cases moms and dads simply perceive their neighborhood to be more dangerous than it really is.
The woman who started "Take a Child Outside Week" is affiliated with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and her project has been getting lots of attention all over the United States. You can check out her website. I especially like the section about family outings, where posts are welcome about favorite activities.
I like that this is a week in which parents and others are invited to do something positive, as opposed to being told to stop doing something that’s not good for kids. I know that in my own workshops I find that sharing the benefits of TV-free parenting is better than dwelling on the negative effects of too much television.
Although it’s starting to rain here in Portland and elsewhere, I hope that won’t stop kids from getting to play outside this week, and every week of the year for that matter.
Last week I was interviewed by a reporter in England and she asked me how much television my family watches now that my son is 13. After thinking about it, I realized that we have watched a lot more than usual this past month. First the summer Olympics drew our attention, particularly Michael Phelps and his quest for eight medals. Then we tuned into the Democratic convention to watch the evening speeches.
What we discovered is that it was often easier for us to use one of our laptops to find the Olympic event or speech we wanted and watch it at our leisure without constant commercial interruptions.
Naturally, we had to watch Barack Obama's speech on the big screen. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. I was impressed with him for so many reasons, and although it is a minor point, I want to mention that once again he advised parents to turn off the television and read to their kids. I didn’t hear his opponent say anything like this (and I did listen to his speech, too).
Last month France's broadcast authority banned French channels from marketing TV shows to children under 3 years old because of the developmental risks associated with early exposure. Scandinavian countries have already taken measures to protect young children from television and advertising, and have increased public awareness of its inherent dangers.
I don’t know exactly what we can expect in this area from Obama, but I know that parents will have an ally with him and Michelle in positions of leadership. And in my opinion we need to do everything we can to get them into the white house.
Whether we like it or not, as long as the majority of Americans watch lots of television (primarily for entertainment), commercials will be their primary source of information about the candidates. That’s why donating to Obama's campaign is necessary if we want him to be elected.
So that’s my pitch. (At least it isn’t for my book this time, although you’re welcome to buy it while you’re at it).
With school starting, and the Olympics and the conventions over, I’m looking forward to spending less time in front of the big screen, until the debates begin, that is. I hope you’ll watch them, too.
I always assumed that children watch less television in the summer. I imagined that kids would be swimming, reading, playing outside and pestering their siblings all day, but apparently that’s not the case. Without school and afterschool sports, kids actually end up watching more television to fill the time, rather than less.
The problem is that parents and kids alike often feel at a loss when it comes to finding alternatives to television and video games in the summer.
I know what that’s like and I have a great book that can help (and it isn’t my book, although I naturally recommend it as well). The book I’m talking about is full of creative ideas and games for kids. It’s called “Unplugged Play: No Batteries. No Plugs. Pure Fun” by Bobbi Connor. Connor is a radio host of a program called The Parent’s Journal. She interviewed me about my book and she really understands how important it is to get kids unplugged more.
For my family, it’s been a pretty good summer so far with plenty of time outside, since the sun has finally come out in Oregon. My son talked me into taking a number of unorthodox hikes to various waterfalls where few others have been before us. In fact, one of our destinations was so difficult to reach we were not surprised that one couple who tried it had to be rescued by helicopter.
To find out more about my son’s (less challenging) recommended hikes you will soon be able to check out his website. I’ll keep you posted.
One of the best parts about having a website and a blog is hearing from other people with great ideas. That's how I found out about this fabulous design.
For all the parents who are tired of logo-laden apparel, this provides a great alternative. The message is powerful. It's non-corporate advertising at its best. I want to see these T-shirts on everyone. I want to have a baby just so I can buy her (or him) this shirt in the smallest size it comes in. Considering the fact that I am past the fertile stage of my life, this should prove how much I like these shirts. I guess I will have to settle for getting invited to a baby shower and giving the shirt to the expectant mother. Well I suppose I can also buy a bunch of them to offer at my workshops.
I don't know the people who run this site yet, but I'm sure they must be wonderful people to have come up with this great idea. I hope you like it, too.
Enjoy the nice weather, if it is actually nice where you are. Climb a tree, play outside. Show your children that the world outdoors can be one big play station. And you don't have to buy these shirts to do that. But you might want to anyway!
Now that TV-Turnoff Week is over, I thought it would be a good time to acknowledge the people out there who have a great sense of humor about it. Check out the comic strip, Stone Soup, whose creator lives in Eugene, Oregon. See the April 21-26 strips.
The good news is that most people who participate in TV-Turnoff Week end up watching less television even months later. So maybe the kids in Stone Soup will be playing outside more this summer, too. I know I'll be following the strip to find out, because reading the comics is still one of my favorite television substitutes. And kids love it, too!
Well, what a surprise! I am writing my second blog and it’s still April. It’s also TV-Turnoff Week, April 21-27.
If you decide to participate in this fun-filled week, I would be happy to help and so would lots of other people. Check out my TV-Free Parenting yahoo group and find out what’s working for other families.
Naturally I will be participating in TV Turnoff Week. For our family that means that we are still using computers for homework, writing, research and of course for updating my exciting website.
This year I am also making one unusual exception during TV-Turnoff Week. I am going to allow myself to watch a particular commercial over and over, mostly because I wrote and co-produced it.
I know you’re probably wondering why someone like me who wrote a book about overcoming TV addiction would then write a commercial. What can I say? It was for a really good cause, and after having seen countless commercials in my lifetime, I think I may have a knack for it. See it for yourself, and if you like it, pass it on.
I guess you’ll also have to decide if you want to make an exception and watch it during TV-Turnoff Week. Just so you know, it’s fine with me.
I know I'm not a superdelegate or anything like that, but I've decided to pretend that I'm one. And so in this blog, I would now like to declare my support for Barack Obama.
There, I've said it. I feel much better now. And I'm sure Barack is very pleased as well. He even extended a dinner invitation to me. Naturally it was very exciting, except for the fact that he's also invited a million or so other people to have dinner with him. In truth, only four of us will actually be chosen to go on the coveted dinner date, and I think that some have already been chosen. I'm only mentioning this now, because the deadline to vie for this big event was at midnight, March 31. I’m sorry if you missed it. Really.
To be eligible for this dinner, I had to fill out an online form, in which Barack asked me what I would like to discuss with him that night. Naturally I could sense that he was really interested in hearing my ideas and that he would much rather do away with the impersonal nature of the online application process. As you might guess, I told him that I would like to talk with him about kids and the media, particularly television and video games. Barack loves this subject, you see, and he mentions it all the time. See this.
I don't know what else I should have said to Barack to convince him that I am one of the people he should choose. If I knew what the criterion for the contest was, I would have tailored my comments to fit those of the ideal applicant. But of course, that’s not the Obama way. Barack isn’t into spin. He’s actually authentic and far more spiritually evolved than I am, thank God. So, I asked myself: What would Barack do in this situation if he wanted to go out with someone really amazing who was about to change the world? Well, he would probably just be himself and not do anything crazy or desperate, such as writing this pathetic blog about it in order to try to win someone over. Barack just isn’t like that, you see. But maybe he won’t mind having dinner with someone who is. I can only hope.
Many blessings and my apologies to those voting for the other candidates,
Well, it has been way too long since I’ve posted a blog. I continue to be amazed at those people who post one every day. I suppose I could do that, too, but I’m afraid I would end up writing about how much my cat sheds, and that sort of thing.
The truth is that I have been wanting to blog a lot. I’ve been wanting to write about one of the presidential candidates, but I’ve also wanted to keep all of my readers (the ones who are democrats, that is) happy.
So instead, I will simply point out that my favorite candidate is the only one who has said in his or her televised speeches that parents should turn off the television and put away the video games. This is a brave stance for a presidential candidate to take. Talk about asking parents to make sacrifices! I applaud him (or her).
When you think about it, the kids who are fortunate enough to grow up without lots of exposure to commercial television might actually become better at making informed decisions in future elections. Rather than being solely influenced by seductive and/or frightening commercials with sleeping children and red phones, they might choose to read about their candidates and watch them speak and debate each other instead. In other words, they might become part of a well-educated and well-informed populace.
It could happen, but it would take work. And wouldn’t it be so much easier if it wasn’t par for the course for candidates to spend millions of dollars on television commercials in the first place? I think so. But I’ve said enough. It’s time for me to brush my cat, before it covers the couch in fur.
May peace be with you.
Well, finally another blog, and just in time for the holidays, a time when it can be difficult to cut back on television. I can remember many a Christmas or New Year’s Day with relatives when television seemed like the only way to keep everyone entertained and happy, myself included. Even so, cutting back on TV or doing without it over the holidays has its rewards, so here are my suggestions:
1. If you’re planning to have a TV-free holiday, let your family and guests know ahead of time. Don’t wait until everyone arrives to tell them that the expected Star Wars movie marathon or college football game isn’t going to happen. Enlist their support and enthusiasm early on, so no one’s disappointed.
2. Plan a bunch of fun activities well in advance such as playing board games, doing art projects, singing, playing musical instruments, hiking, playing soccer or baseball (actually playing rather than watching), reading together (my book for instance), cooking, talking (hopefully not arguing constantly), and going to plays, musicals, etc.
3. Keep it positive. Tell everyone that you’re trying something different for the holidays (if it is different), and that you thought it would be more fun. Remind the relative who complains of missing his favorite show that they’re airing reruns now anyway because of the writers’ strike.
One more thing... you can always go shopping. I suggest buying my book. Give it to those friends and relatives who really do want to get unplugged.
When some people discover that I’ve been raising my child with minimal amounts of television, they assume I’m some sort of anti-technology freak who probably doesn’t know how to forward email messages or change the ring on her cell phone. Well, they’re wrong. I not only know how to change the ring tone on my cell phone, but, believe it or not, I also know how to program numbers into it. (Actually, I just learned how to do this yesterday, but so what!) The point is that I can do it. And I’ve even managed to start a yahoo group. Would someone with a technology phobia (or TDD as my husband calls it) start a Yahoo group? No, they would not!
I am mentioning this Yahoo Group because I’m hoping that if you’re reading this, you will not only be interested in learning about this group, but you will be technologically savvy enough to understand how to join it. Really, the only intimidating part for me was getting a yahoo account (a necessary step). But you just follow the instructions and it’s free. And if you need help, you can always ask anyone under 18 to explain it to you.
The TV-Free Parenting Yahoo Group is for all of you who are interested in chatting with others who are raising their kids with limited amounts of television (or with none at all) or for those of you who are simply pondering the role television and video games play in family life. There is no rigid requirement to be in this group. Anyone interested in this issue can join. My hope is that this group will give people a chance to exchange information, and if they are in the same geographical area, they might even decide to get together in person, not just online. I’ve started posting articles of interest and have enjoyed the discussion so far.
Well, I know it’s been a while since I’ve written a blog entry. What can I say? I was busy reading the seventh Harry Potter book, and then before that, I was speculating with my son and his friends about what might be in the seventh Harry Potter book. Will all of the main characters live for certain? And which of the other characters near and dear to our hearts will bite the dust? Believe me, this sort of speculation takes a lot of time, but lest anyone believe it’s not time well spent, think again. As far as I’m concerned, JK Rowling and I are both working to accomplish the same thing. She’s just better at it. How many other authors could get so many kids all over the world to turn off the television in order to sit down with a 759-page book and finish it in two days? No one!
But Rowling’s influence on the way we think about television goes deeper. Just look at Dudley, the TV-addicted cousin poor Harry has to live with. Dudley is a stupid, overweight, bullying git, if I might use the British word. He illustrates beautifully all the reasons parents need to pull the plug out.
And then there’s Hogwarts itself. Ever notice how there isn’t any television there? No video games either. And yet all the kids have a great time, well except when they’re fighting Voldermort or dealing with mean teachers like Snape. Still, none of them ever complains about not having TV and video games. No one among the muggle-born is homesick for “Survivor.” Of course, they do have magic. I realize that, but nonetheless, they don’t seem to miss television.
Now I know some of you will point out that Rowling did allow a bunch of Harry Potter video games to be made, and so that doesn’t make her such a great paragon of virtue when it comes to keeping kids away from the screen. But who cares? No one’s perfect. And I think her basic message about the wonder of a TV-free childhood comes through in spite of that. We don’t need magic wands to experience the magic of reading her books, climbing trees, exploring the woods and falling in love, or in other words all the things real life offers.
So, thanks to Rowling and everyone out there who is trying to make a difference.
A friend of mine just finished watching the season finale of Brothers and Sisters. "Nothing but reruns now," she said. "Time to enjoy the summer."
Like TV-Turnoff Week, the start of summer is a golden opportunity to replace an unwanted television habit with something better: time spent outdoors for one thing. The coldest and rainiest seasons are behind us. Actually my son claims that the rainy season in Portland is October through June, but what's a little rain anyway? We're planning to walk, ride bikes more, swim, eat outside, hike and head to the beach.
In the summer it's easier for parents (depending on where they live) to say no to video games with the simple directive, "Go outside and play." Of course this means without game boys in hand.
Summer is also a great time to catch up on recreational reading and blatantly plug your favorite authors. I'm starting with Anne Lamott's latest book, Grace (Eventually), and know I'll have it finished in no time because I love the way she writes. Then I'm getting Barbara Kingsolver's new book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It's all about buying and growing food locally. We have a farmer's market in our neighborhood and I'm hoping that her book will inspire me to walk down the street every weekend to peruse the produce. I'm thinking of learning to actually do a better job cooking, too. Maybe an Oregon-grown cousa squash will inspire me.
One more book plug: As Father's Day approaches, you can still pick up Robert Wilder's, Daddy Needs a Drink. His website will also tell you about his essay contest. And if Dad watches a little too much television, be sure to pick up my book for Father's Day, too.
Now that “The Big Turnoff” is in bookstores, people keep asking me how my family feels about being in the book. I must admit that they’re taking it pretty well for the most part. I had after all prepared them.
When I initially finished the manuscript, I took my husband aside and confessed to him, “Look, I’ve written a little bit about our sex life."
He looked wary, probably because he knew that when I say a little, it rarely means a little. The last time I told him I’d done a little bit of shopping, I had actually spent several thousand dollars and ordered new bedroom furniture.
“The sex parts are really funny,” I explained to him, “and they needed to be there for the book’s sake. It was out of my hands,” I told him. “I was at the service of the art itself and that’s what dictated what had to be in the book.”
Later my husband told his sister about the sexual references in the book. She then called to tell me that she wanted to be sure to avoid those parts. “I just don’t want to read about my brother’s sex life,” she said.
She can read the same, censored version I will eventually read to my son.
The truth though is that our families are pretty excited about the book. My son loves being in it. And hopefully he won’t need therapy years later because of it. My mother in law is even more enthusiastic than my husband and son. She’s already ordered 20 copies and plans to buy more. She thinks my book will have universal appeal.
That’s obviously my hope, too. I would love for all sorts of people to read it and then of course recommend it to all their friends. Then maybe some of them will go to their local bookstores to buy it instead of making their usual trip to Blockbuster or Hollywood Video. And if they have kids, they might get Goodnight Gorilla or Goodnight Moon instead of buying the latest Baby Einstein DVD.
That would be wonderful and I would love to be a part of making that happen.
And by the way, if you’re looking for a great Father’s Day book for dad or for anyone who needs a good laugh, try “Daddy Needs a Drink” by Robert Wilder. It has just come out in paperback! All the stories are hilarious. I especially like “The Baby Whisperer,” which contains my favorite line in the book uttered by the author’s wife. “Fuck Ferber,” she shouts during the couple’s one-time experiment trying to follow the well-known sadistic sleep expert’s advice. I couldn’t agree more with his wife’s sentiments.
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20 April 2007
Fusion Press, UK
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