An entertaining, inspiring and decidedly countercultural account of parenting in a media-crazy world. From the moment she became pregnant, Currey-Wilson decided to shield her child from television. That was easier said than done. TV seemed to shadow the baby even before birth. During labor, his mother got into an argument with a midwife who thought that the television might provide distraction from her contractions. When little Casey finally arrived, Mom began to realize that she’d set herself quite a challenge. She still enjoyed TV herself and snuck in a show when Casey napped or was cared for by Dad, but her son watched almost no television before his sixth birthday. His teachers credited some of his unusual academic aptitude to the fact that he was reading or playing when other kids were zoned out in front of Barney. Yet this book’s most fascinating sections don’t have much directly to do with Casey. The author’s television turnoff sensitized her to the important place TV plays in friendships and even familial relationships. She got along best with her somewhat difficult mother, for example, when the two were parked in front of the tube; once TV time was limited, they struggled to find a new way to interact. Her stance also affected her bonding with other new mothers, who felt threatened and judged by her TV rules. As Casey got older, she worried that his friends’ moms didn’t want to have him over to play, since they knew he would rather draw or jump rope than watch a video. Debut author Currey-Wilson takes TV seriously, but never herself so much. (Agent: Meg Ruley/Jane Rotrosen Agency LLC)
Currey-Wilson, a self-confessed television addict, pledged that her unborn child would have a less-intense experience with television. She grew up with intimate knowledge of the television schedule and the theme songs of Bewitched and The Brady Bunch. The challenge was to wean herself from the boob tube before the birth of her child and to stick with a drastically tighter schedule of television viewing after her son was born. But Casey is a fussy baby, and Currey-Wilson finds herself constantly struggling with the personal comfort of watching television and against the cultural dominance of television watching. She becomes an oddity in her community and frets that her child will be also. Still, she finds herself developing closer relationships with her eccentric family and her laid-back husband. This is an amusing account of one woman’s stand against the most dominant force in American culture. Parents and others with their own struggles with the TV will especially appreciate this book. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved.
Currey-Wilson decides in the early stages of her pregnancy that her child will grow up without television so the family can form stronger emotional ties; the only problem is that she herself is totally addicted to the tube. She does manage to cut down her viewing after her son’s birth, taking her vigilance in maintaining his abstinence to extremes. She panics when she brings Casey to a friend’s house and finds a television on. She grants him permission to watch the Olympics, then leaps in front of the set to block the commercials. But when her son doesn’t play with his classmates, her fear runs in the opposite direction—should she have let him watch TV so he’d be able to fit in with other kids? Currey-Wilson’s vocal, earnest hostility to mainstream culture (even when she’s basking in sitcoms) sometimes makes it hard to sympathize, except that she’s also bracingly up-front about her insecurities and petty jealousies. And her anti-TV crusade becomes much less simplistic as she reveals how much she’s still playing out the dramas of her own childhood. Currey-Wilson writes with self-effacing humor, and any mom can identify with her sincere effort to give her child the best she can. (Apr. 20)
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Let’s start with some statistics. According to the TV Turnoff Network, the average American child witnesses 16,000 television murders by the time he’s 18. He watches more than 19 hours a week, averaging more time per year than he spends in school.
Portland writer Ellen Currey-Wilson decided her child wasn’t going to be that average American. Even before her son Casey was born, she declared he wasn’t going to watch television. "The Big Turnoff: Confessions of a TV-Addicted Mom Trying to Raise a TV-Free Kid" is a chronicle of Casey’s early years, as Currey-Wilson struggled with herself and society over the idea of parenting unplugged.
Her goal sounded manageable: no television at all while he was young (except for special occasions — like another moon landing) and then two hours a week once he turned 6. It turned out there were more than a few problems with this plan. Friends didn’t want to have playgroups without TV. Caregivers were hard to find. TV played in stores, at birthday parties and even during one disastrous Thanksgiving dinner.
More important, Currey-Wilson had to fight her own need to drown out the world with television. It turns out that sitcoms and movies were her drug of choice, an easy way to numb self-doubt and worry. And she was worrying a lot in those early years. Was there anyone else out there who felt the same way she did? Would Casey fit in with friends at school?
Like Anne Lamott in "Operating Instructions," Currey-Wilson takes a humorous and self-deprecating look at her own parenting. She wants reassurance from everyone that she is doing the right thing. What at first comes across as neurotic (after all, what’s the harm of five minutes of Winnie the Pooh at Gymboree?) ends up looking sane. Do we really think so little of our children that we can’t parent them without this enormous electronic pacifier?
"The Big Turnoff" is about television, but it is also about growth as a parent. Eventually, Currey-Wilson comes into her own. She not only curbs her own need for television, but she also brings TV Turnoff Week to Casey’s elementary school. In the end, instead of folding under pressure, she begins teaching TV-free parenting workshops in the Portland area.
"The Big Turnoff" has the potential to continue her work and bring it to the wide audience it deserves.
Katie Schneider, 22 April 2007
Book in a nutshell:
From the very beginning - the title- the author acknowledges that she’s addicted to TV. And no wonder. At one point, when writing about her fussy son, she tells of calling her mother for advice. "Give him phenobarbital," her mother says. When the author refuses, her mother suggests giving the baby beer instead.
Clearly, this is not a pedantic tome from some think tank of a mother who enjoys reading Ibsen in Norwegian. Currey-Wilson is addicted to TV in the same way her brother was addicted to drugs before going to jail. You know how sometimes a cable channel will run, for instance, a Mary Tyler Moore marathon? She would watch the whole thing.
But she didn’t want her son raised with that kind of addiction, so she goes to sometimes absurd lengths to be able to watch TV herself while not allowing the boy even a glimmer of the dreaded tube.
While the book’s structure is straightforward, it has an excellent dramatic arc, culminating in a psychological evaluation of the boy. The point at which the psychologist walks into the room to deliver the report is so riveting that telling you more would give away too much of the "plot." The writing and story combine to make the meeting feel like the scene in a Grisham novel when the jury walks into the courtroom to deliver the verdict.
This is a funny, personal story that will resonate with any parent. It also makes valid points about the quality of TV, and the degree to which even "enlightened," caring parents let it bathe their children in nonstop corporate images.
The book starts off with a bit of eye-roll-inducing stereotypical conversations over coffee and in trendy food stores in the Pacific Northwest. Zoom past that.
This is an awesome book-club book, especially for mothers who are worried about doing the right thing. At one point, the author tells of using colored highlighters to delineate which mothers are in a clique, which ones might be and which ones aren’t - all in an effort to make sure her son "fits in" at school. It might make you cringe, but it will inspire not only laughter but other stories of the obsessive-compulsive tendencies that come so naturally to otherwise mellow mothers.
Scott C. Yates, 20 April 2007
This rueful account of a TV addict trying to raise a TV-free child brings to mind Anne Lamott’s parenting classic, "Operating Instruction." Ultimately upbeat, the book is not to be missed‚…even by the most ardent "American Idol" fan.
The Big Turnoff (Algonquin)
Author’s Note: Ellen Currey-Wilson’s attempt to wean herself off television for the sake of her child’s (supposed) well-being led her to start TV-Turnoff Week at her now 8-year-old son’s school—and write this self-deprecatingly funny memoir.
Inside Peek: While Currey-Wilson practically grew up with a remote in her hand, her attempts to keep son Casey TV-free work almost too well. With TV references peppered throughout—addiction is, after all, hard to quit—Currey-Wilson explores the role of popular culture in our lives as well as what happens when a mother’s good intentions almost get the best of her.
In a quirky, funny, beguiling account, Ellen Currey-Wilson has chronicled her struggle to break her pathological TV addiction to protect her son from the same video plague. As someone immersed in the ever-growing media literacy movement, I’ve read just about every book on the perils of screen addiction. Alas, they have all been humorless, though interesting, tomes — until Ellen’s brand-new novelistic, biographical romp about escaping TV’s "vast wasteland."
Set in Hillsdale, the book serves up characters that are us, sort of. Ellen has some fine print boiler plate right above the ISBN number that cautions: "To protect the privacy of people mentioned in this book, characters have been combined and situations disguised, and certain names, places and other identifying characteristics have been changed."
So you aren’t supposed to be able to identify the characters you meet by name, but they sure do seem familiar. A couple years ago I got Ellen involved in forming a group of moms who were (and still are) trying to get a handle on the myriad screens in their kids’ lives. And sure enough, some facsimile of me, or at least my invitation to Ellen, is on the closing pages.
Ellen’s morphing of people and events gives her generous license to reveal the mad and maddening dynamics of trying to raise children in a media-saturated world.
If I had to guess, women, particularly young moms, are going to devour this book. I’m drawn into it for two reasons. First, "The Big Turnoff" is a hilarious, wry take on a deadly serious problem. Second, as a dad who, to this day, regrets not getting a handle on screen time with my now-adult child, I admire Ellen’s courage in fighting off Game Boys and Xboxes.
Rick Seifert, 30 March 2007
It’s another benefit to TV Turn Off week. I’m actually reading books that don’t have to do with raising a preschooler or toddler. Instead I’m a couple of chapters into a novel and I’m also reading - in an effort to maintain a theme - "The Big Turnoff: Confessions of a TV-Addicted Mom Trying to Raise a TV-Free Kid" by Ellen Currey-Wilson.
I was expecting a sort of guide - some alternatives to watching TV - but its a first-person account of a semi-neurotic mom who keeps her son away from TV. She can’t keep herself from it though. She goes as far as to facing her infant son away from the TV so she can watch it.
The story gets more interesting as her son ages. She struggles with her decision - especially when she senses that her son feels left out when classmates are talking about Pokeman. She makes her house "play date central" doing her best to show kids that things can be fun without TV. All the while, she keeps to herself about her television beliefs for fear of judgement or misunderstanding. I’m glad she got over that enough to actually write a book on it.
Did she motivate me to continue going? In a way, yes. It shows me it can be done. To be honest, I thought this week was going to be harder. I thought my kids would be screaming and I’d be going insane. I don’t miss it. I feel more connected to my family. Now my next plan is to figure out how to bring TV back in a controlled way.
Heather Kempskie, 26 April 2007
The Big Turnoff, by Ellen Currey-Wilson, is a first person account of a woman trying to raise her child TV free. though she was somewhat more successful than I, it was quite funny and somewhat eerie to read how she was influenced by many of the same things as I was: Waldorf playgroup, attachment parenting, etc.
"This is my life", I said more than once as she threw herself in front of a blaring TV set at a play date or tried to interest "glued to the screen" kids in something else.
I laughed my way through this book and then e-mailed Ellen to tell her how much I enjoyed it and that I had joined her Yahoo group for "TV limiting Moms". She responded, almost immediately — that's refreshing and encouraged me to pass on information about the group so … check it out at her website and read the book if you want a good laugh.
Overview: This fresh, candid, and wonderfully humorous memoir about a mother's efforts to rid her home of TV once and for all will appeal to any parent who would like to also banish the television set from the household. A hardcore TV addict, the author's attempt to raise a TV-free child was not without its pitfalls. She honestly shares the problems she encountered and readily admits the process was harder on her than her son.
Critique: The number of violent acts the average American child sees on TV by the time he or she is 18 is estimated to be well over 200,000. Combine that with fact that our children are spending over 20 hours a week (or more) sitting in front of a TV set and it becomes obvious why parents should consider reading this book. It is possible to ween the family from the TV tube!Type: Non-Fiction
In the spirit of being a more active participant in life, I suggest reading The Big Turnoff: Confessions of a TV-Addicted Mother Trying to Raise a TV-Free Kid by Ellen Currey-Wilson. She was brought up watching television to the exclusion of everything else, but when she discovers she is pregnant, she vows to raise her child without television and to drastically cut back on her own viewing. After her son, Casey, is born, she struggles to survive the mind-numbing boredom of spending all of her time with someone with whom she can’t have a conversation without the comfort of her usual television fix. As she struggles with her own addiction and her feelings of guilt for depriving her child of something the rest of America thinks is perfectly normal, she manages to raise a child who is intelligent, creative, self-sufficient, independent and not particularly interested in watching television, even when the opportunity presents itself. Despite being somewhat neurotic, Currey-Wilson has an engaging narrative style. She is making slow progress on her path toward enlightenment; the way she entwines stories of her own spiritual growth with tales of her son’s physical and intellectual progress is reminiscent of Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions.
If you tried to describe the unique writing style of Ellen Currey-Wilson in her first book, "The Big Turnoff: Confessions of a TV-addicted mom trying to raise a TV-free kid," you’d have to place her somewhere between an Erma Bombeck and a Phyliss Diller.
But what she has written is a fresh, candid and humorous memoir about going off television cold turkey after she discovered she was pregnant with her son, Casey, and decided she wanted to raise him to be an imaginative, intelligent, well-balanced child and not addicted to television as she was.
When she sat down to write this book, she said she "didn’t censor myself or think about trying to impress anyone." What she did was write from the heart and let her hidden, off-the-wall humor emerge.
"I was able to step back a little and not take myself so seriously. I think it made for better writing."
While the book is indeed humorous, her subject matter is serious. She wants America to turn off the TV and get back to living in this media-crazed world. While she admits to owning one television set which she says is kept in a store room, and confesses to watching it for a limited two to three hours a week, that is quite a comedown from the 14 hours a day she said she watched TV during her addiction.
She first got an inkling that children were watching too much television when she was teaching the fourth grade and surveyed her students about television watching although she had already come to the conclusion it was not in the best interest of children.
The reader will quickly discover that Currey-Wilson was a TV junkie who was obsessed with watching sitcoms, dramas, game shows, talk shows and even admits to having withdrawal pains when she decided to unplug her life.
Today, this Portland, Ore., mother is a crusader on how seriously commercial media intrudes and influences our daily lives. She says when she finally stopped watching reruns of Seinfield, she took her crusade to her son’s school and started inspiring parents to get unplugged. She now offers TV-free parenting workshops to the public.
As a result of her campaign, TV Turnoff Week is a national campaign that will be held next week from Monday through Sunday.
This is her first book, but she plans to write others, perhaps straying into fiction, but keeping her humorous approach.
In providing the workshops, she says she has discovered that many parents are excited about TV Turnoff Week and says one of the comments she got was, "I want my child to know what real life is like for a whole week."
"In my follow-up interviews I have learned that when families discover all the activities they have time to do together, they are happy to keep the set turned off more often," she said.
While she admits she is not totally opposed to television, "the content of many programs concerns me, but I am equally concerned about the passive nature of the viewing experience itself, particularly for young children. Mostly, I’m afraid we are just getting kids hooked on television at a younger and younger age."
Currey-Wilson is particularly concerned about the commercials. "Most of them are for junk food and junky toys. I would like to see us follow the European countries that drastically limit marketing to kids on television."
While Currey-Wilson is serious about her efforts to change America’s TV viewing habits, her approach in this book is laugh out loud humor in which she pokes fun at her own efforts to wean herself from television and worrying that her son will be ostracized for not knowing the theme song to Sesame Street.
Television itself could learn much from Currey-Wilson’s confessions. The challenge is not so much to turn off the TV, but to explore the wonderful opportunity television has to greatly improve itself.
Bill Duncan, 19 April 2007
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