- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 9, 2000

First, a confession: Lisa and I watch too much TV. We have known this for quite a while. We would like to comfort ourselves with the knowledge that we only watch quality fare such as "Law and Order," "ER," the "Cadfael" mysteries on PBS and sports programming, along with an occasional peek at some large animal devouring a smaller animal on the Discovery Channel.

But that's not completely accurate. We have wasted too many hours on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," invested too much time in the dopey shenanigans of Chandler and Monica and Ross and Rachel. Too much cheap titillation, too many cheaper laughs.

Like many Americans who sit through an entire hour of "Providence" and then groan, "What were we thinking?" we didn't do anything about it except change the channel.

Until, as with many of those same Americans, our vice began to affect our children. Then it was time to act. Sean was starting to become a television addict.

It had started quietly, innocuously enough. (Don't all addictions?) He would come downstairs in the morning begging to watch "Arthur" on PBS before his breakfast or before he went to day care. "Arthur" episodes in the morning are like worms on a sidewalk after a thunderstorm they're everywhere.

Sure, we said. After all, Arthur rules. Unlike those mind-numbing Teletubbies or that insipid purple dinosaur, Arthur is smart, sophisticated and hilarious, especially that "Arthur" episode in which Fern, the wallflower, decides to have a birthday party and nobody wants to go to it because they all think it will be boring, and Muffy, the spoiled brat, says, "I might as well wear my sleeping bag; I'll be falling asleep soon enough after I get there," and then Buster says, "Oh, it won't be that bad," and Arthur decides he and the Brain should …

Ahem. Where was I? Oh yeah, Sean and his TV addiction. Anyway, one night Lisa asked me, "Have you noticed Jeremy is watching a lot of TV along with Sean now?"

I hadn't noticed. "Is he watching 'Arthur,' too?" I asked. Lisa nodded. That's probably why I hadn't noticed.

We decided to take a radical step and move our TV out of the living room and into the recreation room downstairs. Lisa reasoned the move would not only open up the living room a little more, but would make it just a wee bit more difficult for any of us to watch TV, particularly Sean, who isn't crazy about going downstairs by himself.

We have a 32-inch TV, so moving it down a flight of stairs was no easy task. One night, after Sean and Jeremy were fast asleep, we moved under cover of darkness, carried the TV downstairs and reconnected all the cable, VCR and electrical wires.

The next morning, we sucked in our breath when Sean came downstairs, bracing ourselves for a flood of tears and cacophony of whines. He looked around, spotted his Thomas the Train Engine layout half-completed from the previous night, and sat down to play.

We brought Jeremy downstairs after he woke up. He spotted some of Sean's Legos lying on the floor and reached for them. We plunked him down on the carpet and let him grab as many as he could.

"Sean," I said, feeling like a zoo visitor poking the grizzly bear with a sharp stick, "Don't you see anything missing?" He shook his head.

"Something big that sits over by the wall?" Lisa asked. Sean shook his head.

It couldn't be this easy, could it?

But it was. I certainly can't speak about other toddlers and babies, but for Sean and Jeremy, "out of sight, out of mind" pretty much sums up their first addiction, if we can call it that.

So there, fellow parents worrying about your children's TV viewing. Free advice from your friendly neighborhood daddy: If your young child seems to be watching an inordinate amount of TV, don't wait until "Turn off Your TV" week. Act now. It was painless and hassle-free.

That is not to say the transition was completely smooth. We did let Sean watch one "Veggie Tales" video that first morning, and it was Jeremy who whined when we turned the VCR off when it was over.

Hmm, maybe this column needs to be continued …

Mark Stewart is the father of two boys, Sean and Jeremy. He is a staff writer for the Family Times. He can be reached at stewar@twtmail.com.

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