Family Matters

How to Treat Your TV

We're frustrated with our couch-potato kids this summer. I'm ready to throw out the TV altogether, but my husband is resistant. Help!

We've known families to ban the TV; that's one way to address the problem. But we believe it may be an even better discipline to train our families to use television in moderation. In our day of satellite dishes and digital cable, it's true that the garbage on TV has multiplied, but quality programming has grown exponentially as well.

We've benefited from shows on EWTN, the History Channel and the Discovery Channel, just to name a few. Here are a few tips for using TV well: E Don't make the TV the focal point of your living room. Orient chairs toward one another in order to foster conversation rather than automatic TV viewing. Better yet, place the TV in an entertainment center with doors so it can be kept out of view when not in use.

E Record favorite mom-and-dad shows to watch later, even if you are home. First, this saves time. A one-hour program becomes 40 minutes after skipping commercials. Second, it benefits your young children. Mom and Dad spend time with the kids before bed and aren't distracted by the TV. Also, the kids aren't exposed to something that may not be appropriate for children.

E If watching a program in real time, mute the commercials and keep an eye open for graphic content. Even if parents deem a program safe viewing for the family, commercial sponsors can ambush you with a 30-second ad that no one should see. This is especially true during sports events. Since we're probably not going to tape “the big game,” be vigilant during the commercials, always ready to switch the channel on a dime when graphic ads pop up.

E Have only one TV in the house, in a central location. This encourages the family to come together. It also helps Mom and Dad monitor what their children are viewing.

E Ban all channel-surfing. Use the phrase “appointment television” literally. Set a limit on the amount of time each child can watch TV each week, and require each child to select their allotment of programs ahead of time by listing the name and time of their selections in a family log. This helps prevent mindless couch spuds from sprouting, and it teaches the art of compromise to children who must share one TV and its availability. Also, it teaches a healthy skill of managing one's time and in having to reflect on what is really worthwhile versus what is simply a waste of time.

Finally, ban any program contrary to the family moral standard. Trash should be taken out, not invited in. (This means you, too, Mom and Dad!) Tell your kids that, unless you've previewed a show and approved it, they cannot watch that show. It means more work for us parents, but it is surely time well spent.

Tom and Caroline McDonald are family-life directors for the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama.

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