Unrestricted television viewing and Internet access have detrimental effects on the physical, intellectual, and emotional health of many Americans—adult and children. These electronic devices can render their most insidious effect on our youth because they hinder both activity and creativity. Obesity and diabetes have been linked to such viewing. So have focus problems, including a proliferation of attention deficit diagnoses.
The two things that children say they want from their parents are time and attention. So eliminating or reducing television viewing can also engender more family cohesiveness. Parents have asked what they can do to restrict their children’s television habits and encourage personal development. I offered some suggestions in a previous article that certainly bear repeating now. They can wean their children from “the tube” by substituting their viewing time with other activities, or by allowing children to engage in free play, in which they can amuse themselves. “Screen free” family activities need not be expensive. They can foster togetherness, intellectual development, and physical health. They can include both indoor and outdoor activities.
After-school alternatives can include the following: outside seasonal activities such as bike riding, jumping rope, playing tag, skating, playing catch, gardening, sledding, etc. Indoor activities can allow the child the opportunity to develop a hobby or skill: drawing, painting, building, reading, creative writing, crafts, playing a musical instrument, learning a foreign language, and much more. Furthermore, the following activities can bring the family together and help the child feel like a productive member of the family unit: cooking and baking; playing board games, chess, checkers, crafts, and much more.
Family “field trips” can take advantage of community resources. For example, most town libraries have evening hours during the week. Living near a university affords special advantages, like museums, athletic events, and inexpensive theater and musical events (e.g. the Yale website provides a variety of free daily events). Activities are restricted only by imagination. Parents can learn more about their children and allow them to be less dependent the “boob tube” to amuse themselves.