“Given our national television habit, it is no surprise that we are raising the most sedentary and most overweight generation of youngsters in American history. As they grow, these children will run increased risks of heart disease, diabetes, and other health problems — unless they turn off the tube and become physically active.” – US Surgeon General David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D.
We’ve all heard the statistics, and it’s no surprise to any of us that obesity is on the rise. As a nation, we’re getting bigger and more sedentary each year. But why? It’s true many of us sit at a desk all day, oftentimes getting no more exercise than the walk from our car to the office and back again. But why aren’t we moving about more once we get home?
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out. Americans watch just over 4 1/2 hours of television every day according to Neilsen Media Research, Inc. We come home, eat dinner, and then sit down to watch show after show, aimlessly channel surfing and burning almost zero calories. TV offers a welcome relief from the rat race and mundane details of daily life, but its effects on our bodies, our psyche, and our family relationships are hitting us hard.
What’s even more sobering is that most of us, deep down, know this. According to TV-Turnoff Network, a non-profit organization that encourages families to cut off their TV, 49% of Americans say they watch too much of the boob tube. Its pull is hypnotic, and once it’s on it’s very hard to turn off.
We spend an average of 31 hours per week in front of the screen (which, when you think about it, is almost another full-time job), but only 38 minutes a week in meaningful conversation with our kids. If those numbers don’t scare you, then nothing will. Add it all up and it equals 2 solid months of sedentary, mind-numbing viewing every year. Think of what we could accomplish with 2 months at our disposal.
But how many of us are “addicted”? How do you even define TV addiction? With so many of us watching, when does it become too much?
- A few criteria can help determine if you’ve become unhealthily hooked to the tube.
- If you know you watch too much but can’t seem to stop turning it on everyday
- If you watch more than 4 hours per day
- If you watch more out of habit than any real interest, changing the channel often
- If you use TV to fall asleep or wake up
- If you feel anxious when the TV is not on
- If you neglect social events in order watch television
Any of these tell-tell signs point to an addiction. The bigger question we should ask, however, is why. Why do so many of us spend so much time languishing in front of the television?
The simple answer is that it’s relaxing. Studies done on TV watchers indicate that the relaxation is almost instant once the television is turned on. With so many of us working long hours in high-pressure jobs, TV can take hold like a drug. The problem is that most people feel worse once the television is turned off. All those problems we avoided thinking about come rushing back, and the crash is almost as instant as the relaxation is when you first start. According to a study done by Scientific American, heavy TV viewers, someone who watches more than 4 hours per day, admit to enjoying TV far less than light viewers, or someone who watches only 1-2 hours per week.
Another answer is that our brains are built to notice things like fast movement and changing colors. We’ve changed in amazing ways since our Neanderthal ancestors, but we’re still hardwired to notice potential threats and that’s exactly why TV holds our attention. The numerous cuts, zooms, volume changes and commercials instinctually entrance us.
So, now that we’re armed with this information, what can we do about it? How do we stop watching so much TV?
It’s important to realize that if you’re watching upwards of 4 hours per day, throwing out your TV and going cold turkey probably won’t be a success. It’s crucial to phase down your watching slowly. This gives you time to adjust to having more free, unstructured time in your schedule. It also gives you a chance to start filling in activities where the TV watching used to be.
Of course, those of you with children are facing an entirely different battle. Not only do you have to curb your watching, but you have to battle with them to curtail theirs. With the alarming knowledge that children spend more time watching TV than they do in school under your belt, you know it’s the best thing for them. Unfortunately, they’ll see it differently.
A major step you can take is removing the television from their bedroom. Sure they’ll kick up a fuss and make your life miserable for a day or two, but it will be well worth it. Knowing that TV has been linked to the rising obesity rates in the country, that it negatively effects academic performance, and hampers imagination and creativity in children should help you stick to your guns. Make them go outside and play, and remember that boredom can be good for them. It often leads to activities using their creativity. The TV Turnoff Network has a great website with articles that detail our TV habit as well as activities you can do to help both you and your children stop watching so much.