A Plug for Unplugging

Turn off the tube.

More than anything else you can do, cutting down on television will help your child be more creative. With our busy lives, it's hard to find time to make crafty things, or go to museums, or track down music from the library. I recommend all those things, but I realize they're sometimes hard to do. But we all have time to pick up the remote and push the off button.

Is television really all that bad? There is a wealth of research that points to the negative effects of prolonged TV watching: obesity, inactivity, and exposure to violence and inappropriate sexual themes. You’ve probably heard this all before. But let me add my own personal observation from working with nearly 60,000 elementary students: TV dulls creativity. It’s like a vending machine for pre-packaged ideas. Want a super-hero? It’s got one for you. Want a villain? Got that, too. Need a story for your next writing project? Don’t sweat: just use this, or this, or this.

But to answer my own question: TV doesn’t have to be a negative. To be a creative person, one needs to compile what I call a “mental library of ideas” to draw from. Creativity comes in the innovative way one connects those ideas. TV programs can fill some of those shelves with stories, historical people and events, exotic places. When it fits into a varied flow of mental stimulation – which would include books, art, music, conversations, and observations of the world around us – television is beneficial.

But that’s the problem. So often in an American home, TV and other forms of electronic entertainment aren’t just a small part of the flow of incoming ideas. They’re the dominant part. A recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the average 8-18 year old spends 6 1/2 hours a day in front of a screen. That’s over 44 hours a week! It’s like kids are working full-time watching screens.

So turning off the TV this week is a great idea. Even if it’s just for a couple nights. Break the routine. Then fill the silence with something fun and creative that isn’t plugged into the wall. Read to each other. Play a board game. Play an outdoor game. Make up your own stories.

It’s time to give the other sources of ideas their turn.

Bruce Van Patter

all material ©2005 Bruce Van Patter