Students get glimpse of life outside the box

Published May 4, 2007

PALMA CEIA - Take some advice from 11-year-old Kathryn Jeffries who, with her classmates at Roosevelt Elementary, turned off her TV for a week.

"You don't have to sit there and be totally zoned out, " she says.

Instead of watching a couple of shows a day, Kathryn read a book during TV-Turnoff Week.

"It's convinced me to not watch so much, " she said.

The idea behind the national campaign is to get people thinking outside the box.

Whether that be a TV, computer or video game, said Robert Kesten, executive director for Center for SCREEN-TIME Awareness in Washington, D.C.

"On average, we watch 4 1/2 hours a day and at least another three hours on computers, " he said.

Kesten embraces technology. But he says there are drawbacks.

"These tools have started to take over our lives, " he said. "People are sitting or lying instead of doing."

Not the kids in Jessica Petterkin's fifth-grade class.

She used the campaign to teach persuasive writing: Her students wrote essays for or against TV viewing.

Most turned them off.

And the weather cooperated. Brice Antinori hung out with her dad at the Palma Ceia Little League field, forfeiting episodes of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.

But she TiVo'd American Idol. The reality show was the biggest snare for the fifth-graders.

"Some fell off the wagon over it, " said Petterkin, who admits to using the TV to unwind. She missed watching Grey's Anatomy and Lost.

Some students planned parties to watch the recorded Idol episode as soon as the week was up.

Everyone read more, Petterkin said.

Kira Zagore listened to her iPod and kicked her soccer ball against her house for three hours a day, until its seams unraveled.

"It's about to pop, " Kira said.

For Carter Flynn, it hasn't been all that hard, she said. But then, her mom had only allowed her one show a week on school days even before no-TV week. Her choice? American Idol.

I grew up in a home like Carter's. One special night a week, I'd watch The Waltons or Little House on the Prairie.

Research shows that too much TV can cause weight gain and attention problems.

And sometimes kids soak up the wrong messages, which can lead to skewed thinking or aggressive behavior.

Who's responsible for what our kids watch?

Parents, said President Bush in a 2005 C-SPAN interview.

"As a free-speech advocate, I often told parents who were complaining about content, you're the first line of responsibility; they put an off button (on) the TV for a reason. Turn it off."

I agree. And I think it's time to take a break from staring into my computer screen.