13 Years

I find television very educating. Every time somebody
turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.
Groucho Marx

Many people tell me that they are stressed due to lack of time. "I don't have any time to read books." "I'd like to spend more time on relationships and keeping in touch with people, but I'm so busy." "I know I should spend more time with my kids, but I have too much else going on." My response to these concerns is always the same question, "Do you watch TV?"

The average American watches 4-6 hours of television per day. Assuming you are better than the average, let's say you watch 3 hours of television per day, or 21 hours in a week. If you do the math, you'll find out that, in a six year period, you will have spent one year of your waking life watching TV! In an 80 year lifespan, you will have spent 13 years watching television, the equivalent of going to college, law school and medical school.

Think about getting back all those years of your life just by turning off the tubeā€”all the books you could have read, the people you could have contacted, the benefits to your children of having their parent for additional years, the physical benefits of having extra years of exercise. A study published in the Journal of British Sports Medicine showed that for every hour spent watching television, you reduce your life by 22 minutes. This is similar to a lifelong smoker, whose average lifespan reduction is five years. If you turn off the tube, you will live a longer, healthier life.

My children also did not watch television when they were growing up. When he was in elementary school, my son came to me one day and asked, "If I don't watch TV, will you pay me?" I looked at him quizzically, and he pointed to a newspaper article about a boy who asked his Dad the same question. The Dad agreed to pay him, but only if he went for an entire year without watching any television. The boy did it, and both father and son were happy with the result. I thought it was a great idea, and immediately said "Yes."

We drew up a contract that specified the payment and any exceptions (such as permitting watching pre-approved coverage like historical events and the Superbowl; watching TV on vacation or at a friend's house if they are watching it, etc.). My son and twin daughters all agreed and signed the contract.

During that year, instead of watching TV, the kids read, played outside, put on shows and participated in sports. There were a few times when they missed television, especially when friends were talking about specific shows. But, they quickly got into new habits that didn't center on the tube.

At the end of the year, we congratulated them for going an entire year without watching television, and paid them as we had agreed. I asked them if they wanted to do it again, got a resounding "No," and the TV returned.

About two weeks later, the kids came back to Nancy and me, wanting to do TV-free again. When I asked them why they had changed their mind, they said: "We fight over what to watch." "The programs are really stupid." "We'd rather get the money." One of my daughters, Monica, had a classic statement: "If you don't watch it, you don't miss it." As you watch television, you realize that many of the ads are designed to get you to keep watching: "Don't miss the next episode of ______." "The new season starts next week. Be sure to see the amazing premiere." If you aren't exposed to these teasers, you are much less motivated to "tune in next week."

They signed their new contracts and peace reigned in the house once more. We also noticed another phenomenon. When we asked the kids what they wanted for birthdays or Christmas, they had a hard time coming up with ideas. When they had watched TV, they usually wanted the "hot toy" that was heavily marketed. Without this influence, marketers no longer manipulated their desires. They were also not exposed to the violence, sexuality, negativity and addictive behaviors frequently portrayed in television shows.

My children are all exceptional students and thoughtful adults. When I asked them what they believe made a difference, they respond that refusing to watch television was the best decision they had made while growing up. For a surpassing life, go cold turkey and turn off the tube. It may well be the best decision of your life as well.

Action Points
Go cold turkey and turn off the tube!
If you have children, do a TV-free contract.
Use your new time to read books, renew relations, write, exercise or do volunteer work.

Payoff
A healthier, smarter and more satisfying life.

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