Catherine Scales Johnson: Guest Opinion
Aspen, CO Colorado
Many of us get nervous as National TV Turnoff Week (April 20 – 26) descends upon us and we remember the admonition of then President-elect Barack Obama that “we’re going to have to parent better, and turn off the television set, the computer, and put the video games away, and instill a sense of excellence in our children.”
After all, I, like many parents, turn on the TV for my kids when I am trying to juggle too many balls and just want to get dinner on the table or finish my taxes without constant interruption. While it is all too easy to get lulled into a pattern of ever-increasing TV consumption for ourselves and our families, research shows that there is a direct link between too much TV consumption and tobacco use, obesity, poor food choices and early sexual activity in children.
While these health risks are well documented, I believe there is an even stronger reason to take up the challenge of National TV Turnoff Week ” children need to know where they come from, and they can only get that from their parents.
Constant television watching can rob a family of time to truly connect with one another. Research shows that children who know family stories ” stories of their parents’ childhood and of their ancestors ” have a stronger sense of identity and greater resiliency than those who do not. Stories that are from their own background empower children. These stories subtly tell them that the problems, growth stages or difficulties they are experiencing were experienced and survived by those who went before them. Stories of hardships as well as successes are like wind in the sails of our children.
There is a tale from West Africa that Master Storyteller Opalanga tells. It goes like this: Once upon a time, a television salesman introduced a television set into a remote village in Africa. The salesman believed he had a great opportunity to sell the wonderful magic box in a place so far removed from other entertainment. He showed the village chief how to power the set with a generator. The chief and the village people were fascinated; they sat, watching the set the entire day. The salesman left it with them, saying he would return the next week at which time they could pay for it. He hoped that by then he could sell many more than the one.
When he returned the next week, the television was at the side of the square and it was turned off. The people were sitting in the square but they were listening to their storyteller.
“Are you ready to buy the wonderful magic box?” asked the salesman.
“No,” replied the chief. “We do not want it, we have our storyteller.”
“But the box knows many more stories than your storyteller!” said the salesman.
“Yes,” said the chief, “that is true. But our storyteller knows our stories.”
During National TV Turnoff Week, jump into storytelling by telling your children little stories from your own life. Can’t think of one? Try some of these “story sparks”: Did you ever have a cooking disaster before a large gathering? Have you ever seen an animal born? What was your worst bicycle crash? What did you do at slumber parties when you were a child? For each story, try to add as many of the five senses as possible, and describe your emotions as well.
So, don’t think of turning off the TV for a few hours or even for the entire TV Turn-off week as a sacrifice. Seize it as an opportunity to enrich your family by endowing your children with family stories.
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Vagneur: Today’s the big local’s day, even though the celebrating may need to be a bit different this year.