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Not Reaching for the Remote

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Now in its 10th year, National TV-Turnoff Week has slowly become a reason for bringing communities closer.

About 25 percent of Americans say they watch less television during this week, encouraged by a number of groups. In Shiprock, N.M., for instance, prizes will be awarded for families who've fired up their imagination and developed the best new board games. In other cities, companies are helping sponsor free swim nights at community pools, nature walks, spaghetti dinners, or storytelling events at libraries. Kids in an Illinois community are handing in pledge cards that they've promised to turn off the TV for the whole seven days.

The national sponsor of this week of abstinence, the TV-Turnoff Network, also hopes the experience will encourage people to think carefully about the programming they do watch, and make what they do watch a wise use of time.

Their efforts haven't been for naught: For example, some 72 percent of children now have a limit on their television viewing time - up from 63 percent in 1994, when the TV-Turnoff idea first came on the scene.

And good thing, too: According to a Kaiser Family Foundation report last month, the number of commercials children see each year has doubled - from 20,000 in the 1970s, to 40,000 today. In the April issue of the professional magazine Pediatrics, a study showed that preschoolers who watch television can face increased risk of attention problems.

The average US household has a TV on for an astonishing 7 hours and 40 minutes per day. Each time a television is turned on, it represents a decision not to do something else. What will Americans' choice be? This week, we hope, will be screen free.

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