Help! My Kids Won’t Get Off the Couch!

Unplugging the TVDear Jennifer:

My son’s pediatrician says he needs to be more active. I bought him a new bike, but he has no interest in riding it. All he wants to do when he’s not at school is sit in his room and watch TV or play video games. What can I do to draw him out?

  • Couch Potato’s Mom

Dear Mom:

If your primary concern is getting your son to exercise, you can simply buy a stationary bike equipped with a generator that powers his television and video equipment. That way, he’ll be forced to pedal if he wants to watch TV or play games, and you’ll both get what you want.

But if you are rightly troubled by the fact that your son is missing out on much more than exercise by holing up in his room that way, I suggest you move the TV and video games out of his room altogether. Did you know that the average American teen spends 72 hours a week using electronic media (defined as television, video games, Internet, music, and cell phones)? That’s roughly equivalent to holding down two full-time jobs!

As long as all this electronic gadgetry is readily available, our kids will continue to spend their downtime using it by default. This was the case in my own family. We gave up television over twenty years ago, not be cause we didn’t like it, but because we liked it too much. As long as watching TV were an option, we’d do so for hours on end. We still have a TV set that we use to watch an occasional DVD, but it is no longer programmed to receive any broadcast or cable channels. Unplugging the TV has opened up a world of opportunities to us as a family and as individuals that would have passed us by otherwise.

If you are serious about challenging and changing the status quo at your house, consider going on a month-long media-fast. Gather the family and discuss your concerns. Lead by example (don’t expect your son to be happy about giving up his video games while you remain glued to your iPhone). Ask your child to help brainstorm ways to use the time you won’t be watching television. Teach him how to cook his favorite meal. Plant a garden together. Take a family bike ride. Read a great book aloud. Go geocaching. Visit the zoo or a local museum. Build a treehouse. Write a poem. Throw a Frisbee. The options are limited only by your imaginations, but I think you will find that the longer your family’s media-fast lasts, the more active and creative those imaginations will become.

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