The best way to break the TV habit isn't going cold turkey, says author Marie Winn, who has conducted "Unplug-the-TV" experiments with students and parents in schools nationwide.
"It has to be thought about and planned and organized," she says. "The big question is how do you set up a no-TV week without the kids being mutinous? You have to make sure it is accepted by the kids and not seen as a punishment. It has to be made child-centered and child-interesting."
Winn offers a long list of pointers for eliminating TV for a week: Explain it as "a scientific experiment" for the entire family; describe it as an adventure, a challenge; promise a reward, and suggest to the children they may discover something about themselves, that they can write a song or invent something.
The most important strategy for life beyond television, says Winn, is to replace the darkened picture tube with other activities. "I'm talking about really simple things," she says, "about sitting around a table for an hour talking and eating, taking a long walk together or hanging around the kitchen cooking dinner. It just requires a little setting up. Once you establish that kind of time one way or the other, those other experiences just flow naturally. Families that end up abolishing television are the ones that find in the course of a TV turnoff that they have a serious addiction problem. They can't control it in any other way. Most families gain the incentive to make rules about television and establish some other chunks of time so other experiences have a chance.
"Bear in mind that I am not advocating or campaigning that people abolish televison," stresses Winn. "To say you should all get rid of your TV sets is not very practical ... though families that live without television aren't missing much."