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PUBLISHED: 3:59 PM on Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Week focuses on turning off the tube
There will be no computers, no video games, no movies and no television. In fact, if all goes well, many of the students at Mendenhall River Community School will experience a full week without any time in front of an electronic screen. This may sound like a wilderness camping trip, or an experiment with 19th century living, but it is not. It's Turnoff Week, a worldwide event, organized by the Center for SCREEN-time Awareness that encourages families to explore alternatives to electronic entertainment.

In Juneau, the Mendenhall River School Wellness Committee is leading the screen abstinence effort, which will run from April 23 - 29. "We promoted Turnoff Week some last year, but this year, we are making it a bigger and better event," said school nurse Maureen Hall.

On April 20, every Mendenhall River student will take home a Turnoff Week pledge to sign with parents. The pledge is simple. Students agree to have fun exploring screen-free activities and to encourage their friends and family members to participate.

Why limit screen time? The Center for SCREEN-time Awareness (www.screentime.org) provides many statistics on American television consumption and its impacts. The most troubling suggest that young children exposed to large quantities of television have greater difficulty learning to read and are more likely to develop attention deficit related disorders than peers who view less.

As a parent, Hall has personally observed benefits of less screen time. Several years ago, her family unplugged their own television with wonderful results. "It had a huge impact," said Hall. "As a family I feel we are more physically active, outdoorsy and we definitely read more."

As a health care professional, she is also concerned about the growing incidence of obesity among children.

"Children are naturally active, they will burn off the calories if they are encouraged to play outside. But as our children spend more time in front of the television, they are getting less exercise and gaining weight. We used to see hoards of kids playing outside on a nice day in Juneau, but it's less common now."

As Turnoff Week becomes a larger event at Mendenhall River School, community members are stepping forward with support. Juneau Mayor Bruce Bothelo has already signed a proclamation recognizing the week, and Mendenhall River has invited other schools to participate. Hearthside books will create a window display encouraging family reading. The Mendenhall River School Rally program will promote family participation in their newsletter, and local businesses will provide prizes for students that complete a screen-free week. Hall notes that these prizes will be in keeping with the healthy theme of the event. Pool passes, jump ropes, bouncy balls, books, art supplies, and mechanical pencils are among the rewards that will foster participants' physical, academic and creative development.

Hall hopes that Turnoff Week will become an annual addition to the community calendar. "We are looking for opportunities to partner with organizations in Juneau to encourage participation and develop Turnoff Week activities that make families think about all the interesting things they could be doing."

"If I could give you something that would save you money, give you more time, help you loose weight, make your happier, and help your children do better in school, wouldn't you take it?" said Hall.

"Over time, unplugging the TV can do all of that."


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