This is so easy, it’s almost ridiculous. And it begins with telling your child that he or she can watch as much TV as they want.
You heard right. As much as they want. Their choice. But…For every show they watch, they must fill out a questionnaire, answering questions like:
1. Name the characters in the show.
2. What was the story about?
3. Was there a song? Can you sing a line or two?
4. How did the story end?
5. What would you have done differently if you were the main characters?
Of course, if your child is too young to write, you can ask the questions yourself and fill in the answers. These questionnaires will become a kind of TV ‘diary’ – and your child will slowly begin to alter his or her perception of what it means to watch TV.
Most importantly, the concept of mindless, open-mouthed gazing will disappear. They will start to realize they have to pay attention to what they’re seeing, because they’ll be quizzed about it later. Along with mindful watching comes awareness of the sheer physical act of sitting in one place for a long time, essentially doing nothing. They will begin listening as well as hearing, and will become more active participants.
At first, this exercise might seem fun for the kids. Mom or Dad are taking time to talk about my show! They will feel proud that they remember details, especially if they’re given props from their parents.
But eventually, these TV ‘diaries’ will start to become tedious for them. Taking sixty seconds after every show to recap what they’ve just watched will feel like a chore. And in that instant, TV-watching will change from an utterly free-time type of activity into a discrimination-based choice. They will no longer have a strong desire to watch shows that do not captivate them because they won’t want to have to answer questions about those shows.
Remind them along the way that it’s up to them whether or not they want to watch so much TV. Be ready to offer constructive alternatives: coloring, reading, crafts, puppet play, etc. – anything that will more fully engage their minds and their creativity.
I believe this approach works because it offers the shortest road toward a broader understanding of what TV actually is. Kids learn that TV is no fireplace, and it’s no silent babysitter. It’s a device that offers its greatest rewards when the viewer more fully participates in making active choices.