Let’s start with some statistics. According to the TV Turnoff Network, the average American child witnesses 16,000 television murders by the time he’s 18. He watches more than 19 hours a week, averaging more time per year than he spends in school.
Portland writer Ellen Currey-Wilson decided her child wasn’t going to be that average American. Even before her son Casey was born, she declared he wasn’t going to watch television. “The Big Turnoff: Confessions of a TV-Addicted Mom Trying to Raise a TV-Free Kid” is a chronicle of Casey’s early years, as Currey-Wilson struggled with herself and society over the idea of parenting unplugged.
Her goal sounded manageable: no television at all while he was young (except for special occasions — like another moon landing) and then two hours a week once he turned 6. It turned out there were more than a few problems with this plan. Friends didn’t want to have playgroups without TV. Caregivers were hard to find. TV played in stores, at birthday parties and even during one disastrous Thanksgiving dinner.
More important, Currey-Wilson had to fight her own need to drown out the world with television. It turns out that sitcoms and movies were her drug of choice, an easy way to numb self-doubt and worry. And she was worrying a lot in those early years. Was there anyone else out there who felt the same way she did? Would Casey fit in with friends at school?
Like Anne Lamott in “Operating Instructions,” Currey-Wilson takes a humorous and self-deprecating look at her own parenting. She wants reassurance from everyone that she is doing the right thing. What at first comes across as neurotic (after all, what’s the harm of five minutes of Winnie the Pooh at Gymboree?) ends up looking sane. Do we really think so little of our children that we can’t parent them without this enormous electronic pacifier?
“The Big Turnoff” is about television, but it is also about growth as a parent. Eventually, Currey-Wilson comes into her own. She not only curbs her own need for television, but she also brings TV Turnoff Week to Casey’s elementary school. In the end, instead of folding under pressure, she begins teaching TV-free parenting workshops in the Portland area.
“The Big Turnoff” has the potential to continue her work and bring it to the wide audience it deserves.
Katie Schneider, 22 April 2007