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Jewish World Review Sept. 13, 2005 / 9 Elul 5765

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Consumer Reports

A parent unplugs | I've unplugged. I've completely had it.

Last night I literally pulled the plug on the TV sets, the videogames, and the kids' computer. The arguments, the fighting, the obsessions over it all were just too much for me. There's one of me and four of them. I decided to even the odds a bit. It's all gone. The cable service has been stopped, which gave me great pleasure in and of itself. That bill alone was ridiculous. ("Oh, Mrs. Hart, you can move up to our premium service for just this much more, and for that much more you can add this other channel." ... I too often did.)

The computer and videogame controls are deep in the garage.

I will physically allow a TV set and a VCR to remain for the occasional tape. That's it.

Writing this is like someone who publicly admits she's gone on a diet. There is no going back until the "weight" is lost.

This has nothing to do with garbage on TV. My kids like to watch the Cartoon Network and Nick-at-Nite. A lot of it is really good stuff. For that matter, neither were the videogames a problem in and of themselves. It's not even that my kids had so much "screen time" anyway. They were relegated to "weekends only" on all counts.

But, of course, the truth is that they would find my weak moments during the week to ask for TV time and, yes, I would sometimes cave in and, yes, I sometimes did use it as a baby sitter. I'm not even saying that's always bad. But I was giving in too easily. It was just all a habit. And now I've taken drastic measure to break it.

Of course, in my new book (shameless plug) "It Takes a Parent," I talk about how it seems to me that it's often better to help our kids learn to handle and resolve difficult tensions like arguments over the TV than it is to take the source of the tension away. On the other hand, the source of the tension isn't really the television and computer — it's their little hearts wanting what they want at that moment. Those four little hearts, and this one big one, for that matter, are still very much in our home. I'm not punishing them and I've let them know it — it's just that I've now removed an "occasion for sin" from all of us.


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I fully admit that sometimes it's just easier to make things easier at the moment, and that's not all bad. This is one of those times for me. I can't "cave" on videogames, TV or other screen time when I know I shouldn't, and they can't fight over it, because it's not there anymore.

Yes, I may soon live to regret this, but for now all I feel is relief.

And the kids? Suffice it to say they are not relieved. They are in various stages of shock and irritation, and I've fully admitted to them that this was all sudden. (They woke up to it this morning, though it's something I've let them know in the past was always in the back of my mind.) But when you decide to do something like this, it's often best to just do it all at once.

But they actually seem to be handling the new landscape fairly well. This afternoon is a trip to the local library and picking up lots of books on tape, which I've told them they can listen to any time they want to. (The older ones are already pretty avid readers.)

Maybe they ARE sort of relieved after all.

I'm also convinced this is going to help with bedtime once school begins. No more "But can't I just stay up to watch ...?" or "Can I just play videogames for a few minutes. ...?"

I've told my kids that I'll be "unplugging" more, too — less computer time for me. (I mean, how many times can an author check her Amazon sales ranking, anyway?

Answer: WAY too often. Talk about a dangerous addiction.)

I know, I know. There's always great optimism, determination and hope from the person beginning the diet.

It's days and weeks later that the rubber meets the road. OK, I'm not saying this is forever — though my kids don't know that — and, anyway, a few months will seem like forever to them.

But it's a start. This is about breaking a habit. Every few pounds help.

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"It Takes a Parent : How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting Our Kids — and What to Do About It"  

"Hart urges parents to focus...on instilling industry, frugality, sincerity and humility. She encourages parents to reclaim the word "no." Contrary to advice you may have received, you needn't give your child choices, or offer alternatives, or explain to little Suzie why she can't eat eight cookies right before bed-you're the parent, and sometimes you can just say no."

  —   Kirkus Reports

Sales help fund JWR.

JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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