TV Turnoff

Last September, Em’s school encouraged kids to enter something called “TV Turnoff”. They had the option of signing up for Gold (no TV or screens Sunday through Thursday); Silver (30 minutes per day, Sunday through Thursday); or Bronze (1 hour per day, Sunday through Thursday.) At the end of the year, if each kid stuck with it, he or she would receive an award. Em signed up for silver.

We did ok for a lot longer than I thought we would. But right around January things started to slip. I became bigger and a lot more exhausted. We got blasted by snow storm after snow storm. There are a hundred excuses as to why we started watching more TV (namely movies). And the boys started to play the Wii as well. They had a blast playing video games together. Needless to say, we didn’t stick with TV Turnoff.

Well, about two weeks ago the person in charge of TV Turnoff sent home a paper for parents to sign to let the school know how each student performed. I spoke with Em and we both agreed that he didn’t qualify. And he didn’t seem to care. I suppose being able to watch TV over the course of the year was enough of an award.

That was that. But then last weekend, I was speaking to another parent whose child is a bit older and who has done TV Turnoff for many years. She said that the first year she told the truth, that her son didn’t stick with it. And then during the ceremony he was the only child who didn’t receive an award. She was later told that they all just fill it out, everyone wins even if they didn’t actually stick to the original goal. So from that point on, she just signed it.

Umm, oops? I guess?

I’m too late anyway. The paper had to be completed last week. So Em won’t be getting an award and I’m gathering he may be the only one who doesn’t. And while he agreed at the time, that we didn’t comply, I’m certain being left out will make him feel bad.

But should I have lied? Doesn’t that set a terrible example? That your word means nothing? Toby and I are adamant about telling the truth; we hammer this home a lot, letting him know that if he tells the truth, no matter how bad it may be, he will be in a lot less trouble (if any) than if he lies.

Maybe I’ll take him for ice cream, give him an award for being honest.


  1. I really like your solution. Honesty is important.

    The elementary school our son went to has a “TV Turnoff” week every year, and the principal and vice principal drive around and give a prize to any kid they see outside after school during that week. Kids do their homework in the front yards and then play OUTSIDE. It really is lovely.


  2. I wouldn’t have lied either. No way. I do really like your idea of rewarding telling the truth though!


  3. birdgal (another amy) June 12, 2014 at 10:25 am

    I wouldn’t have signed it either. What’s the point in having a ‘TV turnoff’ goal when you can get an ‘award’ even if you don’t make the goal? That makes zero sense. I think it’s a far better lesson for Emory to be honest and not say he met the goal when he didn’t (and in all honesty, we’d never be able to do a TV turnoff challenge all school year at our house, so no disrespect for caving!).


  4. That’s disgusting. I wonder what else the members of that school community lie about. How very disappointing. I think your idea of an honesty award is a good one, and I hope the powers that be will rethink their program. It’s obviously broken.


  5. Michele, you taught him such a more valuable lesson! Being possibly momentarily embarrassed at the ceremony will be nothing compared with his ability to deal with failure going forward. I’ve now seen many young lawyers fail the Bar exam on their first try. And the difference in their careers depends on how they handle failure: those who are embarrassed by it, and try to hide it, suffer much more severe career setbacks than those who own their failure, shrug it off and study to pass the next time. Because the first group equates failing the Bar with being a failure. Their confidence never recovers and they can’t perform as well. Failing at something doesn’t make you a failure. It’s how you deal with it that does.


  6. You ABSOLUTELY did the right thing. Those other kids are learning all the wrong lessons. You are being honest and truthful and a chat over ice cream sounds like a perfect reward.


  7. I don’t watch tv but this seems like a fucked up school program to me.


  8. Also, I agree with the people above. Honesty is good, especially when kids know the truth anyway.


  9. I HATE parenting dilemmas like this. I bet the people in charge of this program at school know everyone’s lying. You did the right thing. But it is SO hard to do the right thing when you know your kid is going to feel bad. Rewarding him for his honesty is a great idea.


  10. Well, today was the award ceremony, and as expected, Em was the only child who didn’t get a medal. And there were some tears on the way home. He went on to tell me that not only did everyone get a medal, but even one kid who didn’t sign up got one because he cried so hard when nearly everyone else got one. So, he got a gold medal for basically crying.

    He also mentioned that one friend admitted to the class that he lied about it but that he wanted his medal, so his dad signed it anyway.

    What the fuck.

    Em was upset with me. He told me that the other kids must be better listeners and that I should have demanded he not watch TV or play any screens. We talked a long time about this. I reminded him that he also played wii at his friend’s house, and that he had had a lot of fun and that wouldn’t have happened either.

    I am sort of pissed. Because I told the truth, my kid is mad at me AND himself for “losing”. He’s mad at me for not being stricter. And I’m mad I didn’t either suggest we not sign up at all, or refuse to let him watch TV all year long. How frustrating this is.

    Anyway, I’m going to take him out for ice cream and maybe explain what the deal is.


  11. How awful! I would have done the exact same thing as you and been truthful. Kids need to learn that even when no one is watching over their shoulder, they still need to be honest. What are the other parents teaching their children? If I were in your position I definitely would emphasize how proud I am for being honest about what happened. I would also be proud of him for taking responsibility of his actions. And that a medal won from lies will not be as special as a medal won from hard work, determination, truth, responsibility. I would probably also take the opportunity to talk about how what other people say and do can hurt but it’s important to stay true to yourself.

    We go through something similar with homework. I make mine do their own homework and make sure they are happy and proud of the work they have done so when they see the work of their peers (actually done by parents) they have the self confidence to stand by their own work instead of berating themselves for not trying harder. That was a lesson learned from my eldest in the beginning of the year.

    I hope Em understands what happened and knows he should be proud of himself for taking responsibility of his own actions and telling the truth.


  12. This stinks. I can’t believe the teachers allowed this “scene” to happen. They all had to know what was going on and what the fallout would be.

    We experienced something similar this year at the science fair. Of course, the instructions were to have the child do the work, or at least the majority of the work. We had Matthew (who was in kindergarten) do the experiment himself, write down the data, and then hand write his board. It looked awesome, and he was so very proud of himself and his work…until we walked into the auditorium on science fair night, and the majority of the boards looked like something I’d see at the office, with a bunch of parents peacocking around talking about how hard it had been to find a certain glue and how long it had taken them to type/print etc. Explaining to Matthew that HIS board was wonderful was not the easiest task while he valiantly tried to hold back tears.

    Argh. Parenting is tough.


  13. I wouldn’t sign it. If my son was disappointed, I would again explain the rules and ask him if he think he followed them. We could brainstorm a new goal and rules to meet it for the summer. In fact, we are doing this! I made up a try chart of different activities (learning to do the free style swim stroke and reading a book daily). Every time he completes the sheet, he can put a scoop of beans in an old baby food jar. If he fills it, I’m letting him pick a dessert. Maybe those ridiculously priced Popsicles I always refuse to buy.


  14. I agree with the ice cream for honesty solution. He knows that other friends lied and in your family honesty is more important than getting a medal or being like everybody else. I also think that a year long program is BS for young kids. That’s way too long without a break. It’s absolutely natural to stick to something for a while then indulge a little then buckle down again. A shorter time frame before the rewards and then a restart makes so much more sense. This just sets kids up to lie or fail.


  15. Wow, I am kind of amazed by all of this–the length (all year?) and restrictiveness of the program, the basically encouraging lying, the metals, etc. I wonder why they don’t do something more similar to “screen-free week,” which is in the spring and much more manageable for most people. It sounds like you handled it well. I love the ice cream for honesty idea.


  16. I agree. I think a month is perfect and doable. I feel cynical, but I don’t believe every kid went all year without watching TV during that time. But, who knows!


  17. Michele Hermanson June 18, 2014 at 6:48 pm

    I’m not surprised that people lie. I’m endlessly surprised by seemingly smart, responsible parents who seem to think their kids deserve an award for breathing and waking up each morning, who reap havoc at schools when their kids aren’t getting special treatment, who try to make everything so neat and perfect for their little kings and queens that the damn kids are doomed to grow up as entitled little brats who think they’re special because they exist. You did the right thing. If you didn’t earn it, you don’t get the award. Your gut feelings are right on the money, honesty is best and teaching your kid to be honest and fair is far more important than a few hurt feelings over something he didn’t earn anyway.


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