How important is TV to you and your family? After answering that question honestly, consider how many hours of television your family watches per week. Is the total number acceptable or unbearable? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, American children watch approximately four hours of television a day, and this does not include the time spent in front of the television playing video games and watching DVDs.

If this were true for the children in your household, it would mean on a typical weekday your child eats breakfast, attends school, watches television, eats dinner, and watches more television with about an hour left over for homework and spending quality time with family before getting ready for bed.

“How did this happen?” you might ask. How did television become such a significant portion of your child’s recreational diet? Well, the answer might have something to do with you.

Parents inadvertently teach their children that television is the primary option for amusement and recreation at an early age. To some parents, television acts as a box-shaped babysitter while they handle other tasks, such as cooking dinner or cleaning house. And although having a 2-year-old watch the best of Barney and Friends while you mop the kitchen floor might seem harmless, parents could be setting their children up for years of “vegging-out” in front of the tube.

Even quality programs that are educational can be damaging if your child constantly watches them. When children see television as the only source for entertainment, they become less ambitious thinkers, creators, and participants. When they choose television and video games over sports, reading, or imaginative play, they are setting themselves up for obesity and an anti-social lifestyle., a website developed by the Nemours Foundation, reports that too much of any television viewing is combative to a healthy physical and social lifestyle: “While watching TV, children are inactive and tend to snack. … Too much educational TV has the same indirect effect on children’s health. Even if children are watching four hours of quality educational television, that still means they’re not exercising, reading, socializing, or spending time outside.” Activities such as exercising, reading, and socializing allow your child to interact with his/her peers, promote physical fitness, and provide opportunities for academic growth. And these activities are all essential to helping your child have a healthy and happy childhood experience.

So how do we get these activities back into our children’s lives? How do we gradually turn off the television so that we can channel our children’s interests into more off-the-couch activities? Below you will find some alternatives to television that will, hopefully, motivate your child to carry these activities into their adult lives.

Supply props for the imagination

I had childhood friends who never got to watch TV. Interestingly, I always had the most fun while visiting them as opposed to my television-viewing friends. We would play “Ghost House” by turning off all the lights in their bedroom and throwing pillows around. We would play “Ring-Around-the-Rosy” on their front lawn until we spent ourselves silly. We would choreograph dance routines to their parents’ oldies-but-goodies. Every visit was a blast, and I would always feel disappointed leaving a house that was bursting at the seams with creativity. In preschool and kindergarten classrooms, teachers promote this type of imaginative play by supplying props and costumes, such as toy stoves, miniature dishes, police uniforms, and firefighter costumes. Try creating the same environment in your home, and just see what your child will do.

Board games instead of video games

Today, kids ignore popular, classic board games like Monopoly, Clue, and Life?”opting for Final Fantasy and Ghost Recon instead. Although, these games allow more than one person to play, they don’t establish a more communicative environment than board games produce. Board games allow an entire family to sit and socialize, and although the main objective is winning the game, the central focus is on individual players as opposed to simulated people on a screen. If human interaction and socialization is the key, then board games provide a better way of facilitating this than video games. Board games also expose children to reading printed text off clue cards, game cards, etc., which provides children with a connection to how they mainly learn in school. So dust off Taboo this weekend instead of letting the kids fight over the controllers to PS2.

Exercise! Dance! Move!

Whether bike riding, roller-skating, or jogging, encourage your child to be active every day. During the winter months, let your child listen to his favorite CD as loud as he wants as long as he dances to the music. If your child is not a dance lover, let him pick and choose an active hobby until one best suits his needs. Then motivate him to do it each and every day so that he can be happier, healthier, and watch less TV.

Take an interest in the arts

If your child is still very much interested in the drama of reality shows and made-for-television dramas, take advantage of the theater performances held in the Chicago area. Smaller theaters have relatively cheap ticket prices, and some theaters permit guests to view open rehearsals for free. Check out the following site in order to connect with many Chicago theaters and identify their ticket prices: Theater productions provide great cultural experiences for children of all ages.

Some experts say it takes 21 days to break or create a habit. So, for the next three weeks, challenge your children to substitute the aforementioned activities instead of turning on the tube, and see how much fun they have without plugging something in.