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In 1997, the Washington Capitals were one of the hottest hockey teams on ice, ultimately skating their way into the Stanley Cup finals. By the fall of 1999, they had slipped to the brink of disaster with one of the worst records in the NHL. Coach Ron Wilson decided that drastic measures were necessary, and hastily changed their strategy. Yet injuries abounded and losses mounted. The team was skating on thin ice and couldn't figure out what was wrong.

Just before Christmas, the team embarked on a late-night, seven-hour flight from Vancouver, and did what they typically do on a flight of that duration: They popped in a video to pass the time. To unwind. To lick their wounds. That's when the unexpected happened. The VCR froze. Sorry, sports fans, no TV tonight.

As the plane winged its way through the evening sky, one by one the players broke the ice and started talking with each other. They talked strategy. Obstacles. Key plays. Out of necessity, they rediscovered the ancient art of conversation. By the time the plane touched down, the Capitals had picked apart their game and knew what needed to be done.

In the weeks that followed, they became virtually unstoppable, going on an 11-game winning streak. Team goaltender Olaf Kolzig reflected, "Maybe it was fate that the VCR didn't work. It gave us a chance to just roam about the plane and talk with guys. It was a good way to clear the air." Indeed. They went 12-2-3 after the busted VCR incident.

Amazing things happen when you and I pull away from the TV. Just ask the Washington Capitals. You may be thinking, "Nice story, DeMoss, but what does that have to do with making a difference in the lives of teens?" One of the major complaints I hear young people voicing is that their parents don't ever talk with them—or listen to them. They live in a home where the TV does most of the talking.

Take David, from Orlando, Fla. He told me, "In many ways I feel that I was deprived of parents because of the invention of television. My folks watch TV every night. Every night. They plan the week by what programs are on. When I was growing up, their attention was always on the TV. I could speak to them only during the commercials. I can still hear my mom's voice saying, 'Not now, the show's started—wait until the commercials.' Other times Dad would bark, 'Can't you see we're trying to watch TV?' To this day, they still sit there staring at the box for hours every night." According to a 2005 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, TV is a constant companion in the homes of many children. Nearly two-thirds of them said the TV is "usually" on during meals. Half said the set is left on "most" or "all" of the time, whether anyone is watching or not. Meanwhile, 68 percent of all 8- to 18-year-olds have televisions in their bedrooms. Those children spend almost 90 minutes longer in front of the set on a daily basis than peers who aren't able to retreat to their rooms for TV.

On the surface, TV provides the illusion of community—of being connected to interesting, colorful people. In reality, it divides us. We're together … all alone. We live in mutual isolation. Is it any wonder so many teens feel out of touch with their parents?

In preparation for my book TV: The Great Escape, people sent me hundreds of surveys and journals. When asked for a few benefits of going TV-free for 30 days, at the top of the list was conversation. Even teenagers noted that without a TV, they were free to log more talk time with their parents, family and especially the Lord. These people turned it off. They took control. And they discovered that an overdependence on television was robbing them of precious time while drowning out vital family communication.

I believe a significant opportunity awaits us. Why not get really radical and challenge your family to give up TV for a month? No sitcoms or reality programs. No news or sporting events. No late-night talk shows. If you think 30 days is too long, start with seven. Here are the dates for National TV-Turnoff Week for the next few years: 2008, April 21-27; 2009, April 20-26; 2010, April 19-25; 2011, April 18-25; 2012, April 23-29. I'm convinced that even a modest step will revolutionize relationships in your home and, more importantly, your family's intimacy with the Lord.

Since the 1980s, Bob DeMoss has written and spoken extensively about teens and popular culture. His books on the subject include Learn to Discern and 21 Days to Better Family Entertainment.

Published April 2008

Plugged In Plus

In 2010, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) changed the name of TV-Turnoff Week to "Screen-Free Week" in response to the many different ways people now consume video content. That includes televisions, computers and hand-held digital devices.