Television can be an effective tool for educating your children — or it can be harmful. Which role does television play in your home?
No one is suggesting that television. be banned for children. But comments like the following show something is not right: "I can't live without television," exclaimed 8-year-old Elizabeth. She and her second-grade classmates spent an experimental day without TV just to see what would happen.") can't stay away for more than an hour," Elizabeth declared. The experience affected her so deeply she was unable to eat. So she simply stared at the blank TV screen all day and pretended her favorite programs were on. "Every minute seemed like a whole month," said Donny, a fellow second grader. He got so bored during the experiment he picked fights with his brother to kill time. In no uncertain terms Donny advocated unlimited access to the TV. "We kids have our rights!" he maintained. Daniella was more realistic. "If my mother doesn't control it, I would just keep watching and I'll get dizzy," she remarked. In another experiment, seventh and eighth graders went without television for a whole month and then reported on their findings. "I had more time to do my homework neater and better," said Darien. "I used to get rotten grades but now I am doing better and I have better grades." "As the days went by, it seemed as though the month got longer and longer," commented Tammentha. " Kids just can't stop watching it," she stated. "Some days I just roamed around the house," Sheila confessed. "I couldn't find anything to do, yet I had at least a million things to do." Angela rediscovered an old friend-her mother. "The time I used to spend watching television [which was all the time] I spend conversing with my mother," Angela wrote. Maybe the situation is different in your home. You can easily find out. Just pull the plug on your TV set for one week. See what kind of ruckus is raised. Are your children suddenly at a loss for what to do? Do they get into mischief out of sheer boredom? Are they unable to entertain themselves or to find useful activities to be involved in? If the answer is yes to any of these, you have a problem on your hands.
Various studies have come up with figures indicating that the average American child watches anywhere from 20 to 40 hours of TV a week. Often that's more time than is spent in school. In fact, that's more time than is spent in anything else except sleeping. What do they see during that time? Certain programs of educational value? Yes. Fortunately. But also, at the time reports were compiled, half of all children's viewing time was spent watching adult programs. Thus, by the age of 17, it was computed that a child will have witnessed roughly 18,000 murders and other acts of violence. One youngster was heard to comment that he had seen so much violence on the video screen that if he saw the real thing it wouldn't even phase him. It's not just the physical violence. There's also the psychological violence — the put — down humor, the scheming and plotting, the name-calling and cynical, unkind barbs that children so quickly imitate. TV programming carries a heavy emphasis on sex. One has only to listen to children who have a heavy TV diet to realize that they have lost their innocence. One person summed it up when she lamented that "children, they see so much now. We don't know anything they don't know any more. All the secrets are out." Little wonder — sexual subjects dealt with on TV are usually of the sensational or aberrant sort. Ranking among TV's highest profit makers is one corporation that specializes in raunchy game shows based on bad taste, crude jokes and sexual innuendos. A recent Gallup poll found that many Americans believe the quality of family life has declined during the past 15 years and they blame television as one of the chief factors. A majority found that "television programs hurt family life with too much emphasis on sex and violence." But can "television" really be blamed? Who makes television what it is?
Why Is TV the Way It Is?
Television producers and executives are not entirely responsible for what is on the tube. They are businessmen and it's basically a matter of profit in a highly competitive industry. And the profit potential is enormous, as evidenced particularly in the U.S., where ninety-eight percent of American homes have at least one working TV set — some 100 million TVs altogether. And which sets are tuned to which channels is the most important factor deciding which programs succeed or fail. Herbert W. Armstrong, editor in chief of The Plain Truth magazine was for many years in the advertising business. Drawing upon his experience, he clearly analyzed why television is the way it is: "The commercial and industrial interests who sponsor and pay for television programming and broadcasting want the largest mass audience for their money. It's a matter of supply and demand — and the public demands programs that are exciting, shocking, daring — and this means violence and sex." Mr. Armstrong continues: "In a number of countries, and certainly in the United States, the major cost of television production and broadcasting is derived from the commercials - the advertising. Rates are based on viewer — ratings at the various hours of day or night — the number of viewers tuned in. The competition for high ratings is furious. Millions upon millions of dollars are involved. The concern is not for what viewers ought to see, but for what the largest number will prefer to see. "And television experience shows the public wants, not what is good for it, but what will entertain. The average TV diet would not be filled with violence, murder, crime and illicit sex if the viewing public did not prefer that to a diet of education, instruction and useful information. The profit motive rules. And the profit motive says, 'Jones pays the freight; give Jones what he wants!'" Human nature being what it is, the majority of people demand less than worthwhile programs. What it all boils down to is that, in today's society, if the content of television programming is going to be regulated it will be regulated by the use of the channel selector and the on/off switch on the TV set in your home!
Just sitting for hours staring at the electric window teaches children to be observers instead of doers. They become passive spectators to what is going on around them. Long-term plans requiring perseverance and patient effort subconsciously appear useless, since on TV problems in life work themselves out in 30 minutes or an hour — often thanks to a recourse to violent means of some sort. Psychologists have reported that the quickly changing scenes and the rapid-fire delivery of television shorten the attention span of children. They develop an appetite for novelty and lively action that is increasingly hard to satisfy. Many children who watch TV extensively tend to lose their powers of imagination. After letting electronic video do their thinking for them for hours on end, they become unable to think for themselves. Before TV came along youngsters easily entertained themselves using the simplest of toys and their vivid imagination. Now imagination often atrophies. Boredom quickly sets in when the television is not on. In fact, the point is often reached where TV itself is boring! When a child, at the ripe age of 12, comes to the place where even television fails to alleviate boredom, what in life is left that is "exciting"? Sex? Crime? Drugs? Many of the difficulties faced by educators may be laid at TV's doorstep too. Some of the popular "educational" shows, which make heavy use of nonlife-like gimmicks and electronic effects to capture children's attention, place school teachers in an awkward position. Teachers, unable to leap from tall buildings holding only a broken umbrella, or unwilling to act like the "Cookie Monster," often find it difficult to hold their pupils' attention for any length of time. "We want to be entertained," said one youngster to his teacher. One may compare TV to alcohol; a little bit is pleasurable and beneficial; too much is addicting and mind-dulling. The glazed-eye trance-like desire for escape from reality that many children exhibit hunched over in front of the television set is the same state of mind alcoholics have as they stare at the world around them through an intoxicated blur. There are even warnings of actual physical damage caused by too much TV. These include exposure from radiation, especially from sitting too close to some
Studies indicate that the average American child watches anywhere from 30 to 40 hours of TV a week... more time than is spent in anything except sleeping.
color, sets; hunched spine, from the many hours spent in various TV postures; weakened eyes, from staring (sometimes without blinking for long periods) at one point, whereas the normal eye movement is from side to side.
What Can Parents Do?
Almost all experts agree that the single most effective recourse parents have is to involve themselves directly in the viewing habits of their offspring. TV must not be used as an electronic babysitter — a means of putting children "out of sight, out of mind." The main problem is that television in many homes has become a substitute for good family relations. The less rapport between parents and their children, the greater influence TV will have. Bob Keeshan, on the air for more than 20 years on children's television has definite ideas about TV and children. " Television and its use as a babysitter is a device to relieve parents from a responsibility they don't want to take," Mr. Keeshan exclaimed, He stated that if parents were parents, there would be no need to try pressuring network executives and station managers, Parents determine the kind of television children have by what they allow them to watch. And the number who watch determine the ratings — and the ratings determine the programming. "Television is no competition for an active parent," he went on. "If a parent wants to spend some time with a child, the child will abandon that television set tomorrow!" (Interview for Knight-Ridder Newspapers, June 29, 1977.) Some children may already be so addicted that it may not be that easy. But the extra effort must be made. In an article in the New York Times (February 10, 1979), Mr. Keeshan again stressed that the TV set should not fill the vacuum created by a parent's neglect. Children need to be talked to and listened to in their formative years. It is a tragic mistake to entrust them to the care of the electric box when they are young, hoping to establish meaningful communication with them when they become teenagers. " By then, communication will be impossible because love will have passed both parent and child by. An hour or two of high quality time, given consistently, will be a daily bouquet of love — and a message well received by a real human being."
Clearing the Air
It is not sufficient to just watch the youngsters watch TV. Parents need to talk about what is on the screen. They should offer critical comments and encourage their children to do the same. What is good about the program? What is bad? And why? It's not even necessary to be there every minute or to sit through every show. Just supervise what is being watched and be aware enough to give analytical guidelines as they are needed. There is no need to be afraid of interrupting the tube. It is not a person. If the show is offensive, use your power of veto. Flick the switch! It is not realistic nor essential to toss the TV into the trash barrel. (Although some few who have done just that wouldn't have it back at any price. "Now our kids are fun kids to be with," is the comment of one gleeful parent who got rid of the color TV and replaced it with a small black-and-white portable, which is used only on a limited basis.) If control IS exercised, abolition should not be necessary. Aside from the merits or demerits of television itself, there is another important consideration: Aren't there more profitable things your children could do with some of the time they spend looking at television — things that will better prepare them for success in life? For the average kid "TV has at the very least preempted the traditional development of childhood itself. The time kids spend sitting catatonic before the set has been exacted from such salutory pursuits as reading, outdoor play, even simple, contemplative solitude," wrote Harry F. Waters in an extensive Newsweek report (February 21, 1977). He then went on to relate how famed baby doctor Benjamin Spock took his stepdaughter and granddaughter to New York to see the Bronx Zoo and the Museum of Modern Art. "But the man who has the prescription for everything from diaper rash to bed-wetting could not dislodge the kids from their hotel room. 'I couldn't get them away from the [censored] TV set,' recalls Spock. 'It made me sick.'" A group of concerned parents in a Detroit, Michigan, suburb set out with a realistic goal of cutting the TV — viewing time of their youngsters in half. Receiving the cooperation of teachers they formulated "Alternatives to Television." Said one official of the local parent-teacher association, "If we can get a household to cut down even 10 or 20 percent, it's that much more time to socially, mentally and physically develop." "Our intention was really to inform parents that they do have a right to say no or yes to what their children watch and that there were many alternatives many people seem to have forgotten about," the official explained. The program was established to promote five basic alternative areas for children to invest some of the free time they would otherwise wile away in front of the TV set: sports, hobbies, family relations, academic pursuits and social development. Such a program automatically requires a family to work together in a common effort and thus promotes stronger family bonds. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher recently advised her nation's children: "Although you can learn a lot from television, you must do things yourselves. You must be doers and not watchers," she stated. A very biblical pronouncement! It may be difficult — even traumatic — at first. But once the parental foot is firmly put down and a strong hand begins to rule the TV control panel, the results will be seen. Provided with material and inspiration from parents, juvenile imaginations can begin to function once again and become involved in creative endeavors.
The Right Channel
The Bible gives clear indication that technical advances such as television and satellite transmission would exist in the last days of human civilization. (Revelation 11:8-9 speaks of people around the world being able to simultaneously "see" events taking place on the streets of Jerusalem). But the Scriptures do not, of course, mention such innovations by name. Nevertheless biblical principles support what many experts have said about television and its proper use. "Make the very most of your time," enjoined the apostle Paul (Ephesians 5:16, Moffatt translation). Fill your mind with things that are worthwhile — things that are true, honest, pure, lovely, of good report. "Think on these things," Paul urged (Philippians 4:8). Unfortunately these positive adjectives do not describe most of what is now on TV. The Bible places great emphasis upon parents being actively involved in teaching their offspring right principles in each facet of life. Those right principles are defined in the laws of God. Listen to what God says to parents: "And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them [discuss them] when you sit in your house" — yes, when you sit in your house in front of the TV set! — "and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise" (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, Revised Standard Version). What your children see is important. If they are looking at wholesome, educational, edifying subjects, they will be benefited. If their eyes gaze for hours at violence, illicit sex, disrespect and plain stupidity, their character is going to be adversely affected by what they see. Jesus, expounding this truth, warned: "The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound [if it is used rightly and wholesomely], your body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!" (Matthew 6:22-23, RSV.) It is time to harness the television set in your home!