A Monster in Your Home

From the March-April 2002 Trumpet Print Edition

Though it has been negatively described as the one-eyed monster, the boob tube and the idiot box, television is something Americans think they simply cannot live without. It is one of America’s greatest pastimes. In most cases, we spend more time watching television within our homes than we do talking with each other. And if we’re not watching it, we’re usually talking about it.

Tv has many negative effects on our society, but the greatest is how it undermines family life. Ironically, we bring this monster right into our homes and empower it. We give it influence over our minds and lives by the time we devote to watching it.

According to a survey conducted by Nielsen Media Research in 2000, the average U.S. home has the tv on for 8 hours each day, with each person watching it close to 4 hours a day. Contrast those statistics with the average amount of time parents spend in meaningful conversation with their children—a mere 39 minutes each week! (American Family Research Council). That breaks down to 51/2 minutes a day. This is a graphic example of backward priorities within many families.

In The Official Couch Potato Handbook, Jack Mingo wrote that 54 percent of 4- to 6-year-olds say they would rather watch tv than spend time with their fathers. As parents, we have a responsibility to structure our children’s lives, showing them how to spend their time and what should be most important to them. Instead, television programming is dictating our children’s priorities; we are allowing our children to be educated and reared by tv programming. The entertainment industry is shaping and molding the minds of our children. It would be condemning even to have 1 percent of our young children—let alone over half—choose to spend time watching tv over spending time with their parents.

How can we allow this to happen in our families? Perhaps the answer is that we simply aren’t concerned. According to the Nielsen survey, the average American youth watches 1,023 hours of tv a year. In a different study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 1999, fully 95 percent of tv time among children 8 years and older is unsupervised. For children between 2 and 7, 81 percent of tv time is unsupervised. The Kaiser study also found that 65 percent of children 8 years and older have no parental rules limiting what they watch.

These statistics are overwhelming and convicting! Most parents simply don’t concern themselves with what their children are watching.

If tv was a valid substitute for the caring attention a loving father and mother should provide, there would be no real concern. But that is not the case. On the contrary, most tv programming targets and harms our children.

Television can be a tool to instruct and educate, and some few programs do just that; but the majority of modern tv programming is a negative influence in our lives. Apart from undermining family life, television supplants other, more educational activities and promotes violence. It pushes excessive commercialism through product advertising and encourages a sedentary lifestyle. Yet still, the greatest damage is being done to our families.

So what can we do to change this growing trend? First of all, we must turn off the tv! The greatest alternative to tv is family interaction. Husbands and wives need to spend time talking with each other. Parents need to spend time talking with their children. Whether the child is just a few months old or a teenager, there is no substitute for parents spending time interacting with him or her.

Parent-child interaction provides positive reinforcement for children. In a world filled with doubts and discouragement, parents can be a source of hope and vision. Parental interaction during the formative years, from birth to age 5, is especially important. It profoundly affects the development of the child’s brain and thinking process. With the tv on, parents and children are robbed of this quality time together.

Tv also robs children of their own playtime. Both parental interaction and children’s playtime are crucial in the development of intelligence and imagination.

Another edifying and enriching alternative to tv is reading. Consider the importance of reading to a child’s education—even to our education as adults. The act of reading cultivates strong habits of analysis, questioning, comprehension and rationality. Television, with its emphasis on emotion, speed, image and sound, fails to contribute to the development of these key skills. Reading develops a depth of critical thinking that cannot be achieved in a lifetime of tv viewing.

By turning the tv off, spending quality time with their children and promoting reading, parents will be building and strengthening their families and their children’s minds.