How to Get the Best Out of TV…, Chapter 5

Seven Shocking Reasons to Watch What Kids Watch!
How TV Affects Children

Copyright © 1996, Broadman & Holman Publishers



This chapter is dedicated to grown-up kids. It is for those adults who feel that -- since they freely watched television when they were young and don't think that they were too negatively affected -- TV won't have a significant impact on their children, or on themselves as adults today.

The difference, though, lies in the nature of the programs that were prevalent in the 50s, 60s and 70s, as compared to now. By and large, today's parents were brought up on wholesome or family oriented programs that emphasized traditional, Judao-Christian values. The most worrisome of the shows incorporated hard-to-explain "situation ethics," or just plain stupid (but fun) frivolity.

Today's most popular programs, however, include blatant sexual promiscuity, profanity, coarse joking, and glaring anti-family/anti-Christian plots and sub-plots. Occultism, extremely graphic violence, and self-indulgent materialism also permeate a huge percentage of Hollywood's offerings. Now more than ever, discretion is essential.

Although what you are about to read is a rather chilling revelation of the "bad fruits" that result from conventional TV management, it is important to remember that not everything that comes through TV is bad. Rather, it is overuse and a generally lackadaisical attitude toward the medium by adults that so often leads to regrettable results.


The average child between 2 and 11 years
old watches over 27 hours of very poorly
supervised television per week.

It is not our intent to alienate you from your TV. In fact, beginning in the next chapter, there are some very refreshing, creative ideas of how you and your family can gain lasting control of and benefit from this valuable communication tool.

You can transform the family TV from a menacing enemy into a beneficial ally! However, because the average child between 2 and 11 years old watches over 27 hours of very poorly supervised television per week; because "the only thing that kids do more than watch television is sleep" and because we are convinced that most parents are either unaware of, or completely callused to the indecent liberties that modern media take with our children, we implore… "Your attention please!"

VIOLENCE

The American Academy of Pediatrics has thoroughly studied the issue of TV violence and its effects on children. As long ago as 1984, their research confirmed some long assumed realities, such as: "Repeated exposure to televised violence promotes a proclivity to violence and a passive response to its practice…" Also, the office of the U.S. Surgeon General has investigated the negative effects of television almost as often as it has studied the consequences of cigarette smoking. A USA Today article reported, "The government has not insisted yet on labeling television programs with the warning: 'viewing may be dangerous to your mental health,' but that is the inescapable conclusion of massive research."

We have all heard or read a news story about a life-shattering crime committed by some 10-year-old who saw it on TV and thought it would be “fun” to act out himself. It's probably safe to assume that none of the parents of these young terrorists sat their infants in front of a TV with the intention of training them how to kill and maim, rape and brutalize. But the messages were transmitted, and the children were there, antennas up, ready to receive.

Not even a strong Christian home guarantees immunity. Christian parents -- who, for the most part, allow the same shows into their homes as their non-Christian neighbors -- need to remember that during a youngster's estimated 22,000 hours in front of television by age 14, he has witnessed the assault on, or destruction of more than 18,000 individuals, usually without any negative consequences. Is it any wonder we see children “playing” violently, cursing, or fighting?

The early evening hours when the most family-oriented shows are supposedly on is really the most violent time on weekday television. Violent acts during prime time (over 10 instances per hour) are now surpassed only by the number telecast for the viewing pleasure of impressionable youngsters during Saturday morning cartoons -- an average 76 incidents per hour!

Dr. Jay Martin of the University of Southern California found that "in a multi-year study of 732 children, conflicts with parents, fighting with peers, and delinquency were correlated with the total number of hours of television viewing." It is troubling to note -- especially for childcare operators and parents who let their children watch moderate to large amounts of "only the good stuff" -- that the "fundamental correlation is not between aggressive behavior and the viewing of violence on TV. Increases in aggression correlate with viewing television, not with viewing violent scenes." The process of viewing -- the number of hours actually viewed -- is the main factor correlated with negative behavior.

It appears that the best way to guard against over-aggressiveness and interpersonal conflicts is a two-pronged approach. First and most importantly, cut down on the total number of hours viewed. Second, eliminate all violent programs from your TV-viewing diet so that a callousness to pain and suffering is not unnecessarily fostered in the hearts of your own children.

ACADEMICS

Thanks to TV, today's kids are exposed to more information than any other generation in history. But are they smarter for it?

Nationwide, reading scores continue their downward trend. The number of partially illiterate college students continues to climb. Classroom teachers around the world are finding it harder to establish a healthy learning environment, no matter for what age students they are responsible. They are frustrated because the children that they are expected to educate turn off very easily, seem restless and apathetic. Educators are in daily competition with the effects of television and other visual media. Unfortunately, many feel that they are losing or have already lost the struggle to adequately educate and equip tomorrow's leaders.

In a Parade magazine article entitled "Why They Excel" (January 21, 1990), author Fox Butterfield discussed the differences in academic achievement between Americans and Asians. Among many other thought provoking statements, she referred to a study prepared for the United States Department of Education that compared the math and science achievements of 24,000 13-year-olds in the USA, Canada, South Korea, Ireland, Great Britain, and Spain. "One of the findings was that the more time students spent watching television, the poorer their performance. The American students watched the most television. They also got the worst scores in math. Only the Irish students and some of the Canadians scored lower in science." An observation shared by a student at Berkeley should cause most parents to seriously consider the situation in their own homes. This young Korean-American frankly stated, "I don't think Asians are any smarter…there are brilliant Americans in my chemistry class. But the Asian students work harder. I see a lot of wasted potential among Americans."

And recent studies suggest that North America is never going to gain ground in trying to catch up with the academic quality of our overseas neighbors by depending on "educational TV." While most parents assume that “educational” shows are teaching basic skills, and while this is undoubtedly correct to some extent, children who watch these types of shows "tend to solve problems only on the basis of facts or concepts presented…whereas children who learn the same materials in a traditional manner solve problems more freely and individually. Decreases in cognition tend to occur whether the program is an adventure show, a comedy, or even an educational program. A broadcast whose subject is how to increase creativity is likely to decrease creativity in the viewer."

Educational psychologist Jane Healy says that PBS's Sesame Street itself is far from the educational television show it purports to be. "It is truly amazing that everyone seems to have bought the notion that this peripatetic carnival will somehow teach kids to read, despite the fact that the habits of the mind necessary to be a good reader -- language, active reflection, persistence and internal control -- are exactly what Sesame Street does not teach." She sees the program, which is "viewed by almost half of all American preschoolers on a weekly basis, as a contributor to a new and growing educational problem: the 2-minute mind." Her solution should be shouted from the rooftops: "Parents need to stop rushing lessons (pushing kids into early pre-school instruction) and plugging in to technology…Instead, they need to find ways to involve their children in everyday activities" and "control the use of television in the home."

While attention grabbing newspaper headlines demand excellence in our nation's classrooms, the evidence that too much television has an adverse effect on scholastic performance is overwhelming. The bottom line is, the more television a child watches, the greater the negative impact on his learning and development. Our cries for educational reforms must be matched by reform on the homefront -- in our TV viewing habits.

DISTORTED VIEW OF SEX AND SEXUALITY

Adults have watched as the minimum moral standards to which network programs must attain have continually declined. The decline has been great, but slow enough that the vast majority of Christian adults are no longer shocked or outraged by programs that, only a decade earlier, network programmers would never have dared to transmit. And, as adults become increasingly desensitized to casual sex, so are the children that God has entrusted to their care.

In an effort to broaden and obtain a better selection of programs, the majority of American households now subscribe to cable TV services. But better control is usually the first benefit that cable TV subscribers realize doesn't come with their monthly service fee. In fact, in a study of 450 sixth-graders who watch cable, Oklahoma State University professor Godfrey Ellis found that a staggering 66% of the children watched at least one program a month that contained nudity or heavy sexual content.

Where do Christian children develop their weakened moral ideas? A substantial part of the blame can be laid to poorly managed television. A child may attend Sunday School for one hour a week, church for two more hours and never really hear about God's prohibitions regarding premarital sex. But when a child has unlimited access to the world's perspective at the rate of 25 to 30 hours per week, which ideas can we expect to have the most influence?

OBESITY

In 1984, medical researchers for the American Academy of Pediatrics documented a fact that had long been assumed. Television viewing increases consumption of high caloric snacks and the prevalence of obesity.

Research in the 1990s has shown that, compared to the late 1970s "there has been a 98 percent increase in extreme obesity among children. …Obesity has become a near epidemic" afflicting one out of every four youngsters, and about 30 percent of adults.


While television has a lot
to answer for,
its exploitation of children
may just rank at
the top of the list.

Still another study -- this one sampling 1,077 children between the ages of two and twelve -- revealed to the American Heart Association a serious finding about children who watch 2 to 4 hours of television a day. For them, there is a significantly higher likelihood of high cholesterol levels (above 200) than those who watch less than two hours a day.

And a researcher at Memphis State University, Dr. Robert Klesges, found that "children watching TV tend to burn fewer calories per minute -- not only fewer than those engaged in active play, but also fewer than those who are reading or 'doing nothing' -- in fact, almost as few as children who are sleeping." And the heavier a child is, the more grave the effect. For children of normal weight, "TV-watching triggered a 12 percent (metabolic) drop… The metabolic rates of obese children fell an average 16 percent." Dr. Klesges suggested the obvious. "It seems prudent for people of all ages who have weight problems to curb their time in front of the tube and do something more demanding instead."

COMMERCIALS

There are very influential and cunningly deceptive media power brokers out there, hungry in their insatiable desire to garner material wealth. They are obviously willing to sell our kids down a moral and intellectual drain in that process. While television has a lot to answer for, its exploitation of children through commercials may just rank at the top of the list.

It is estimated that the average child sees 20,000 commercials per year. Contrary to adults, who often mute out commercials, or who get up and make a mad dash for the bathroom during the 60 to 180 seconds that they are allotted, children like TV ads. They like to be told what to lobby for…and lobby they do.

When mom tries to pull a good tasting, healthful box of cereal from the grocery store shelf, her hand is held back by a whining, pleading child who is willing, at that moment, to sell his birthright in exchange for a box of colorful, sugar-saturated puffed flakes. The child makes such an embarrassing scene that -- although she knows it is the wrong thing to do -- the poor mother finally gives in and throws the doubly expensive box and its "free prize" into the cart. (It lands on top of a plastic container full of vitamin fortified, fruit-flavored sugar water.)

Like their parents, children willingly dance to the puppet strings of Madison Avenue. They buy into and energetically promote the idea that ability and health are products of material consumption. Commercials are the place where sizzle overwhelms substance and where paid liars can get away with anything, provided they look honest on camera.

Unfortunately, commercials have all the best of advertising minds, plus frequent repetition going for them. Their lack of intrinsic importance becomes immaterial as these other elements create an overwhelmingly influential message. This is a good reason for Christian families to build a home library of Christian videos. At the same time, it is a warning to avoid letting children watch shows that carry a large number of commercials directed specifically at them, particularly the Saturday morning cartoons, which contain about 25 percent more commercials than other programming.

If you are tired of hearing Junior whine all the way through the grocery store, and then dragging him kicking and screaming from the toy department of the local discount store, turn off Saturday morning TV. Invest in several of the excellent Christian children's videos (see our video reviews and "Author's Choice" picks for suggestions), or go to the park or just go outside and play a game with your children. In the long-run, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose!

IMAGINATIVE PLAY

Few adults are aware of it, but television has completely altered the way that children spend their time. Yesterday's children spent much of their days playing games and exploring the outdoor world around them. But today's children spend their time with their eyes glued to the television screen and their bottoms firmly planted on the living-room rug.

TV has often been identified as a sort of "plug-in drug." This description is really quite accurate. Television gradually narcotizes viewers into passivity. Youngsters who should be outdoors getting bruised, dirty, and exhausted, exercise only their blinking eyelids as they sit entranced, hour after hour, in front of the tube. Dr. Paul Fink of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia has studied childhood viewing habits and concludes that "those obsessed by TV are less creative and more passive." Evidence also indicates that television interferes with the capacity to entertain oneself and stifles the ability to express ideas logically and sensitively. Television viewing replaces essential play activities with passivity rather than activity. These findings are generally true of adult viewers as well.

A simple observation of children's free play shows that it is often structured closely after TV programs. It seems that every little boy wants to play with toys that are connected to popular, violent cartoons. Children run around blasting their friends with imaginary laser-bullets through over-priced plastic weapons that they have learned how to use by watching TV.

Toys linked to television “program” a child to play in a way that is fashioned after the show -- whether violent or benign. Children no longer need to envision situations or new worlds; they simply replay last Saturday's cartoons. Imagination is crippled; inventiveness stunted.

FAMILY TIME

Daddy won't be home on time tonight. He's working late at the office again. But that's O.K.! Timmy has the TV! The TV is always there to keep him company. Who needs Dad when the TV is in good working condition?


The girl was heartbroken by
the way that television
stood between her and her parents,
and between them and God.

In his book Family Issues, Christian author Bob Larson reveals an alarming finding that should make even the most carefree father sit up and think. He shares that "a…Michigan State University study revealed that when four- and five-year-olds were offered the choice between giving up television or their fathers, a third opted to give up daddy." According to another study, "the average five-year-old spends [only] 25 minutes a week in close interaction with his father [but] 25 hours a week in close interaction with the TV set."

Parents often regret not spending more time with their children. However, in a survey conducted for the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Corporation, "two-thirds of those surveyed say they would probably accept a job that required more time away from home if it offered higher income or greater prestige." Caught in time-binds that limit the number of hours available for family interaction, equally problematic is the average family's misuse of the TV set.

In a Saturday Evening Post article, Marie Winn wrote, "The television set casts its magic spell, freezing speech and action, turning the living into silent statues…Turning on the television set can turn off the process that transforms children into people." Poorly managed television wastes opportunities for kids to learn how to relate to other people -- including their parents and siblings. And relating with their families is a desire of today's youth. In a nationwide, ethnically balanced survey of 750 ten to sixteen-tear-olds, "three-quarters said that if they had a choice between watching TV or spending time with their families, they'd opt for family time." Instead, in the strong words of one author, "Parents have abused their children in order to benefit themselves, turning the TV set into a constant and convenient baby-sitter."

I'm convinced, however, that the family's loss of control of its time is one of the most perplexing of the problems faced by parents today. We recognize the fact that values completely contrary to those that we want our children to absorb are being shot -- rapid fire -- through the TV set into the living room. We realize that, as the family supper table also succumbs to the chatter of TV noise, hope for a daily period of sharing, caring, and interaction is almost zero. Yet we stay "tuned in" anyway. When one considers that the average household now spends almost 50 hours per week with the TV, yet mom and dad allot only 27 minutes during the same week to focus in and talk to each other, it is little wonder that relationships suffer. And when families suffer, our entire nation sees and feels the results.


When we put TV ahead of people,
it reveals a lot about the value we place
on others in our home.

Children of all ages need adult contact. While a teenager's vehement verbal attacks may suggest otherwise, they need adult/child relationships for reassurance that they are loved, and for instruction in the ways of adult society. Author/lecturer Josh McDowell has repeatedly stated that he often has teenagers come to him, convinced that their parents don't love them. When asked why they feel this way, many respond that they just don't feel important. Their parents don't try to spend time with them anymore. In fact, poorly managed TV has become one of the primary impediments to relational richness in millions of American homes.

After a lively meeting where we had been invited to challenge a large group of Christian teens about their TV habits, a teen-aged girl shyly came to Karen. The girl was heartbroken by the way that television stood between her and her parents, and between them and God. She was convinced that she was not as important to her mom and dad as were their TV sets. This teen actually wanted to get closer to her parents. But the way that TV was used in her home made true closeness an all-but-impossible dream. Most disturbing of all, her parents would be surprised, even angry if anyone were to suggest that maybe TV rated too high a priority in their average Christian family.

If someone in your home wants some uninterrupted time to share some problems or feelings, do you sometimes respond with, "Shhh, I'm watching TV"? That phrase is a strong indication that television is the basic presence and all others are considered interruptive. When we put TV ahead of people, it reveals a lot about the value we place on others.

Remember, children learn from parental example -- whether that example is lethargy or loving involvement, harsh words or gentle speech.

Will you give prime time to your family, friends, church? Make a commitment for just one or two weeks to change your viewing habits.

The pages that follow are designed to equip everyone in your household to do just that. You will find useful suggestions, unique forms, intimate stories, TV-alternative activities, and helpful video evaluations. Now you can finally get the best out of TV, without letting TV get the best out of you!



To Appendix “B”