In the 1950’s television was broadcast in black and white and was still relatively new. Family shows and entertainment programs abounded, with little risk of offending viewers or irritating sponsors.
A decade later, some shows were beginning to develop an edge. Soap operas adopted controversial themes and eyebrow-raising movies began to air.
Since then this downhill trend has continued, with children the primary victims of sponsors’ advertising wars and conflicting values. By the time most children graduate high school, they will have spent twice as much time watching television as being in class, and forty times more than the average amount of time spent in weekly religious worship services. There is no doubt that television viewing plays a tremendous role in impacting children’s views and behavior.
If you are a parent who is concerned about today’s television programming and its influence on your child, there are several steps you can take, short of throwing the television out the window, to monitor program content.
- Limit the amount of viewing time each week. Some parents keep a television only for special holiday or educational programs. Others allow their kids to choose up to two hours of viewing each week. Another approach would be to permit an hour of television each night–after homework is completed. Whatever route you take, maintain a small quality exposure to television rather than letting kids turn it on and keep it on all day or night.
- Evaluate program quality. Visit one of the popular Web sites that provide ratings for family programs. Watch a few episodes of your child’s favorite program with him or her, discussing it afterward. If you disapprove of the content, don’t rant. Instead, ask your kids a few insightful questions that will help them think through situational ethics for themselves:
Why did the audience laugh when Carla’s jeans ripped?
What made the auto crash humorous?
- Provide alternative recreation. An art project, sports activity, great book or magazine, or having friends over can be a fun way to spend an evening in lieu of television. Experiment to find other interests that will grab your child’s attention and provide opportunities to try new things.
- Keep the television in another room or closet. Rather than set the television in a prominent location in the family or living room, put it on a cart with wheels and roll it in and out of the room as needed. The kids will begin to view the set as optional, not standard fare.
- Buy a unit with a smaller screen. Rather than wide screen, opt for a twenty-inch monitor, with the most adventurous parents going for black and white instead of color. Size suggests value in the minds of many, including kids, so a smaller television may reduce its importance to them.
- Set a good example. Find other things to do besides watching television. Knit a sweater, read a novel (or write one yourself), join a parenting group or social organization, or play basketball with your child. Becoming a couch potato bodes dire health consequences for your entire family, so be the first to model healthier behavior.
- Censor inappropriate viewing. Explain to a child that’s old enough to understand the rating system and why “R” or “X” movies are prohibited. When your kids want to see a new release with an adult rating, briefly mention the features that make it unsuitable for kids. Over time they will learn to assess these elements for themselves.
- Appreciate quality programming. Educational and nature programs, sporting events, and old movies can offer clean entertainment for the family. Take time to sit down and watch one of these with your kids to help them discern good from bad shows.
Television is a wonderful entertainment and news medium. But like anything else, it can be misused. Train your children in its proper use and everyone in the family will benefit.