Saturday, February 26, 2005

Don't Control the Remote...

...cultivate an appetite. Syndicated columnist Froma Harrop wrote an interesting piece for the Detroit News on TV entitled "Blame Parents for kids seeing raunchy shows". Here's a peek,

Television has turned progressively lewd, foul-mouthed and offensive. The trade-off is that it has become more grown-up and in many ways more interesting. Which cop show would you rather watch, the childish "CHiPs" of the 1980s or today's "CSI"? Vulgar and gritty TV is here to stay.
The goal we both agree is to keep children away from this filth. But how? Mrs. Harrop offers some suggestions.

So back to the tools, or what Thompson lists as "the minimal things" parents can do. First there's the V-chip. The V-chip lets adults block certain programming based on one of eight ratings. The V-chip is required on most televisions sold in the last five years, yet few parents bother with it. "Only a tiny percentage is actually learning how to use the V-chip," Thompson reports, "and it's not hard to do." The next thing parents can do, Thompson says, is to take the television out of their children's bedrooms. "It's like a liquor cabinet if you have little children in the house." Parents can keep better track
of TV viewing when it occurs in the family room.
Interesting analogy, does she let her children have liquor as long as she is watching to make sure they don't consume too much? And as a last resort she says,

they can always smash the television set.
That all sounds well and good but it is still the parents exercising control over the children rather than the children learning to control themselves. So what is a parent to do?

I'll be straight forward here, we don't watch any television. Yes, we have a TV but unless it's a major event like the Presidential Inauguration we don't turn it on. We have had this practice in place for about the last 19 years. We have been called extreme by many people and told by well meaning friends that by "depriving" our children they will want it even more when they are older. Hogwash.

My husband and I have purposed to train the appetites of our children so that the TV is rejected as undesireable and a waste of time BY THEM not us. We have provided them with more meaningful alternatives than the one eyed monster. Since the time they were little we have read books out loud as a family, played games, and filled their minds and time with more engaging activities. As a result, they are now young entrepreneaurs with a host of hobbies that will provide enjoyment and income for the rest of their lives. They each play several instruments and participate in concert bands and orchestras in the area.

Sure this was difficult when they were all little. With five small children running around, at the time, it was tempting to turn on the TV just for a break. But the short term break would have created an appetite in the children that we didn't want to feed. We reasoned that once they realized that the TV does most of the imagining and thinking for them their brains and bodies become lazy.

Watching TV is also inherently self-centered. The focus is on keeping the attention of the viewer. Once the TV is turned off it is often difficult to engage in family life again. You'll know your child is really hooked when they demand to watch from the time they wake up till the time they go to bed and any time you refuse they get upset.

The sad reality is that the shows may be innocent or "educational" when they are little but as they grow up so do their tastes. Barney may satisfy Jr. when he's five but when he's fifteen he is going to want to watch something a little more attractive than a purple dinosaur. The problem is that his habits have been established and his appetitie to be entertained has been satisfied for so many years he doesn't know what to do with himself.

It doesn't have to be this way. Take the time now to teach your young children how to control their appetities and allow them to feast on that which is good. "Taste and see that the Lord is good," Psalms 34:8. A family snuggled together reading a book will keep even the youngest children engaged even without pictures if they are given the time to imagine. (I used to keep a stack of paper nearby while I was reading so they could color and draw as they listened.) This is very labor intensive for the parents initially but once they have their appetite whetted for that which is truly good they will be less likely to desire the rancid food Hollywood dishes out.

Furthermore, we also didn't try to fill every minute of their day. We allowed them "white space" if you will. This allowed them time to engage in activities of their own choosing and since they knew the TV (and the computer) were not options they made other choices. Scripture tells us to "Be still and know that I am God". The down times are necessary so that they can process what they are experiencing and learn to make sense of it all.

Now that my children have become young adults their time is so filled up with other things of greater interest and importance the TV is not even desired by them. They don't rush to see the latest episode of some show. I don't have to tell them NO you can't watch that or no more TV today you've got to do your homework. The goals and desires that they have set for themselves have made TV a distraction not an attraction. The idea of wasting hours in front of the TV is ludicrous to them. They have higher standards to meet and higher goals to achieve.


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