There's a monster in our house, and it wants my children all the time. Worse yet, they want it and would choose it over other activities.
Our monster is the TV. Most families either struggle with controlling it, feel guilty that they don't, or suffer its ill effect.
The A. C. Nielson Company reported in 1985 that the average six to eleven year-old watched 27 1/2 hours per week. Children under six often watch more. Estimates range as high as 30 to 50 hours per week.
U.S. News & World Report cites another statistic: between the ages of six and eighteen, American children watch fifteen thousand hours of television, two thousand hours more than they spend in school.
As Christian parents, we are concerned about the values portrayed on television. Most programs are filled with violence, sexual promiscuity, and materialism.
Paul gives wise counsel in his letter to the Philippians. He tells us, "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things" (Philippians 4:8).
It is extremely rare to find television programs that are true noble, right, lovely, excellent, pure, praiseworthy, and admirable.
We need to ask ourselves, "Are the hours of quiet time when our children are pacified by television worth its negative effects?" Most television programs portray values that are the opposite of Christian teachings.
Also, consider what a child is missing during the hours he or she is engrossed in TV. Television robs a child of time for reading, playing outside, doing homework, family interaction, playing games, and countless creative activities.
"Watching television not only requires no skills but develops no skills," says Neil Postman in The Disappearance of Childhood. Research indicates that poor school performance may be linked to heavy TV viewing.
"In its short lifetime, television has become the major stumbling block to literacy in America," states Jim Trelease in The Read-Aloud Handbook. "Our children must be taught in the home and the classroom how to cope with television. They must be taught to control it instead of letting it control them.
The problem can be solved. It requires diligence, effort, and creativity on the part of the parent. But, it is worth the time involved. Limiting TV viewing pays big dividends in a closer walk with Christ, better family relationships, improved performance in school, increase creativity, and higher self-esteem. Following are ten solutions that have been successfully used by others.
1. Set firm limits. At a family meeting decide on how much TV is appropriate for your family. Some families have decided to eliminate it completely by going "cold turkey." Others limit TV to weekends only. Some families allow a fixed number of hours per week.
One family gave each child a limited number of coupons that could be exchanged for one half hour of TV from an approved list of programs. Another solution is to give a child two or three dollars in quarters at the beginning of the week and require the child to pay twenty-five cents for each half hour watched. Any money left over at the end of the week may be kept by the child.
Many families restrict TV viewing during the week, allowing no TV on school nights. Minimal viewing is allowed on weekends, with children required to choose from an approved list of programs.
2. Watch TV with your child. Is the program appropriate for his or her age? Is it violent? Does it promote sexual activity? Does it represent the values you are teaching your child?
Talk to your children about how the values portrayed are different from biblical teachings. How do TV characters solve their problems compared to the way Jesus teaches us to solve our problems? Help your children become discriminating viewers.
You can help them understand how commercials try to convince us to buy things we don't need. Ads often promise their products will do more than they can do.
3. Monitor TV programs. Help your children monitor their viewing with a TV chart. Ask them to write down each show watched and to rate it for very good to very bad. A delightful resource to help children monitor their viewing is The TV Smart Book for Kids by Peggy Charen.
Ask you children to write a report card for each show watched. Have them rate it according to violence, values, and content. Did it have a Christian perspective? Was it boring? Would they want to watch it again? Would Jesus want them to watch it? Encourage your children to become critical viewers and to watch only the best programming available.
4. Don't use TV as a babysitter. TV is a poor substitute for human companionship. I have been guilty of allowing my kids to watch TV to keep them occupied when I needed uninterrupted time to get something done. But although they were quiet while watching, their behavior was worse (increased fighting, restlessness, irritability) after watching TV.
5. Be a good role model. Instill good habits by being a good example. Don't be a "couch potato" and expect your child to want to watch also. Limit the amount of time you watch TV.
6. Make the TV inconvenient. Some families put their TV in an out-of-the-way location, where it is inconvenient to watch. One family didn't replace their antenna when it was blown over in a windstorm.
We live in an area with poor reception. We subscribed to cable for a while, thinking our children would have better things to watch (i.e., Disney and nature shows). The end result was that they watched more. And cable offered many undesirable choices that required more monitoring. We stopped cable service, and now we barely get two channels. Most often there isn't anything interesting on.
7. Encourage creative alternatives. Stock up on arts-and-crafts supplies, models and simple science equipment. Many books are available that give outstanding suggestions, including I Saw a Purple Cow and Mr. Wizard's Supermarket Science.
Be willing to have more mess and as a result of creative play. Teach your children responsibility by requiring them to clean up their own messes.
8. Read, read, read. Most children, because they watch less TV, begin to read more. Include a weekly trip to the library as part of your schedule. Try to read to your children every night.
"Readers have become an endangered species," says Jim Trelease in his highly acclaimed film Reading Aloud: Motivating Children to Make Books into Friends, Not Enemies. "Reading is a torch that must be passed from generation to generation."
9. Have a family game night. you can plan special nights for family games. We enjoy Bible Pictionary, Bible Trivia, and others. Our children love to play charades and enjoy watching Mom and Dad act like clowns. We all laugh and have a wonderful time together.
It can be more festive if you invite another family to join you. Plan simple snacks, and you will have an inexpensive and fun evening to remember.
10. Plan family outings. You can encourage family togetherness by taking trips to museums, zoos, factories science centers, arboretums, etc. On a nature walk with your child you can look for the beauty of God's creation. What about building a fort or club-house? How about flying a kite or launching model rockets, fishing or bird-watching?
Ask your children what they would like to do. Have them help you come up with creative suggestions. We treasure the memories of our family activities and look forward to many more adventures.
Television doesn't need to be a monster in our homes. It can be tamed. And it needs to be tamed.
Television portrays the opposite of the sanctified life. God calls us to be holy. We can strive toward holiness by avoiding the negative influences in our lives. Eliminating or restricting TV viewing is one way to this. Then we can live a life that is more pleasing to God.