The other day, my wife and I – needing a break — picked two random people off the street and asked if they could babysit our three children for 30 minutes. We thought they’d charge a lot on such a short notice, but, believe it or not, they did it for free. Well, sort of. They wanted to show our kids a few products they were selling, and they also wanted to tell them a bunch of things we disagreed with. It sounded crazy, but, hey, they’d done this before, and, besides, they said, all the parents were doing it.
Of course, I made all of that up.
But don’t we do this very thing every time we let our children watch a television program we know little about? It’s essentially random people with (too often) an unbiblical worldview trying to sell our children something they don’t need. No part of that is good.
My family does have a television in our house, and we do let our oldest (who is 5) watch it, but the TV is not on all the time. In fact, when he’s awake, it’s mostly off. He gets to watch some educational shows, a tad-bit of simply fun shows, and from time to time a show his Mommy and Daddy enjoy. But he’s under the national average for TV viewing – children ages 2-5 spend an average of 32 hours a week in front of the tube, according to Nielsen. His twin sister and brother (who are 1) don’t get to watch TV at all.
There’s a lot I like about television and its educational qualities for kids. But for the most part, the negatives far outweigh the positives. Here’s six reasons we try and avoid television, as much as possible, with our children:
1. TV is addictive. Sure, there are kids out there who will regularly choose a book over a television, but they’re in the minority in America. Several times I have had to tell my son, repeatedly, to “turn the TV off because we’re leaving.” And he often wants to watch “just one more show.” That doesn’t happen when he’s reading a book. His sinful flesh and my sinful flesh does not want to do the hard – be it reading, running outside or plain-old working. It’s much easier to sit on the couch and soak up all the pretty flashing lights. We have to teach our flesh that the “hard” is the most rewarding.
2. Even the best of shows contain something bad. TV, mostly, is worldly. We’ve always known that “bad” shows contain bad stuff, but even “good” ones contain stuff we’d rather avoid. Those great PBS educational shows? That’s where my oldest son learned a lot of his bad habits. Sure, he also could have learned it from playmates or from a book, but there’s something about TV that makes all the “bad” look oh-so-good and attractive. It seems all the “cool” cartoon characters are the ones doing the obnoxious stuff. How many programs contain a message we’d fully endorse? Not many.
3. TV leads to materialism. Commercials are great for businesses and capitalism, but horrible for the soul. I can speak from experience, and I bet you can, too. My Christmas wish list from 1982 had every Star Wars toy known to man – all because Kenner was kind enough to inundate me with ads during Saturday morning cartoons. Yes, our children – even without commercials – can be greedy in stores, but why feed their flesh before they even get there? Commercials preach a message that is consistently unbiblical. Essentially: “Be not content, but seek the world.” The average child sees 40,000 commercials each year on TV. We were able to take our oldest son to stores at age 3 and 4 without any problem, and it’s still that way.
4. Research shows TV negatively affects children’s weight, grades and behavior. The social science on this is overwhelming, and scary. Children who watch too much TV are more likely to be lazy, obese and have trouble focusing — and less likely to make good grades. Some studies even have linked children’s TV habits to ADHD. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV for children under age two, the time when a child’s brain is developing rapidly. That’s good advice.
5. There’s better, more fun, things to do. Does anyone think our children are having more fun than kids did 100 years ago? Did kids a century ago sit around, bored, waiting for someone to invent a TV? If anything, I think our kids are having less fun. Seriously, there really are better things to do than watching TV. Like getting outside and exploring God’s creation. Or playing tag. Or playing make-believe. Or playing a sport. Or, on a rainy day, playing a board game. Or drawing and coloring. Or beginning a hobby. Or — get this — reading a book. (For outdoor activity ideas and alternatives to TV, here’s a great website: NatureRocks.org.)
6. We like peace and quiet – and conversation. TV, by its very nature, is loud. The programs are loud. The commercials are louder. There’s a reason for that: They’re trying to get our attention. I don’t want a noisy party in my house every hour of the day. Without the TV on, we’re able to talk. We’re also able to hear the sweet sounds of toddler steps down the hallway, or that precious conversation between siblings in the other room. Or the birds chirping. Our Lord does tell us to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). That’s referencing solitary moments, of course, but without the TV on, I’ve found myself in worshipful moments more than once – even with the kids around.
Michael Foust is an editor and writer who blogs about parenting and fatherhood. He loves his family and also really likes popcorn. Interested in re-posting this in your publication or on your blog for free? Send me a message in the comments section below (the message won’t go public).
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