TV or not TV, that is the question

Parents often ask themselves: "Are the children watching too much television?"

The answer is a resounding "Yes!" If there is a TV anywhere in your home, then the children are watching it too much.

I believe this not because I'm one of those hard cases who thinks any television is too much, or even because my own two sons have become TV zombies. No, this opinion is based on what I hear children say.

An example: Recently, my boys were playing with some electronic toy that began emitting a horrific noise. Did they run screaming from the room? No, they did not (though I did). Did they believe the toy was irretrievably broken? No.

Instead, one of them calmly said: "You've activated its 'special feature.'"

Where would they hear such a thing, except on TV? Where, but on TV, would an it-must-be-the-end-of-the-world noise be considered a good thing?

Listen to children on a playground and you'll hear non-stop references to Pokemon and Bart Simpson and Britney Spears and other cartoon characters. Kids act out their favorite episodes of such outlandish fictional fare as "X-Men" and professional wrestling. They sing advertising jingles while swinging on the monkey bars.

My 10-year-old does dead-on impersonations of the voices from a cartoon called "Ed, Edd and Eddy." The fact that this cartoon depicts three morons with bad teeth disturbs me. (Could be worse. At least he's not doing "Beavis and Butthead.")

My 13-year-old is a dedicated viewer of sitcoms aimed at teens, all of which seem to center on who's most popular in school (the cute, shallow kids) and who's a dweeb (dads and other authority figures). He's apparently gleaning important tips on socializing and family life from these programs. (Again, it could be worse. He could be watching "The Osbournes.")

Children's brains are like sponges. They absorb and retain everything they see and hear (except for dutiful parental instructions and admonitions, which seem to go in one ear and out some other orifice). Television, with its flashing images, thunderous volume and catchy advertising slogans, is designed to infiltrate their brains and permanently set up camp there.

Don't believe me? Then try, right now, to sing the theme song to "Gilligan's Island." You can, can't you? Even if it's been years since you've heard it, that song is still with you. And, you can probably recall specific episodes as well. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

For three or four generations now, parenting experts have warned that too much television will make children fat and stupid. If you're a Baby Boomer, you probably can recall how your concerned parents tried everything to keep you away from the TV. Were they successful? Sing it with me now: "Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip... "

The harsh truth is that parenting is such a demanding, 24-hour-a-day job that most parents simply give up at some point and resort to the "one-eyed babysitter." We know TV's not healthy for the children. We know they're exposed to things they should not see. We know kids should be doing something creative and intellectually stimulating instead. But we're busy, we're tired and, besides, we're trying to find a quiet moment to watch our own favorite show.

But parents should keep trying to limit TV's effects on their kids. Pull the plug occasionally. Set specific boundaries on how much they can watch and which programs are age-appropriate. Tell your kids too much TV will give them "square eyes." Engage them in family activities that last longer than a "commercial interruption."

Your children will ignore this advice and sneak around and watch shows that are bad for them, just as you did when you were young. But maybe, if you parents exert enough effort and demonstrate enough patience and perseverance, you can steer them away from reruns of "Gilligan's Island."

(Editor's note: Now that my sons are all grown up, TV viewing is no longer a problem. They're too busy watching YouTube.)


John McFetridge said...

My problem is all the science shows and documentaries my kids are watching. They keep asking me questions and I have no idea what they're talking about.

Now, why couldn't Gilligan and the Skipper fix that two foot hole in the Minnow? For that one I've got plenty of answers.


"Now, why couldn't Gilligan and the Skipper fix that two foot hole in the Minnow? For that one I've got plenty of answers."

I can think of two reasons: Ginger and Mary Ann. Rowrrr.