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The Effects of TV on Families and the Nation

Written By: Jim Swanson  |  Posted: Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

To say that the television is a ubiquitous presence in most every American home is to state the obvious. Each household, in fact, averages 2.24 sets (more than half of homes have three or more sets), a total of over 250 million televisions, up 30 million in the last ten years. Since only one or two percent of households have no TV, these thoughts surely apply to most every reader.
In the last fifty years, TV has reshaped the American family. My own experience began when I was ten years old. My parents purchased our first television set. We were the third family on our block to get one. Programming was simple in the 50's. We had three channels available unless you had an antenna roter, and they all started at 4 pm with a half hour of test pattern as the stations warmed up their equipment. Then at 4:30 we watched the exciting adventures of Captain Video and his TV Rangers. If I remember correctly, during those early days, programming didn't continue very late into the evening either.
For the rest of my childhood, as programming increased, I watched everything: Leave It To Beaver, Father Knows Best, Ozzie and Harriet, My Three Sons. Though the programming was clean and wholesome, I remember one contrast between the pre and post television presence in our home. Before we got a TV our furniture was arranged to focus on each other. We played games together, talked, sang together, and listened to music. One we got our first Silvertone set, the furniture and attention was rearranged to focus on the set. One day my sister arrived home and started to tell about something that happened that day. "Shut up!" I yelled. "I'm trying to watch this show." When the TV was on, it demanded attention. It still does in homes today.
Many years have passed since every home had a TV set, enough time to study its impact. To the TV's credit, television has brought into the home a wealth of knowledge before unavailable, at least unavailable in its format as an entertainment package. For several weeks in high school I arose at 6am to watch Continental Classroom Chemistry class with my father. News was now live and available both in audio and video format. We could actually see what was happening in the rest of the world that very day.
But clean, family promoting programming like Father Knows Best is no longer available, or even wanted. Of course it was idealistic. It presented life as we wished it were, not as it was. It set examples, instead of reinforcing repeated evil.
Who can deny that programming quality has plummeted, and, in attempts to get ratings, TV networks have promoted anything that sells. What would have shocked us as children raised in Judeo-Christian ethics, is now boringly commonplace. Today Children receive moral instruction from the television examples, where by the age of sixteen they have observed more than 100, 000 violent acts and 33, 000 murders. TV is a window to the world, a teacher displaying things that otherwise would never be allowed in the home and that children are not ready to know or may never need to know. TV has made wickedness common and with knowledge comes greater temptation.
Quality is not the only problem with TV. It has been destructive to our youth because of quantity as well. The average American spends 4 1/2 hours a day watching TV. That's 1642 hours a year, or over two months. The average 65-year-old has thus expended nine years of his life glued to a television. Television has become a cheap baby-sitter for many parents. Prop the infants, toddlers, or young children in front of the TV, and they will remain placid for hours. It is the great solution to sibling rivalry, boredom, and the need for expensive toys. And if the children fight about what to watch, you can solve that by getting each of them a set!
This one way communication box has indeed taken its toll on young people. "Health providers and teachers across the country are reporting faltering academic abilities, attention problems and language difficulties with both reading comprehension and oral expression. Research suggests a strong link between many of the growing problems and excessive use of television, says Dr. Ellen Abell, a family and child development specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System." (http://www.aces.edu/dept/extcomm/newspaper/april19d01.html)
Excessive time watching TV has been linked to many present societal problems. They are poorer readers, lack social and thinking skills, and are obese largely because of inactivity. The sudden rise in Attention Deficit Disorder has been directly linked to hours watching TV. One high school teacher stated that if children are not entertained, they cannot learn. "Studies show that long periods of television may hamper development of the pre-frontal cortex -- the area of the brain responsible for planning, organizing and sequencing behavior for self-control, moral judgment and attention, says Abell . . . The visual nature of television or other media stimuli do not develop the part of the brain responsible for language. Children who watch too much television and do not read enough may have trouble paying attention and listening to comprehend language." (ibid)
I mentioned above that during my junior and senior high school days and even into college, I watched everything; I became a TV addict. A program could capture my attention in less than a minute. Of course, this means I was not doing much else. Instead, the TV was teaching me that life situations could be solved in a happily-ever-after format in about thirty minutes and do so without any effort on my part. It also kept me busy so I had no need to develop social skills. My resulting lack of maturity almost got me dismissed from college for academic incompetence.
I am not alone. Most major universities now offer remedial reading and math to bring students up to an acceptable level to handle their academics. At the least, excessive TV watching is a great thief, replacing much that is best with amusement.
Am I advocating removing the TV from your home? If you did, it may be the best crisis your family has faced. For the rest, I am advocating that you take an honest look at what the TV is doing for and to your family. Here is a practical suggestion to help you do this. Take a one month fast from TV watching. Unplug it, turn it to the wall or put it in the closet, and determine it won't go on for thirty days. Replace the TV time in the evening with family time, exercise, a Y membership, bike rides, homework help, etc. During that time have discussions with within your family to evaluate its influence. What do you miss while it is off? What are you glad you are doing without? How is your family built through extra time together? How can you better balance TV time once you turn it back on (if you do).
Television is a powerful tool. If not kept in check, it is capable of bringing about lasting destruction to you or your family. It is too powerful to be allowed to master. It must instead be made a servant. What steps are you going to take to bring it under your authority?
James Swanson, M.Div., M.R.E., is the Director of the Eau Claire Bible Training School and is the author of Some Aspects of Sowing and Reaping. He and his wife Ruby have seven children, sixteen grandchildren and live in Eau Claire.

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