I will walk with integrity of heart
within my house;
I will not set before my eyes
anything that is base.
“When my kids were small, I carefully picked the TV show. They watched one program in the afternoon, and then I turned it off. But one time while busy at the stove, I forgot. They saw a bit o the next program, ‘The Three Stooges.’
“Shortly afterward, Pam’s [age 18 months] screams brought me running to her room. There my three-year-old was banging Pam’s head (in slapstick fashion) against the floor.”
Phyllis, the friend who told of this, had taken firm control of her children’s television viewing—much more so than most parents. She recognized her duty a decade before today’s critics began exhorting parents to grab the reins of their TV set.
This boon—the focus on control—does much to open our eyes. It draws some blame away from the inanimate object in the corner of the “family” room and brings to light our responsibility. We parents must take action because TV’s impact on kids is deeper and more subtle than the above illustration suggests.
The Developing Child
Considering the developing child and confronting TV’s impact should arouse the drowsy parent. First, consider that developmental psychologists say that over 80% of a child’s personality is formed by age five or six. Now, parents do not control the predisposition given by the genes. But the interaction between genetic programming and environmental shaping is cause for concern. The debate about how much the environment affects the child should not obscure the consensus that it does, indeed, affect him. The parents’ discipline greatly affects how the child handles his disposition. The lack of parental guidance leaves the child at the mercy of his environment. A big part of that environment, today, is the TV set.
Secondly, a child cannot reason consistently from cause to effect until the age of seven or more. Explaining many things from the TV to a younger child is, therefore, a futile effort. Parents spin their wheels. Those horrible things that happen on TV are just as real to them as what they see in their home.
And you cannot talk about a TV program like you can with teens, discussing the “world view” before them which proceeds from presuppositions that oppose the revelation that God has given.
What is important in the searching eyes of young children is the model before them. The surrounding world fills up thirsty minds. It would take a parent with a bad case of rigor mortis to not notice how junior attempts to fill Pop’s or Mom’s shoes—sometimes literally. Imitation rather than reason is the vehicle of learning at this stage. We need not wonder about the influence of TV as illustrated in the introduction about Pam.
Thirdly, all but the most naïve understand that we must reckon with original sin in the developing child (and in ourselves as parents). In conjunction with this, we note that children’s values will be deeply rooted by about age ten. If not blinded by our own sin, more of us Christian parents would be aghast at TV’s exploitation of this aspect of our children’s nature. Our battle against self-centered gratification is intense.
TV’s assault is evidenced by the child’s plea for every toy marketed. More subtle is the insidious invasion of programs which market lifestyles of pleasure seeking rather than service, thus opposing the Christian lifestyle.
Dr. James Dobson has pointed out the insidious influence of our culture in emphasizing beauty and the effects on a child’s self-consciousness. With make-up manufactured beauty constantly before them on TV, what are our children to think of their own average appearance?
It is not, however, only the harmful direct influences of TV that must concern us. The indirect effects of just watching for hours every week raises grave concerns. As time drains away, the neglect that occurs causes great harm.
The Parents’ Responsibility
In the light of these facts, we parents should face our responsibilities. Deuteronomy, chapter six, spells out the most important duty of parents—the disciplined instruction we should give our children about the Lord our God. Can we “teach them diligently” if we spend more time watching TV than we spend reading the Scripture, praying, and teaching them about our God? Are our children learning the commands of God and writing them on their hearts when they “sit in our house, and when we walk by the way, and when we lie down and when we rise”? OR has most of this time been sacrificed to the family TV set?
Check the time that you spend in worship, Bible reading, prayer, devotions, etc., against the time devoted to TV. Do this each day of the week. How many days does TV dominate? Should it dominate any day? IF the scales tip on television’s side, worldly values impact upon young minds more often than God’s word. This is the most devastating effect of TV. No parent who claims the name of “Christian” should ever allow this.
Spiritual growth requires time and diligent attention. Many Christians sacrifice what rightly belongs to God to the television image in the corner of their “living” room. Your child learns primarily through observation and imitation up until at least age seven. What example have you set before your children’s eyes?
Another primary duty of parents is to protect our children from harm. What harm is done to tender souls when we expose a child to sundry horrors, mayhem, bloodlust, murders, and sexual lust? What fears become ingrained in the developing personality? What values does the child learn and where will they lead him—into true safety or into insecurity?
Access to the reams of research on the effects of TV violence, for example, is not required to step off in the right direction. A common sense assessment is enough to point the way. Deuteronomy 6 is enough to direct your path. For those who take the Scripture seriously, enough is written about the intercourse with evil to condemn the careless parents who invite evil into their homes via the TV set.
The Limits of Control
Even wise selection of TV programs cannot eliminate the trash that frightens or lures our children. While watching “Little House on the Prairie,” my children have sat at rigid attention as the network plugged movies via advertisements which included a woman being attacked, a shark rapidly closing the gap between itself and a swimmer, and the horrors of “Murder in Texas.”
Letters have been written to TV stations about such commercials during family programs. But local managers’ responses, which refer to strict adherence to “codes”, remind us of the “Newspeak” of 1984. I prefer to label it “Nicespeak” when parents are assured that their concerns and objections are valued by the management while intrusive, evil ads for valueless and harmful shows continue during the “family hour.”
Such Nicespeak brings to mind the insight of C.S. Lewis who wrote, “The greatest evil…is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars…” Lewis noted that people fail to recognize Satan at work—though they do see obvious evils, they miss the subtle inroads being made into their very lives.
Christians need to awake, recalling Paul’s warning that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness…” Carl F.H. Henry states, “The media cloud the agency of divine revelation…and shroud the claim of the eternal spiritual and moral order on reason and conscience.”
Could the purveyors of evil hope for more?
Tim LaHaye points out The Battle for the Mind. Dominated by TV, Christians will lose this battle because TV viewing is a passive involvement and thinking is an active one. Casualties include the minds of our children.
Even educational programs may assault the development of reason in children. Well-meaning parents may introduce a child to such shows. But Dr. Paul Borgman speaks of “the passivity that too much TV can create in a person’s mind set.”
Good TV shows and Christian TV stations do not eliminate this detrimental effect on the developing mind! Familiarity with the unreasoning TV generation gives us a warning. Until consistent research gives us more information about TV’s effect on passivity and learning, parents of young children should put the TV in the attic.
Setting up a home discipline which strictly limits the time devoted to TV and carefully selects programs may strain many a mom’s limits. The barrage of a child’s pleas—“please…mom”—may wear down many homemakers. Throwing out the TV may be easier. As discussed, even good programs allow evil a continued entrance into the home. That may be eliminated by turning the TV into simply a screen for a video player, and careful selection.
Also, caught between the demands of raising children and today’s pressures to do “self-fulfilling” things, mom may use the TV as a babysitter. She can then attend to her work or interests without interruption. This is easy. But as Dr James Dobson states, “The mother who plants her impressionable preschool child in front of the television set for the sake of her own convenience is making a mistake with irrevocable consequences!”
The football fanatic father can push mom to her limits. Hours of watching the game when he should be spending time with the kids (esp. on Holidays), is all but unforgivable. Also, it sets a bad example. If dad can be mesmerized, so can junior. Disciplining the time spent with the TV will pay big dividends with your children. And the day will come when you and junior will enjoy time together watching the game.
Another problem is TV NEWS. Here again, the issue is protecting your young child’s emotions, shielding them from needless fears. Children see more tragedy before they reach the age of reason than most of their grandparents saw in a lifetime. The important concern about current events must not be given priority over dad’s prior calling—his family.
A wonderful invention, the printed word, helps limit exposure to the child’s level of maturity. A newspaper does not assault a child’s emotions like the unavoidable TV screen. For the literate parent, this is a common sense alternative. The newspaper also eliminates the network “plugs” for their movies. I swore off local TV news after an advertisement in which my four-year-old saw a woman with a shotgun shooting a man on the beach.
Obstacles to Protecting Your Child
At least three factors trip up parents and stand in the way of throwing out the TV—need for “idling time,” love of pleasure, and addiction. In our affluent but stressful culture, people escape from the day’s pressures. The TV handily provides for our “idling time.” But other relaxing activities which can include the whole family, can be found if you look—e.g. walking, swimming, or playing a good game. [Some of the most relaxing family times with my own kids were reading through The Chronicles of Narnia. And they did not let me get away with just doing it once. We had it much easier than most of you. I worked for the National Park Service during my sons’ formative years and then moved back to the family farm.]
The most disturbing obstacle is the “me first” parent who watches shows that they “must” see without a thought about the suitability for their children. The only solution is confessing this sin and turning from a self-centered life to a LIFE CENTERED IN CHRIST.
Related to the hedonist is the addict. Some people are full-fledged TELEHOLICS. As with the alcoholic, they will not be helped by those who advocate control. The will need to “get on the wagon” and will need the support and prayers of friends.
Steps to Victory
1—Settle the question once and for all.
For parents whose children have passed the key formative years, control may be a boon. Discussions about the values presented on TV should follow viewing and time at the TV limited.
But for parents with children in those key formative years [when they are in those single digit years, the focus of this tract], control of broadcast TV is a bane.
All the good effects of TV cannot undo the harm done to young children—the fears instilled, the evil , selfish values learned, the passive minds developed.
You only get one crack at these years. There are no rewinds, no second chances to re-do those years. This is what Deuteronomy, chapter six, is all about.
The Christian family which allows TV to mediate cultural influences that are condemned in Scripture is engaged in idolatry. God commands that idols be torn down (Deut. 12), not ‘controlled.’ For wanting the “best” of both worlds, God’s chosen people encountered God’s wrath.
The evidence condemns any parents who allow their developing child to immerse himself in TV. Christian parents stand convicted for allowing the world’s values (materialism, sexual license, and other ‘me’ centered values) to influence thirsty minds.
This question must be settled once and for all: “Whom do you serve?”
2—Set a deadline.
There is no time like the present for ridding your home of the TV by cutting off the cable bill or taking down the antenna. Look for an upcoming opportune moment—a holiday, the beginning of summer, a family vacation—when other activities will fill the void. And take more time for family prayer, devotion, and fun.
3—Attack withdrawal symptoms.
Work at it! Immediately put time and energy into enjoyable activities to replace the TV’s hold on you. Bring the concern to your church. Find others with the same concern (they are out there) and form a fellowship group so that together you can enjoy activities and brainstorm about alternatives to TV viewing.
After throwing out the TV don’t forget to give thanks for and support those ministries which fight against the corrupting influences on TV and those who truly preach the gospel to an unsaved world. Such efforts leaven the world in which your children grow.
We need a generation of children dedicated to the Lord who grow up without TV’s corruption. “Teach them diligently” about the Lord our God and protect their minds from passivity. Then, the world will again be turned upside down. It is time for another Reformation—one which brings wholeness to Christian families.
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[Here is more Food for Thought on the effects of Television ]
YOUR CHILD AND YOUR TV takes a strong stand in an area where others are unwilling to take a stand. However, (television) is one of the most destructive things…and represents the sort of threat to family life and individual morality that Christians should be aware of and forsake
–the late Joseph Bayly
The Disappearance of Childhood
…the distinctions and dividing lines between children and adults have largely vanished…children are talking and behaving in ways that would have been considered improper for adults only a short time ago. Adult sexual behavior? Yes, but along with that, adult cynicism and adult crime and adult depression, alcoholism, and suicide…
…television has this effect because it destroys notions of mystery, hierarchy, and sacredness.
–from Psychological Seduction
by William Kirk Kilpatrick
Without a doubt, the Big 3 TV networks are allowing scenes and lines that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago….and it’s okay today.
There is no more evident world of Satan today than television.