Television and the Home

Jon Landell

Of our children, the Bible says, “Bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). This verse is one with which we are all familiar, and applications of this commandment to parents are not hard to come by.

One aspect of this commandment is that parents should help their children to reject the ways of the world and lead a holy life. This is what concerns us in the present discussion. This mandate requires oversight and discernment on such matters as wearing certain clothes, listening to certain music, and choosing playmates or friends to “hang out with.” The ultimate goal is to train our young people so that they will maintain a Christian lifestyle when they are no longer under the direct influence of the home.

This type of parental authority should not be dismissed as unnecessary when it comes to the matter of viewing television. Many works have been written on the subject of TV and its immediate problems, but consideration of the power and effects of television is rare.

Television is highly effective, no matter what its content may be. Consequently, it would be wise for us to appreciate the brute power of it and the special danger that it poses to children. Its power springs in large part from the fact that it combines the wonders of sight and sound. Sound alone is very engaging; chil-dren will frequently be able to recite from memory a favorite audiotape with exact inflection and timing. The sound has recognizable imprinting power. Visual images have similar effects on young children. I still remember every page of my favorite picture books from my childhood, even though they lacked animation.

It is therefore understandable that the combination of audio and fully animated video results in a permanent engraving of images and ideas upon the mind. If it were possible to add together the imprinting power of sound and sight, however, the sum would not equal TV’s total effect—it would fall significantly short. This is because the mind is much more active and “open” when one is exposed to sight or sound alone. When you hear a radio drama, for example, pictures of what is going on in the story come into your mind. They are the products of an active imagination. Similarly, when a child looks through a picture book, the story can be derived with a little effort.

But with television, the imaginative element is largely stripped away, leaving a slack-jawed mind completely immersed in what it is being fed. Little effort is made by the viewer. The mind is disengaged; everything is blandly absorbed and the brainwashing begins. All else fades in importance. The mind is left with an experience as unforgettable as a wilderness hike or a deep-sea dive. TV provides total immersion. The special danger to children is that repeated immersions in this powerful element will leave equally powerful memories in their fragile minds, and those memories can have a bad effect on their thinking and behavior.

The effect of TV does not end here. One does not simply watch TV and walk away unchanged. After watching a session of TV, the mind is changed. When I see a movie, scenes go through my head for days and days thereafter. Now this may be partly because I watch few movies, but the effect of watching many hours of television every day is hard to imagine. According to the American Medical Journal, the average child watches 5,000 hours of television before entering the first grade. Are we to assume that all this TV watching is harmless? No, the effect of all this wasted time builds up upon itself. We become addicted to it and crave more, oblivious to its power over us. Increasingly, TV becomes a wellspring of both life and information about the world around us, all uncontrolled and unobserved. Joel Nederhood has compared the effect of TV to that of alcohol. If these reasons for removing the TV from the home are insufficient, the next one should be convincing.

The last reason for banishing this Goliath from the home is that it distorts the thinking of our children. Children are made by God to be impressionable and receptive. The actions and surroundings that a child considers normal are those that he is most used to observing. Godly homes generally result in godly children. Similarly, the hypnotizing power of TV, extending over many hours, will affect a child’s sense of reality. For example, afternoon soap operas can gradually come to be accepted in the child’s mind as portraying normal life situations. Whatever the programming may be, the child will be a wide-eyed, attentive listener, and will be uncritical of its message.

In addition to this, subjects are often openly discussed on TV about which even adults hardly used to know. As a result of this exposure, sadly, children can come to accept these things, such as homosexuality, as completely normal—and even desirable. And if such programs are kept off-limits to children, even their exposure to children’s programming can be harmful. Programs such as Sesame Street are often extremely fast-paced and erratic. Some authors have noted that children who watch much of this type of programming tend to be almost hyperactive (Joel Nederhood, “Educational Television,” The Radio Pulpit, p. 40). Thus, a steady diet of watching TV during the formative years often results in somewhat disjointed mental growth. Beyond this, the time taken up by TV often encroaches upon other things, such as the reading of books (Larry Woiwode, “Television: The Cyclops That Eats Books,” Imprimus, February 1992, pp. 1–3).

I am contending that the TV should be permanently removed from the home for two reasons. First, it has enormous power when it is on, and its message persists long after it is turned off. Second, TV has absurd and often dangerous programming, which undermines the Christian view of reality. For these reasons, we should be constantly wary of this obtrusive hazard.

Mr. Landell, 16, is a member of Covenant OPC in Barre, Vt. Reprinted from New Horizons, January 1999.