Although various forms of transmitting pictures electronically switched into high gear in the 1920s, most Americans became aware of "television" when it was introduced at the 1939 World's Fair in New York. There, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave the opening day address, and his speech was not only broadcast over various radio networks but an estimated 1,000 people also viewed the Roosevelt telecast from about 200 television sets scattered throughout the New York area. But it wasn’t to be until after World War II, that the 200 TV sets in existence would take off like wild fire, and become as common in the American home as a car out in the driveway.
In the overall history of mankind, living with (and dealing with) televised programming is a relatively "modern" happening. Sometimes I wish the TV had been around at the time of Christ so we could have captured His thoughts on how to use it wisely. But alas, there is no mention during the Sermon on the Mount about TV. No parable taught by our Savior to prompt us into healthy media choices regarding viewing habits.
Fortunately, although never referring to television directly, God has a lot to say in His Word that can help us navigate this important and impactful medium (check out Psalm 1 and Colossians 2:8 for starters). In addition, I’d like to outline several common-sense principles that can help us with TV viewing:
- Guard Your Heart. Proverbs 4:23 says, "Above all else guard your heart." Much of what passes for entertainment these days goes straight to our heart because we watch with a less guarded approach. I would suggest we watch with a discerning, carefully guarded mindset instead. Great questions to ask yourself are these: "Would the Creator of the Universe be pleased with this TV show?" And, "If the program had been around during the time of Christ, would Jesus have gathered his disciples to watch (or allowed it if they’d asked)?"
- Record cherry-picked TV programs using a DVR. Not only will you be able to skip through the commercials (a terrific time saver!), but you’ll be more strategic in what you view. Plopping down in front of the TV set with the remote often means settling for something less than wholesome and inspiring.
- Consider using a filtering device to watch television programming. TVGuardian makes a device that edits out foul language out of all TV programs and broadcasts that use close captioning. It cleans up what you hear on network and cable TV. ClearPlay, while primarily a movie-editing DVD device and software, offers filtered versions of entire seasons of televised programming. These "cleaner" versions may be just what your family is looking for.
- Invite the television into your family only when it has something good to say (and show). A few years back, A Lakewood, Colo., father was arrested for hiring a stripper to perform at this 12-year-old son’s birthday party. Although an outrage, if the father has merely exposed his son and his son’s friends to similar perversity but on the tube, he would have escaped arrest . . . and the resulting community service penalty. It’s my belief that parents allow way too much inappropriate content into their homes via the TV set – content that they wouldn’t allow if it was "live." In my opinion, there’s not a whole lot of difference.
- Keep the home television in a well-trafficked area; avoid the mistake of allowing your young person a set in his or her or bedroom.
- Talk back to your TV. When watching television as a family, if and when you hear something you disagree with, verbally state it in the presence of your children. Something like: "That character’s lying is wrong. Hopefully it’ll lead to consequences later in the program. If not, sadly it has portrayed lying in a positive light – something I, as your father (mother) do not agree with." When your children hear you talk back to your TV, they’re learning your values, too.
- Do your research ahead of time. Some TV programming can be inspiring and uplifting. Some can damage our heart and spirit. But how can you know ahead of time? Fortunately, several trustworthy websites exist that have done the analysis ahead of time (like our very own pluggedin.com).
- Don't use the TV as background noise. Many families have the television on all day (or most of the day). This is not a healthy practice. Instead, turn it on to watch quality programs at a predetermined time (hopefully as a family for discussion purposes).
- The TV set should not be a babysitter. Parenting by putting our kids in front of the tube is not a good idea. I'm OK with this on a rare occasion. But too many moms (and dads) resort to it as the first option, when it should be a last. And for sure: Researchers are clear in their advice that children under the age of two should not be exposed to televised programming at all.
- Model what you’re trying to teach your children. If you have one standard for your children, but a whole different standard for yourself, someday your children will find the hypocrisy hard to deal with. While it is certainly great practice to limit some TV viewing to age-appropriate years, the test is this: Is this program I'm watching something that I someday would want my child to watch? If it is, you’re not being hypocritical, just parenting wisely.