Television: An Obstacle to Building Character

Remember the last time you had a babysitter watch your children? Imagine if the sitter told your kids sexual jokes, taught them how to steal a car and murder someone with a revolver? Would you want this sitter to stay with your kids again?

Absolutely not. Why? Because you want your children to develop godly character.

Unfortunately, many parents never consider that the television is like an evil babysitter with a corrupting influence that can be a big obstacle in building godly character in their kids.

Television corrupts through "cool"

Imagine your confusion if you were five again and your mom said, "Don't hit anyone," then allowed you to watch a daily TV program during which people pummeled each other. If you want your parenting job to be easier, don't send contrary messages to your kids by allowing them to watch ungodly programming. And if your kids do see something you disagree with, use it as a teachable moment about what not to do. Otherwise, it can keep them from developing the kind of character you desire.

If you believe your kids won't be affected by television's messages because they know you mean business about not hitting, taking drugs and other ungodly behavior, think again. The fact is, if your kids think what's on TV is "cool?" It may drown out your voice of correction.

During the late 80s, as a preschool teacher, I was like many parents; one of my main goals (and that of the other preschool staff) was to keep the students safe and teach them how to be kind.

Unfortunately, no matter how noble our aim, our collective voice of correction was drowned out by some green television turtles. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (affectionately called "Heroes in a Half Shell") beat up bad guys with karate chops while shouting, ""Cowabunga!" Not surprisingly, many kids picked up on this dangerous and unkind behavior and emulated it, no matter what I, or any other teacher said against it. Why? Because as one little boy said, "But, Ms. Schutte, they're [the Turtles] cool."

My experience with the turtle troupe reminded me that kids learn by example and that "cool" can be a huge motivator for gravitating toward wrong behavior.

Television corrupts by promoting a lack of compassion

Today it seems that many kids don't know it's not OK to hit someone, call them names, run them over with a bicycle — or even kill them.

According to researchers of a 17-year longitudinal study published in the journal Science, television may "desensitize viewers," especially if the violence is shown without consequence.

Shankar Weantam, The Washington Post, March 29, 2002, p. A01.
It makes sense that kids would assume it's OK to do unto others what you would not want done unto you. Even movies applaud violent villains who are rewarded for bad behavior.

A lack of compassion isn't perpetuated by TV alone, however. Remember the iPod your kid is carrying? You might want to know what he's playing on it. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, reports that violent song lyrics can cause a [negative] change in behavior and that sexually explicit music can desensitize children to violence and promote sexual stereotyping.

Susan Villani, M.D., "Impact of Media on Children and Adolescents: A 10-Year Review of the Research," Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology, Vol. 40, No. 4 (April 2001), pp. 392-401.

Television corrupts by stealing character-building time

During my youth, my father had a love affair with television; so in the evenings, he usually watched the sports channel. Because I longed to spend time with my Dad, I often approached him timidly while he sat on his "arm chair throne." Then I'd ask a question and wait for his eyes to meet mine.

Only they rarely did.

Instead, he'd mumble an answer to my inquiry without looking up. Sadly, I knew what Dad meant, even if he never said it: You're not important to me.

So I'd slink away as quietly as I had come—until the next time when I'd try to connect with my father.

Oh! How I regret the character-building time I didn't get to spend with Dad. He never taught me how to say "no" to a request for sex, deal with rejection from a peer, or how to pray and seek God, because television stole my father's time.

Thankfully, other Christ-followers pointed me to God's wisdom and ways, but there's still no denying it—no one can teach a child godly character like their parent.

If you spend time in front of the TV (or with any other technology), it's your responsibility to put your children and spouse first. And, if your child is spending too much time with television — it's your responsibility to monitor their use so you can be the greatest character influence in your child's life.

You might be thinking, Wait a minute! Yes, we watch a lot of television at home, but we watch it together. My question is this: How much time do you spend in meaningful communication with your child? If the TV is doing more teaching than you are (and your child is watching the national average of 4 hours of television per day, whether it's with you or not), there is a good chance that Hollywood is having more say in the character development of your children then you'd like.

In his book, The Literacy Hoax, Paul Copperman writes: "Consider what a child misses during the 15,000 hours (from birth to age 17) he spends in front of the TV screen. He is not working in the garage with his father, or in the garden with his mother. He is not doing homework, or reading, or collecting stamps. He is not cleaning his room, washing the supper dishes or cutting the lawn. He is not listening to a discussion about community politics among his parents and their friends. He is not playing baseball or going fishing or painting pictures. Exactly what does television offer that is so valuable it can replace these activities, which help to transform an impulsive, self-absorbed child into a critically-thinking adult?"

What character-building activities is your child missing when TV is taking up too much time in your home? And what will you do about it?

Copyright 2008 Shana Schutte. Used by permission.

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