TV—Family Life and Education
AMONG the nicknames given to the television set is “the childminder.” Apparently, many parents have found that the easiest and cheapest way to keep the children quiet is to set them down in front of what has also been called “the one-eyed hypnotist.”
A report published in the Australia Sun stated: “A major survey in Britain has just revealed that most parents find it [TV] indispensable as a baby-sitter. In fact, a staggering seven out of every 10 parents use television to get the children off their hands, despite the fact that they are vaguely concerned about the ‘bad language and violence’ on the box. What’s more, nine out of 10 parents allow their children to view indiscriminately.”
A Very Demanding Member of the Family
Yes, TV has gate-crashed into millions of homes throughout the world and has become a very obtrusive member of the family, often monopolizing the conversation. In many families it commands more respect than husband or wife, father or mother. A husband who does not hesitate to bury his head in a newspaper or magazine while his wife is speaking to him is all eyes and ears when the “childminder” talks. Children who talk back to their parents sit in silence, goggle-eyed, when Mr. TV talks to them.
Timewise, also, TV has become very demanding. Average televiewing time is increasing in most countries. In the United States the use of television rose from five hours and fifty minutes a day in 1969 to seven hours and twenty-five minutes per day in 1980. In Japan the total number of households is lower than the number of TV sets, and, in 1978, these were turned on for over five hours a day, as compared with three hours in Canada and two hours in France.
Does TV Make for Family Togetherness?
Whether it is for seven hours a day or for two, all this televiewing cannot fail to have a profound effect on the life of the average family. British child psychologist Penelope Leach “reckons that television is one of the biggest threats to family life, a gadget which stops parents and children from communicating. ‘People simply stop talking to each other,’ she says.”—The Sun (Australia), March 18, 1980.
True, some people claim that television has drawn families together because the children go out less. But, while watching a TV show in silence, are family members really “together”? Does televiewing promote togetherness, defined as “the spending of much time together, as in social and leisure-time activities . . . esp[ecially] when regarded as resulting in a more unified, stable relationship”? Rather, does not excessive TV viewing prevent proper communication between husband and wife, parents and children, and even between the children themselves?
Not only has television greatly limited or even completely replaced family recreation—games, hobbies, hikes, and so forth—but it often prevents children from helping around the home. This is the stuff “togetherness” is made of, and insofar as TV has replaced these things it must share the responsibility for the breakdown of family life. History shows that when the family breaks down, soon society itself and whole governments crumble and disappear.
Effect on Children
The effect of television on children is incalculable. Most of them take to it like a duck to water. They will watch almost anything. The TV screen seems to hypnotize them. According to one survey, children in the United States spend, on an average, from four to five hours a day looking at TV. The average is lower in other countries, but two hours a day seems to be the minimum in most developed countries. While doing research on child development at the University of Michigan, Professor John Murray stated: “When children spend up to five or six hours a day watching television the first thing you wonder is what activities are they missing.”
Yes, what are they missing in the way of good reading, school homework being properly done, developing a hobby, healthy exercise, relaxing games and learning to share pleasure and playthings with others? And the question is not only, What are they missing? but, more importantly, What are they learning?
It would be unjust to say they learn nothing good. TV can be very educational; it can widen out children’s knowledge of the world around them and arouse their interest in geography, natural science and history. But it would be equally unjust to deny that TV also teaches them violence and gives them a warped view of sex and a twisted standard of conduct. So the question remains: Is TV a bane or a boon?