Young People Ask . . .
Is There Anything I Can Watch on TV?
Dear Watchtower Society:
I have a question. Is there anything on television that I can watch and not be affected in a bad way?—Monica
MONICA is not the only one asking this question. Scores of scientists, educators and parents are wondering the same thing. Unfortunately, coming up with an answer is not that simple.
For one thing, not even the so-called experts always agree as to whether TV helps or hurts. Some say it inhibits reading. Others say it stimulates interest in reading. Some advocate controlling TV programming. Others say it’s harmful no matter what you watch. On and on the debate goes. Nevertheless, those who claim that TV hurts seem to have made the stronger case. Let’s therefore take a look at just some of TV’s possible perils.
TV’s Violent Appeal
Within just a few short years, TV has become immensely popular. In fact, “more Americans have television than have refrigerators or indoor plumbing.” It is beginning to catch on in even the poorer nations. Ethiopia, for example, reportedly has only 27,000 TV sets for its population of 35 million. Yet this has not stopped Ethiopia from announcing the start of color TV service! What, then, is the almost universal appeal of TV?
A report by the Surgeon General’s Scientific Advisory Committee called TV a “sound-and-light show appealing to the [dominant] senses of vision and hearing.” As a result, “it draws attention like a magnet. Infants as young as 6 months gaze at it; little children sit in front of it for hours at a time.” Why, in one poll of teenage youths, 53 percent admitted to watching shows they didn’t even like! For some reason, TV seems to have an almost hypnotic effect upon some.
Nevertheless, TV networks naturally want you to watch their programs. And they have found that there is one surefire way to keep an audience glued to their sets: Feature violence—and lots of it. People just can’t seem to get enough of car crashes, explosions, stabbings, shootings and karate kicks. According to one estimate, a young person in the United States will witness 18,000 people being killed on TV by the time he is 14 years old, not to mention fistfights and acts of vandalism. But can one take in a steady diet of this and not be harmed?
Just a few years ago, British researcher William Belson and his team took a close look at 1,565 British teenage boys. To no one’s surprise they found that boys who thrived on violent TV shows were more likely to “engage in violence of a serious kind.” They also concluded that TV violence could incite “swearing and the use of bad language, aggressiveness in sport or play, threatening to use violence on another boy, writing slogans on walls, [and] breaking windows.” The National Institute of Mental Health (U.S.) likewise concluded that there is “overwhelming” evidence that televised violence begets violence.a
‘But I’ve watched some of those shows with shooting and car chases,’ you might say. ‘That doesn’t mean I think it’s all right to hurt somebody.’ But one of the most disturbing discoveries in Belson’s study was that exposure to TV violence did not “change boys’ conscious attitudes toward” violence. Apparently the steady diet of violence chipped away at their subconscious inhibitions against violence.
The Bible says at Psalm 11:5: “Jehovah himself examines the righteous one as well as the wicked one, and anyone loving violence His soul certainly hates.” Does your taste in TV programs show you to be a lover of peace or of violence?b—Matthew 5:9.
“Unrealistic, Glowing and Rosy”
‘Surely there is no harm in watching nonviolent shows,’ you might think. Perhaps not. Dr. George Gerbner nonetheless says: “Many things (on television) are idealized. They’re presented in an unrealistic, glowing and rosy way.” Note the effect of all of this on one youth: “I’d never given much thought to how I was affected by television, until I started to have problems at home. . . . I realized the reason I was so unhappy with my relationships with my family was that, somewhere in the back of my mind, they didn’t measure up to the perfect family life I saw on television.”—Teen magazine.
Life is far from perfect. Unlike the all-wise TV parents who never seem to worry about rent or doctor bills, your parents may have heavy financial and emotional burdens to contend with. Why, then, unfairly compare them to characters that are no more than products of a writer’s imagination? The Bible’s advice is: “Honor your father and your mother.” (Ephesians 6:2) This you can best do by talking to and getting to know them, rather than by being absorbed in the lives of make-believe characters.
Can TV Drive You to Drink?
Have you ever noticed how often your favorite TV actor or actress reaches for an alcoholic drink? Yet for all this drinking, few are portrayed as suffering the dizziness, hallucinations and degradation that the Bible says accompanies overdrinking.—Proverbs 23:29-35.
Dr. Thomas Radecki, a psychiatrist who chairs the National Coalition on Television Violence, says: “TV advertising and program use of alcohol is playing a major role in the increasing abuse of alcohol. The average child will see alcohol consumed 75,000 times on TV before he is of legal drinking age.” Could merely viewing all this indulgence in alcohol affect you? Dr. Radecki reminds us that “alcohol abuse, and violence are the two most rapidly rising causes of death in the U.S.”
And what about those flashy, one-minute spots called commercials? Says writer Vance Packard: “By the time the average U.S. youngster has finished high school he has been the target of more than fifteen hundred hours of TV commercials.” A gullible public is brainwashed into believing that if one has the slightest ache or pain, one must take this or that remedy. If one is unattractive, the solution is the right mouthwash, toothpaste or underarm deodorant. Why even getting a job can depend on using the right shampoo! ‘I’m not affected by any of this,’ you say. Indeed? How many of such products, though, have you bought or been tempted to buy?
What Can I Watch?
The likelihood that people will dispose of their TV sets, though, is rather slim. Besides, as writer Vance Packard points out, “parents who put their TV sets in the attic are probably overreacting.” Why? Packard observes: “Much that is on U.S. television can be rewarding . . . Often there are early evening programs that are magnificent achievements in photography showing nature at work—from the activities of bats, beavers, bison to those of blowfish. Public television has stunning ballet, opera, and chamber music. TV is very good at covering important events . . . Occasionally TV comes up with illuminating dramatic productions.” Is such programming available where you live? Then the key to safe TV viewing is your being selective. Wholesome TV programs can be relaxing and genuinely refreshing for many people.
No doubt your parents are concerned about what you watch and how much time you spend doing so. Why not suggest a family discussion about TV and how to control it better? Some families make it a rule to turn on the set only when there is something worth seeing. Further, some experts recommend that parents watch TV with their children. In this way they can help you see through any erroneous or unrealistic views being taught. Viewing TV can thus be a family experience.
Remember: TV is a fascinating instrument, but the programs can be dangerous. Learn to control it. Otherwise, it can control you.
a See “The Roots of Violence—Is It Television?” in the July 22, 1982, issue of Awake! for further information.
b Interestingly, Belson claimed that the shows that were the most harmful included: realistic violence, violence for its own sake and violence committed by so-called good guys. Do these descriptions fit any of your favorite programs?
[Pictures on page 17]
Some experts believe that viewing violence on TV can make you violent