Control Television Before It Controls You
TELEVISION has staggering potential. When the American TV industry was persuading developing nations to adopt TV, it proffered visions of a TV Utopia. Whole countries would be transformed into classrooms, with even the remotest areas tuned in to educational programs on such vital subjects as farming techniques, soil conservation, and family planning. Children could learn physics and chemistry and benefit from a broadening cultural exchange.
Of course, such visions largely evaporated in the ensuing reality of commercial television—but not entirely. Even Newton Minow, the Federal Communications Commission chairman who dubbed television “a vast wasteland,” conceded in the same 1961 speech that TV had some great achievements and delightful entertainments to its credit.
Certainly that still holds true today. TV newscasts keep us informed of world events. TV nature programs give us glimpses of things we might never see otherwise: the precise grace of a hummingbird filmed in slow motion, appearing to swim through the air; or the strange dance of a bed of flowers in time-lapse photography, bursting up out of the soil in a fanfare of color. Then there are cultural events, such as ballet, symphonies, and operas. And there are plays, movies, and other programs—some profound and insightful, others simply good entertainment.
There are educational programs for children. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that just as children can learn aggression from violent TV, they can also learn to be altruistic, friendly, and self-controlled from good examples on television. Programs on how to react in emergencies have even saved the lives of children. Thus, Vance Packard writes in Our Endangered Children: “The disgusted or harassed parents who put their TV sets in the attic are probably overreacting, unless they have an out-of-control situation with their children.”
Clearly, whether we are speaking of adults or of children, the key is just that—control. Do we control TV, or does TV control us? As Mr. Packard suggests, for some the only way to control TV is to get rid of the thing. But many others have found ways to control the TV while still making use of its assets. Following are some suggestions.
✔ For a week or two, keep a careful record of your family’s TV viewing. Add up the hours at the end of the period and ask yourself if TV is worth the time it is taking.
✔ Watch TV programs—not just TV. Check TV listings to see if there is anything worth watching.
✔ Reserve and protect certain times for family conversation and togetherness.
✔ Some experts caution against letting children or young teens have a TV set in their own room. Parents might find it harder to monitor what a child watches.
✔ A VCR (videocassette recorder), if you can readily afford one, may help. By renting good videotapes or by taping quality programs and watching them when convenient, you can use the VCR to control what is on your TV—and when your TV is on. A word of caution, though. Out of control, the VCR may only increase time spent in front of the tube or open the way for immoral videotapes.
Who Is Your Teacher?
A human being is a virtual learning machine. Our senses are always soaking up information, sending our brain a flood of over 100,000,000 bits of data every second. To some extent we can influence the content of that flood by deciding what we will feed our senses. As the story of TV vividly illustrates, the human mind and spirit may be polluted by what we watch as easily as the body may be polluted by what we eat or drink.
How will we learn about the world around us? What sources of information will we choose? Who or what will be our teacher? The words of Jesus Christ offer a sobering thought in this regard: “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” (Luke 6:40, New International Version) If we spend too much time with television as our teacher, we may begin to imitate it—to espouse the values and standards it represents. As Proverbs 13:20 puts it: “He that is walking with wise persons will become wise, but he that is having dealings with the stupid ones will fare badly.”
Even when TV is not bringing stupid or immoral characters into our homes, it is still missing something crucial. Very little of what appears on TV even begins to address a need common to every human being: the spiritual need. TV may be very good at showing what a lamentable mess this world is in, but what does it do to tell us why man cannot seem to govern himself? It may be good at showing us the beauties of creation, but what does it do to draw us to our Creator? It may take us to the four corners of the globe, but can it tell us whether man will ever live there in peace?
No “window on the world” is complete without answering such vital spiritual questions. That is precisely what makes the Bible so valuable. It offers a “window on the world” from our Creator’s perspective. It has been designed to help us understand our purpose in life and give us a solid hope for the future. Fulfilling answers to life’s most troubling questions are readily available. They are waiting there to be read in the endlessly fascinating pages of the Bible.
But if we don’t control the TV, where will we find the time?