How Can I Control My TV Viewing Habits?
FOR many, young and old, TV watching amounts to a serious addiction. Surveys indicate that by age 18 the average American youth will have watched some 15,000 hours of TV! And that a bona fide addiction is involved becomes obvious when hard-core viewers try to kick the habit.
“I find television almost irresistible. When the set is on, I cannot ignore it. I can’t turn it off. . . . As I reach out to turn off the set, the strength goes out of my arms. So I sit there for hours and hours.” An immature youth? No, this was a college English instructor! But youths too can be TV junkies. Note the reactions of some who agreed to a “No TV Week”:
“I’ve been having a state of depression . . . I’m going out of my mind.”—Twelve-year-old Susan.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to kick the habit. I love TV too much.”—Thirteen-year-old Linda.
“The pressure was on terribly. I kept on having the urge. The hardest time was nighttime between eight and ten o’clock.”—Eleven-year-old Louis.
It is no surprise, then, that most of the youths involved celebrated the end of “No TV Week” with a mad dash for the TV set. But far from being something to laugh at, TV addiction brings with it a host of potential problems. Consider just a few of them:
Slipping grades: The National Institute of Mental Health (U.S.) reported that excessive TV viewing can lead to “lower school achievement, especially in reading.” The book The Literacy Hoax further charges: “Television’s effect on children is to create an expectation that learning should be easy, passive, and entertaining.” The TV addict may thus find studying an ordeal.
Poor reading habits: When was the last time you picked up a book and read it from cover to cover? A spokesman for the West German Association of Book Dealers lamented: “We have become a nation of people who go home after work and fall asleep in front of the television. We are reading less and less.” A report from Australia similarly said: “For every hour spent reading, the average Australian child will have seen seven hours of television.”
Diminished family life: Wrote one Christian woman: “Because of excessive TV viewing . . . I was very lonely and felt isolated. It was as if [my] family were all strangers.” Do you likewise find yourself spending less time with your family because of TV?
Laziness: Some feel that the very passiveness of TV “may lead to [a youth’s] expectation that [his] needs will be met without effort and to a passive approach to life.”
Exposure to unwholesome influences: Some cable television networks bring pornography into the home. And regular programming often provides a steady diet of car crashes, explosions, stabbings, shootings, and karate kicks. According to one estimate, a young person in the United States will witness the killing of 18,000 people on TV by the time he is 14 years old, not to mention fistfights and vandalism.
British researcher William Belson found that boys who thrived on violent TV shows were more likely to “engage in violence of a serious kind.” He also claimed 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.” While you may think yourself immune to such influences, Belson’s study found that exposure to TV violence did not “change [the] boys’ conscious attitudes toward” violence. The steady diet of violence apparently chipped away at their subconscious inhibitions against violence.
Of even more concern, though, is the effect addiction to TV violence can have upon one’s relationship with the God who ‘hates anyone loving violence.’—Psalm 11:5.
How Can I Control My Viewing?
This does not necessarily mean that TV must be viewed as inherently evil. Writer Vance Packard points out: “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.”
Nevertheless, even too much of a good thing can be harmful. (Compare Proverbs 25:27.) And if you find you lack the self-control to turn off harmful shows, it is good to remember the words of the apostle Paul: “I am not going to let anything make me its slave.” (1 Corinthians 6:12, Today’s English Version) How, then, can you break free from slavery to TV and control your viewing?
Writer Linda Nielsen observes: “Self-control begins by learning to set goals.” First, analyze your present habits. For a week, keep track of what shows you watch and how much time you spend each day in front of the tube. Do you turn it on the very minute you get home? When do you turn it off? How many shows are “must-sees” every week? You might be shocked by the results.
Then take a hard look at what shows you’ve been watching. “Does not the ear itself test out words as the palate tastes food?” asks the Bible. (Job 12:11) So use discernment (along with the advice of your parents) and test out what shows are really worth seeing. Some determine in advance what shows they will watch and turn on the TV only for those shows! Others take sterner measures, establishing no-television-during-the-school-week rules or one-hour-a-day limits.
But what if a silent TV set proves just too much of a temptation? One family solved the problem this way: “We keep our set in the basement to have it out of the way . . . In the basement there’s less of a temptation to just flick it on when you enter the house. You have to make a special trip down there to watch something.” Keeping your set in the closet, or merely leaving it unplugged, may work just as effectively.
Interestingly, amid all their ‘withdrawal pangs’ the youths participating in “No TV Week” found some positive substitutes for TV. One girl recalled: “I talked to my mom. She became a much more interesting person in my view, because my attentions were not divided between her and the television set.” Another girl passed the time trying her hand at cooking. A young boy named Jason even discovered it could be fun to go “to the park instead of TV,” or to fish, read, or go to the beach.
The experience of Wyant (see insert entitled “I Was a TV Addict”) illustrates that another key to controlling TV viewing is having “plenty to do in the work of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58) You too will find that drawing close to God, studying the Bible with the help of the many fine publications now available, and busying yourself in God’s work will help you overcome an addiction to TV. (James 4:8) True, limiting your TV viewing will mean missing some of your favorite programs. But why must you use TV to the full, slavishly following every single program? (See 1 Corinthians 7:29, 31.) Better it is to ‘get tough’ with yourself like the apostle Paul, who once said: “I pummel my body and lead it as a slave.” (1 Corinthians 9:27) Isn’t this better than being a slave of a TV set?
Questions for Discussion
◻ Why can TV viewing be called an addiction for some youths?
◻ What are some potentially damaging effects of excessive TV viewing?
◻ What are some ways of controlling TV viewing?
◻ What can you do in place of watching TV?
[Blurb on page 295]
“I’ve been having a state of depression . . . I’m going out of my mind.”—Twelve-year-old Susan, a participant in “No TV Week”
[Box on page 292, 293]
‘I Was a TV Addict’—An Interview
Interviewer: How old were you when you got hooked on TV?
Wyant: About ten years old. As soon as I came home from school, I’d turn on the TV. First, I’d watch the cartoons and kiddie programs. Then the news would come on, . . . and I’d go into the kitchen and look for something to eat. After that, I’d go back to the TV and watch till I wanted to go to sleep.
Interviewer: But when did you have time for your friends?
Wyant: The TV was my friend.
Interviewer: Then you never had time for play or sports?
Wyant: [laughing] I have no athletic abilities. Because I watched TV all the time, I never developed them. I’m a terrible basketball player. And in gym class I was always the last one to get chosen. I wish, though, I had developed my athletic abilities a bit more—not so that I could have gone around boasting, but just so I could have at least enjoyed myself.
Interviewer: What about your grades?
Wyant: I managed in grammar school. I’d stay up late and do my homework at the last minute. But it was harder in high school because I had developed such poor study habits.
Interviewer: Has watching all that TV affected you?
Wyant: Yes. Sometimes when I’m around people, I find myself just watching them—as if I were watching a TV talk show—instead of participating in the conversation. I wish I could relate better to people.
Interviewer: Well, you’ve done just fine in this conversation. Obviously you’ve overcome your addiction.
Wyant: I started breaking away from TV after I entered high school. . . . I sought out the association of Witness youths and started to make spiritual progress.
Interviewer: But what did this have to do with your TV viewing?
Wyant: As my appreciation for spiritual things grew, I realized that many of the shows I used to watch really weren’t for Christians. Too, I felt the need to do more study of the Bible and to prepare for Christian meetings. That meant cutting out most of the TV viewing. It wasn’t easy, though. I used to love those Saturday-morning cartoons. But then a Christian brother in the congregation invited me to go with him in the door-to-door preaching work on Saturday morning. That broke my Saturday morning TV habit. So eventually I learned really to tone down my TV watching.
Interviewer: What about today?
Wyant: Well, I still have the problem that if the TV is on, I cannot get anything done. So I leave it off most of the time. In fact, my TV broke down a few months ago and I haven’t bothered to get it fixed.
[Picture on page 291]
TV viewing is a serious addiction for some
[Picture on page 294]
When a television is placed in an inconvenient location, there is less temptation to turn it on