Sand in the Gears

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Kill your television before it gets you

October 27th, 2009 Posted in Fatherhood, The Art of Parenting

The average child between the ages of two and five in the U.S. watches over 32 hours of television per week, according to the latest Nielsen numbers. Nearly five hours a day, in other words. Given the greater sleep needs of children, this means roughly a third of the typical young child’s time is spent in front of the idiot box.

And we wonder why children can’t sit still in school, why their attention spans make gnats look like Russian chess players, why they don’t read and can’t communicate and fail to show the slightest spark of interest in anything intellectual by the time they are extruded from the holding pens we call high schools.

Not that there’s anything one can do about it without empowering the sorts of people who think all of humanity can be bettered with a more precise code of regulations and nanny-state incentives. If embarrassment were something to which Americans were still vulnerable, then we might try shaming our neighbors, but I fear there are more of them than there are of us.

Shame on them all the same, shame on every blessed one of them who lets a box of sound and color substitute for human interaction, self-motivated activity, and thoughtful endeavor. A large portion of American parents — perhaps a majority — are unfit to hold that responsibility, unless we define the role so loosely that anyone who feeds his kids and keeps them off drugs and doesn’t beat the daylights out of them counts as a good performer.

But I think that’s an unacceptable standard. If you are letting your child sit in front of a television for five, six, seven hours a day, then you are a sorry excuse for a parent, an adult, a human being. Shame on you, not that I expect you to see these words, not that I imagine you are what we curmudgeons call a “reader.”

What would happen if some blessed electronic virus destroyed all American television for a day, a week, a month? Would we talk to one another, or read, or create things? Or would we tear one another limb from limb? More frightening still, would we sit in front of the snowy screen, waiting, hoping, praying for the colors and sounds — our box of gods — to once again find favor with us?

Lord have mercy on the people who do this to their children.