Kill your television before it gets you

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.


  1. Kevin Cassidy

    Tony – I remember you asking that last question as a thought experiment during a lunch we had, and it has stuck with me. Interestingly enough, Houston had that exact experience 13 months ago, when we lost power from the Hurricane, most people for 6-13 days. The newspapers couldn’t help but comment that neighbors got to know each other, more people took evening walks than ever before, people sat in chairs in driveways and – be sure you are sitting down – talked with one another and even strangers that walked by. In our hyper-sensitized society, it was all taken away for a short period of time, and people realized they really enjoyed it.

    And then promptly turned the TV back on once power and reception were restored. We know what we want, but have no ability to fulfill it.

  2. Marc V

    A solar flare would do the trick, but unfortunately it would wipe out the power generating stations as well as most other electronics. We have resisted the syren’s (sp?) call of cable TV, as most kids’ shows run along the lines of parents (particularly dad) stupid – kids smart. +$600/yr ain’t cheap either!

    We have a slightly different problem now with “… a box of sound and color” – the internet, in particular an online game called Roblox. I don’t think there are subliminal mind-warping images on it (or maybe they’re created so parents can’t pick them up!), but the youngsters will be on there all day if we let them.

    It does make life quieter when they’re zoned out in front of a screen, but I’ll have plenty of chances for quiet after they’ve moved out. Hopefully they’ll mature to the point of wanting to be on their own … er, if there’s any jobs/economy left fifteen or so years from now.

  3. Carl

    I was sitting at the courthouse, in a jury pool. Since you can not take anything in with you, you either stare at the furnishings or talk to your immediate neighbors.
    The guy next to me asked me if I had seen “….” on the TV.
    When I politely informed him I did not have TV, before he could stop himself he asked “What is wrong with you?” He did not try to talk to me after that.
    I love to read, or is it I live to read?

  4. cfc

    Reading these in reverse order, I enjoyed reading this first followed shortly by the “cleaning house, Sesame Street” episode 🙂

  5. Beth

    Hmm. Good points all, but judgement with a side of guilt is difficult to swallow. A little kindness to wash it down is good.

  6. Lenise

    Yes, Beth, I agree. This is a widespread problem, not just confined to the left point of the bellcurve. Goes back to that sin nature we’ve all inherited.

    On the other hand, it’s easy to justify our sins by grading on the curve. Common doesn’t equal “OK”. Sometimes harshness is godly, and we Christians are not usually bold enough to be harsh in the defense of what’s good.

    So really, I don’t know. How’s that for clear thinking?

  7. wife

    to be fair – or is it defensive? – anyway…
    Sesame street is less than an hour long, and ours usually get up before it is over to go play swords or cars or fort, or even read 🙂

    and I’m not sure how one can dig up kindness for allowing that age child, really any age, watching 5+ hours a day. unless of course one is recovering from chemo sessions or some horrible injury that leaves one unable to function as a parent. I don’t imagine there are that many people in that category, and surely the rest aren’t all severely depressed with no interest in life.

  8. Beth

    I have no fondness for television. We’re more of a playdough-pounding, playground-conquering, clubhouse-building, finger-painting, cookie-baking, story-reading kind of a family. But when I’m working in the ER caring for flu patients until 3 AM and it’s raining the next day, I confess we may approach that infernal average number. My boys do love their DVDs.

    All of this to say I am sick of the “mommy (er, parent) wars”. I’m doing my best with my kids, and I trust that you’re doing your best with yours. I will not judge you unless you force me to by abusing or neglecting your kids, and then I will report you.

    That is all. I am big fan of your blog.

  9. Pingback: Random linkage…(The Sanity Inspector)

  10. Christina

    I see your point Beth… and I want to agree but I’ve been walking around with this question in my head… isn’t all this “I won’t judge you if you don’t judge me”, “live and let live”, mentality partly to blame for the mess we’ve created. If it was still possible to be embarresed would a little bit of shame, maybe even a little bit of judgement go a long way? I don’t know.

  11. Beth

    I see your point too, Christina. Seems to me Christians have been dealing in shame and guilt for a long, long time. I don’t think it works. Jesus didn’t operate that way…why should we?

  12. SDN

    Jesus didn’t operate that way… until the money changers in the Temple found even His last nerve….

    There’s good, and there’s evil, and we are supposed to know the difference, and ACT on it.

  13. Beth

    So we’re calling people who let their kids watch too much TV “evil”. OK. I’d rather spend my vituperative energy on other things. Again, just looking at things differently here…not advocating for more TV watching.

  14. Sara R.

    Very interesting to read (and the comments, as well) after having just finished an essay on Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” especially his chapter on entertainment and education being inseparable now. Thanks for the thoughts. I’ve been busy with homework and reading assignments, so it had been a while since i’d stopped by. I’m glad i visited. 🙂

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