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Turn Off the Tube
If your children are visual learners, their “picture” of the world will be determined by how much television they watch versus the amount of “reality” they engage in.

Growing up as a home-schooled pastor’s kid in a low-income family, flicking on the tube took a day’s worth of preparation.

First, Dad had to head downstairs to the basement and dust off the old black and white box. Then, after bringing it up and installing it he plodded off to the local library where he rented a VCR. Next, we picked out a movie to rent – which also took a lot of deliberation, considering we were only allowed G-rated flicks. Finally, after popping corn on the stove we gathered around the tube for a family night of fun.

These days, it’s nothing for kids to toss their school bag aside and plop in front of the ‘boob tube,’ clicking mindlessly through thousands of channels for the next few hours as cartoons and daytime television fills their moldable minds.

Sure, they might break for supper, and perhaps be forced to do some homework, but it’s not uncommon for the TV to sing them a lullaby as they fall to sleep.

A constant companion

A study conducted by the Agence France Presse (AFP) in November of 2007 showed that the more preschool age boys are exposed to television violence – and violent cartoons in particular – the more likely they are to act aggressively, be disobedient and get into trouble later in life.

“What parents do not realize,” lead researcher Dr. Dimitri Christakis told AFP, is “preschool children don’t distinguish between fantasy and reality the way older children and adults do. To them it’s all very real.”

For many parents, television acts as an electronic nanny; it’s a handy device to entertain children while mom and dad cook supper or have some personal time.

A recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal showed TV watching has the average Canadian child sedentary for three to five hours a day in front of the tube.

Children six years and under spend an average of two hours a day using screen media (be it internet, computer games or television). Twenty-six percent have a television in their bedrooms.

Nature deficit disorder

Imagination, books, stories on tape and road games are becoming things of the past, while virtual reality replaces actuality.

As Geez editor Aiden Enns wrote in a recent issue of the alternative Christian magazine, “I don’t want the movie to skew my perception of the natural world. When I see birds in the sky, I don’t want to think of some documentary movie, I want to think of birds in the sky.”

If your children are visual learners, their “picture” of the world will be determined by how much television they watch versus the amount of “reality” they engage in.

Unfortunately the amount of television children watch today equals more than the time dedicated to reading and playing outdoors combined.

With 80 percent of Canadians living in urban dwellings today, it’s much easier for kids to download photos of nature rather than actually experience it. “Nature is increasingly an abstraction you watch on a nature channel,” says author Richard Louv in his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.

“The (Big-Box) aesthetic has crept into our heads,” adds Enns. “We look for bright colours, shiny knobs. We seem to enjoy anything that disconnects us from our natural surroundings.”

Nevertheless it’s crucial for families to make the time to hike, walk, bike or camp, in order to avoid what Louv calls “nature deficit disorder.”

While government and provincial efforts are being made to reinstate the importance of outdoor activity, by increasing funding for amateur sports, providing one percent of health spending for sport and physical activity, and most recently, proposing a child’s fitness tax credit effective January of last year, training begins at home.

“It can be the clump of trees at the end of the cul-de-sac or the ravine by the house,” says Louv. “To a child, they can be a whole universe.”

Physical and emotional side-effects

Over the past two decades, rates of overweight and obesity nearly tripled among Canadian children, according to the Canadian Institutes of Health Information’s report, titled “Improving the Health of Canadians.”

Tuning in to Health
(according to Dr. Peter Nieman)

  1. Don’t deprive your children of TV; rather, budget it.
  2. Limit TV to one to two hours per sitting.
  3. Know what your kids are watching.
  4. See TV as dessert, not as the main course.
  5. Read Christian books together to counteract the effects of television.
  6. Skip the ads or skip during the ads.
  7. Visit www.pluggedinonline.com to find out what movies and TV shows are worth watching.

Likewise, the report’s authors noted four out of five Canadian youth are not active enough to meet international guidelines for optimal growth and development.

Pediatrician Dr. Peter Nieman acknowledges the seriousness of this situation. Working primarily with obese children in a clinic in Calgary, he knows first-hand the influence television has on what he calls “mindless eating.”

“Poor nutritional choices are made because of ads pushing food that isn’t healthy,” he says.

He also notes the negative effect television has on children’s personalities. “The longer they sit in front of the television, the more they turn into zombies. They begin to criticize and use bad language.” It’s a desensitizing tool, he says.

A heart matter

Nieman equates television with allowing a stranger into the house. “We tell our children not to talk with strangers, but we don’t have a problem with letting strangers talk to them everyday through the television,” he says.

While it’s impossible to avoid evil in the world, it is possible to censor it in the home. “More and more Christian families . . .  focus on the positive, or rationalize the negative, by using it to ‘teach their kids.’ But for every negative, ten positives are required to counteract it,” says Nieman.

And television is full of negatives. As Dr. James Dobson says in his booklet, The Impact of TV on Young Lives, “Much of our television programming centres around human hatred, whether it be between classes and races or whether it be between husband and wife. We are concentrating on the very worst that life has to offer, and the very worst elements in our society.”

Dr. Dobson fears television has damaged North America beyond repair. Yet he acknowledges that, if used for good, television could have a tremendous effect. It is up to parents, he says, to filter through the material and guard their children’s minds and hearts from the harmful effects of one of the world’s most powerful gateways to communication.

Emily Wierenga is a freelance writer and artist based in Blyth, Ontario.  View her art at her website, Canvas Child. She can be reached at wierenga.emily@gmail.com.

Originally published in Focus on the Family, March 2008.

 

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A ministry of
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada