Thoughts on Television and Its Effects on the Imagination

Many studies show that heavy viewing of television
adversely affects the development of language
and imagination in young children and
decreases the attention span.

"I love seeing how your children play and have such great imaginations. I am ashamed to say that mine do not know the art of play. My oldest boy is 10 and has been raised watching tons of tv and playing lots of video games... My husband and I are really contemplating just getting rid of our tv right now. We have been without tv before and it truly did bless out family..."

We have a second hand television that we save for DVD viewing. Our family policy is one movie a week. We rent two DVDs a month from Netflix and the other two weeks the kids watch reruns. We don't play video games or watch television, not because we think they are bad, but because we feel our time on earth is limited and therefore, every moment is precious and must be used wisely. We simply don't have time for them.

We have lowered our standards
When we returned to the United States last year, we rented a furnished house for a few months. I had a chance to see what is available to Americans for viewing and was absolutely shocked at what I saw and heard. Ninety-nine percent of the programs and commercials were not suitable for our family. What really saddened me was the realization that many good people allow so much unworthy twaddle in their home on a regular basis. I don't think I am wiser than most, it is just that I have had the advantage of not watching American television for 12 years and so the media has thus far been unable to gradually, ever so smoothly lull my sense of morality and beauty to sleep, as it has done to many of my dear friends and acquaintances.

Before I continue please know that I am not one who believes in TV banning. There are those who recognize television's merits and have the discipline to be very selective with their viewing choices and amount of time spent in front of it. They are those who watch the one per cent. I am speaking to those of us who recognize that we don't have that will power and realize that this is a detriment to our children's well-being. Here is a little exercise that may help you see your way better. Picture vividly in your mind the kind of person you hope your child will become one day. Take your time. Now I am going to ask you a very difficult question. How badly do you want this for your child? Our wishes will not make it come to pass, however, our choices are a different matter.

You may be thinking that greatly limiting television may make your children out of touch with society. Even though my children have never seen a television program all the way through, I am amazed at how well my two teenagers are up to speed with current events and today's cultural wars simply from the short time they spend on the Internet reading the news and opinion columns from various sources. So the lack of TV has not kept my kids in the Dark Ages but on the contrary, it has enabled them to understand their generation from a higher vantage point. Regular discussions at the dinner table as a family and with frequent visitors about politics, music, abortion, world events, history, friends, the environment, fashion and movies helps our children to assimilate new information, formulate their own ideas and articulate them with clarity.

If you take something away, you need to replace it with something better. So, let's suppose you decide to stop receiving cable TV, or you have written down the three or four shows that you feel comfortable allowing your family to watch. (You also feel comfortable having the Holy Almighty sitting in and watching as well) Or maybe, you sold your TV completely. Whatever the case, if you take something away, you need to replace it with something better or you will have a very unhappy family, indeed. This is your chance to make home a place where they want to be and to awaken their sleeping imaginations. Don't expect it to be easy at first. Expect protest. You see, the TV (and video games) has most likely stolen your child's desire to use his imagination in play because it has for years been doing all the work of forming the pictures for him. You now find yourself with someone who doesn't want to make the effort of imaginative play because his brain has become lazy. He doesn't care to read much on his own because he can't see the pictures. He will need some help from Mom (and Dad). You can help jump start his imagination by reading aloud many great books and by playing with him, providing raw materials, cooking more often from scratch together, learning a hobby together, starting a collection of bugs or rocks or coins, playing board games or making movies on your video camera from stories you have read. Resist the urge to replace television viewing with many activities outside the home. This will only be a crutch that may help in drawing him away from TV or video games, but it will also keep his imagination lame. There is no substitute for quality time together.

You may be thinking that your child is not very fun to be with. You may feel guilty over the thought that you really don't want to spend much time with him. Well, the sooner you make the changes in his environment, the sooner you will begin to see improvements in his behavior. Once his imagination has been quickened and he begins to fill his mind with more worthy thoughts from the best literature, once his hands become busy with tasks that are meaningful and creative, you realize, one day, that your child has become the beautiful person you hoped he would become.

Most of you who are reading this, already know much of what I am saying to be true; I'm just trying to help you stop wishing for the ideal and start doing it for your precious children.

one step at a time...

Further Reading:

Using Movies for Education