Friday, June 20, 2008

Glued to the Tube

Last thing last night before I went to bed, and first thing this morning after I got up, I was struck with the same thing. As a nation, we are addicted to television. Besides the obvious family example going on around me within this beach house (which has been rather mild this week, actually), I've seen the evidence first-hand all around us this week... especially in the late night and early morning hours of semi-darkness.

At night, when we go outside to walk the dog before turning in or to take in one last view of the beach before heading to bed, all around us are larger-than-life big screen televisions showing through the windows of the beach houses surrounding us. These large windows, left unadorned with shades to allow for the magnificent beach views during the day, also allow a clear view into the house after dark, demonstrating what must be nearly every family's evening activity. (Including ours, occasionally... the movie the kids have been begging to watch for the past three days, we watched together last night before bed.)

This is not new information to me. I have known that most everyone I know watches hours of television every day, back home. What has newly struck me here is how much it is true even when they're staying in paradise. (Everything around us is more beautiful and peaceful, and yet many ignore it in favor of the frantic and mindless experience of the usual television fare.)

I'm also amazed at how it is true around the clock. When we walk up from the beach to shower and make dinner, the TV's are going in all the beach houses we pass on the way. When we head out for a walk or bike ride after dinner, the televisions all around the neighborhood are going. When we walk the dog before bed, they're going. If I get up in the middle of the night to stumble to the bathroom, they're going. And when I get up just after sunrise to go walking, they're going.

The images are frantic... hectic... frenzied... When you stand outside of the experience, viewing it minus the sound, it strikes you just how frenetic and chaotic and dizzying the flashing of the images is.

No wonder the average kid has no attention span, no ability to sit still and listen to a normal message delivered in a normal tone of voice in a normal setting. He's been conditioned - since his parents put him in front of "children's educational programming" in infancy - to expect a visual change every second or two, having actually had his brain rewired in the process to be unable to attend to things that happen in "real time." (See here, or here, or here, just the first 3 of 12,300,000 results I got when I googled 'television bad for children.' When I googled 'television good for children,' I got "only" 243,000,000 entries, but it is worth noting that each of these - if the first ten I looked at are any indication - all depend on making the experience good by carefully choosing the programming, watching the show with your children, discussing what they've seen with them, etc.)

I would assume, however, that this is not what's happening during the eight hours and fourteen minutes average that the television set is on each day in the typical American household. This staggering figure doesn't include any of the time that the average American child spends playing computer and video games, which - according to research published in the Science Digest Journal of Pediatrics - has surpassed television viewing.

Yeah, and they also spend hours with earplugs in their ears listening to music; and hours surfing the web; and hours sending IM and text messages to their peers, about their peers. "According to figures released by the National Statistical Office on Wednesday, teenagers between 15 and 19 on average sent a whopping 60.1 text messages per day, a slight increase from 59.5 in 2005."

What on earth are we doing? I'm reminded of something I read this week in Gregg Harris's book The Christian Homeschool. It is not at all the most seminal in this book full of salient points, but it is clearly relevant for this discussion. In making the point that "storytelling" is extremely important in the training and education of our children (not as in reading them a book aloud or spinning them a verbal yarn; but as in making every occasion, holiday, lesson, or life experience a chance to discuss a pertinent story from Scripture or history or experience), he notes:

"Television is perhaps the greatest enemy of storytelling today. When the tube goes on, all conversation stops. When it appeared in America, the front porch swing disappeared. It's time for us to take a second look and determine how to best use our time.

Storytelling isn't something we do only a designated times. As we read in Deuteronomy, chapter 6, we should be teaching throughout every day - as we're out walking, as we're driving in a car, as we're getting the children dressed in the morning. We should tell stories about the fish we've caught, the tree houses we've built, the dolls we loved, the honesty of Abraham Lincoln, the was Jesus sought out the sinful tax collector named Zaccheus, and so on. There is plenty of time to tell these stories. There is just not enough time for watching television."

- From
The Christian Homeschool. Published by Noble Publishing Associates, Gresham, Oregon. Copyright 1995 by Gregg Harris.

That is, of course, if the television actually goes off... which, if what I've seen flashing out of all these beach houses all week is any indication, ain't likely. But this also requires that we're with our children throughout the day, which - in this age of working mothers and age-segregated schooling - also ain't likely.

But that is another topic for another day, when I am not itching to get outside into the beautiful surf and sand to spend the last glorious day of vacation with my family.