How TV Affects Communication and Closeness
Copyright © 1996, Broadman & Holman Publishers
As I laid my overflowing plate on the placemat, I noticed a cozy table for two to my left. Through the branches of an artificial tree, I could see a husband and wife who were out together, enjoying Sunday dinner.
"That's nice," I thought to myself. But as I sat down I sensed that something was odd. Upon second glance, I noticed that this couple was together, but only in terms of proximity, for setting between them was a miniature two-inch TV.
Oblivious to his surroundings, a thirty-something gentleman that I'll call "Fred the football fanatic" sat with an earphone crammed in one ear, and a finger in the other. I smiled, and quietly chuckled. However, the humor of “Fred” and his little TV quickly subsided when my eyes fell upon his sullen wife. She sat within arm's reach, alone.
Apparently finished with her half-eaten meal, "friendless Fran" stared out a window, silently waiting for the next commercial when she could again have 60 seconds to try to share a feeling and hope for a spark of concern. From my vantage point behind the artificial tree, it was clear that watching TV had taken priority over communication in this couple's marriage.
For many viewers, TV has a damaging hold on their lives. We tend to sit so close to our little screens that we can no longer see the big picture. Few viewers recognize that their TV habits may actually need some fine-tuning—or in some cases a complete overhaul.
This chapter presents some very intriguing and important statistics. It examines the price we pay for the way we use TV, and encourages each of us to take a few steps back and look at our lives from a more enlightening vista.
THE TV HABIT AND THE CHRISTIAN
I wonder if we realize how much television has changed our culture? We have an entire generation of children and young adults who choose TV (or computer and video games) almost exclusively over other after-school and evening activities; young people who have never been mentored in the life-skill of how to find satisfying media alternatives and who seem to have all but forgotten how to interact with families and friends.
The daily routine of passive TV viewing monopolizes the free time of both children and adults. "Research shows (that) people don't respect themselves for watching television, don't enjoy it much, and by and large wish they could quit. At the very least, indiscriminate television viewing is a bad habit. And for many, it is a very real addiction. "Millions of Americans are so hooked on TV that they fit the criteria for substance abuse in the official psychiatric manual.
Let's face it. How often do we settle down in the evening and breeze through the channels until we find what appears to be a sufficiently entertaining program—regardless of the content or morals displayed?
The typical Christian attends church faithfully, singing with commitment the desire to have God take his life and let it be committed to the Lord Jesus. But that same Christian then returns home, turns on the TV and plops down to share the same vicarious, sexually suggestive, violent, and often profane experiences as his non-Christian neighbors.
As Christians are naively sucked into responding on cue to pre-recorded laugh tracks and crude talk-show hosts, conversation and commitment seem to be forgotten. (Or maybe they were never really learned by the generation labeled "baby boomers" and the children of baby boomers.)
Although startling evidence continues to be released regarding the negative effects of indiscriminate or large doses of TV, few have made personal application of the abundant advice offered by godly experts. There is an alarming degree of spiritual indifference in regard to television. Seldom does a family discuss how the on-screen action contradicts the biblical norms by which we are instructed to live. Nor do we realize the number of hours TV is viewed.
Unfortunately, neither has there been any significant improvement in quality control efforts to determine what shows are allowed into our homes.
In most households, the TV schedule dictates the evening agenda, rather than a careful scheduling of pre-selected programs or non-TV activities. Often, without even questioning the content of the shows that are about to enter our living rooms, we zap a bag of microwave popcorn, pull the tab on a cold diet soda, and relax both body and mind in front of the nearest television set.
WHAT THE STATISTICS REVEAL
At first glance, Americans appear to be busy—so busy that hardly another activity could be jammed into our schedules. Some of the many things that fill our week include: full and part-time employment, church services and activities, sporting events, bill paying, schoolwork, housework, yardwork, grocery shopping, telephone conversations, auto maintenance, food preparation, eating, sleeping, personal hygiene, computer “hacking” and CD-ROM games, reading newspapers, magazines, et cetera.
However, the average family still finds time to tune in the TV for 50 hours each week—more than a normal work-week, or an average of more than three hours per person per day.
While most of us complain about the increasing amount of violence and immorality portrayed on television, we "stay tuned" nonetheless. The immediate gratification box has become an indispensable appliance in American households. We strategically place TVs throughout our homes for ease of use and undisturbed viewing. We arrange our living room furniture, our mealtimes, bedtimes, even our bathroom breaks around television. In fact, it appears that we find television more essential than indoor toilets! Televisions are found in 98 percent of American households, while indoor toilets have been installed in only 97 percent.
After a live interview on a mid-western radio station—during which we shared this rather humorous "toilet statistic"—the female talk-show host told us that TV isn't handled very well in her own Christian home. With an embarrassed grin, she went on to divulge that "When our TV went on the blink, my husband ran out and bought a new one as quick as if we were out of toilet paper!" Unfortunately, her family's amusing dependence is the norm, not the exception, in modern society.
One summer evening, while stopped at a busy intersection, I noticed a young couple in a small car pulled up next to mine. They weren't paying any attention to each other; neither did they seem to be aware of the beautiful sunset blazing across the western horizon. Then I noticed that both occupants had their eyes fixed on a small object resting on the console between them. Plugged into the cigarette lighter and glowing in the dim light of evening was a portable TV.
It seems that the more programming that becomes available, the more we feel obligated to look at. The easier it is to take a TV with us during our daily activities, the harder it becomes to say “no” to its availability, …or its immense impact on our lives and attitudes.
Sadly, most parents choose to buy a second (third or fourth!) set, hoping to buy some peace by avoiding some of the inevitable irritations that arise from disagreements about what will be watched. Rather than exerting control and responsibility, they take the path of least resistance.
An evening stroll through almost any neighborhood reveals that, in many homes, parents watch TV in the living room while the kids watch, unsupervised, in their own bedrooms, the kitchen, or the family room. As “personal” television sets become more popular, the less we strive to engage in meaningful, much needed conversation. Instead, we march to our designated section of the house and allow the writers and producers of visual media to dictate our thought patterns and shape our world view. Watching television has degenerated "from being a family affair into a solitary experience. …solitary TV watching marks the height of alienation" in modern, industrialized society.
While well-meaning parents may be "keeping the peace," they are also forfeiting precious, never-to-be-repeated opportunities to nurture lifelong family relationships.
For five decades television has been mis-represented as one of the least costly forms of personal and family entertainment. Its proponents argue that, once a set is purchased and planted in its own little corner, it costs only about a dime a day for the electricity required to empower it.
While TV may be one of the least costly forms of entertainment in monetary terms, it is one of the most costly entertainment choices in terms of opportunities lost.
Within a generation of the creation of commercial television, the medium deeply entrenched itself into our lives. All-too-often we forget that when we choose to watch TV, we are also choosing not to do something else. We have become callused to the increasingly amoral, anti-God programming.
Think about all the centuries before 1950. People did not sit idly in their cottages or castles waiting for television images to appear. No. They filled their lives with activities and people.
As the hours of viewing have multiplied, though, the time and attention left for people have vastly diminished. Too often we become guilty of child neglect, spouse neglect, friend neglect—God neglect.
Consider the evening dinner hour. It used to be a time for the family to "connect." But how often is this important portion of the day now accompanied by watching TV? One observant writer has noted that "once upon a time, television was a dessert, something couples shared after dinner, after daily chores, after talk time. But today …it has become the whole meal, and benumbed silence has replaced loving conversation."
The cost of TV? High indeed! When improperly managed, it amounts to paying for an electronic sedative that is voluntarily and habitually injected into both adults and children. Its side effects: the erosion of personal and spiritual relationships and the thoughtless waste of a priceless, non-renewable, super-natural resource—time. Where something else once was, television now is.
Even if everything funneled into our homes via the television was "good," we would still need to weigh carefully the merits of sitting idly in front of the screen against the other activities that TV replaces.
THE BUCK STOPS HERE
It is important to realize that the problems associated with the use of TV are not directly caused by the electronic invention itself. A TV set does not require our full allegiance from the day that we bring it home. It doesn't yell across the room and sternly demand that we give it the majority of our free time. Its presence only suggests that we begin watching. And we do!
Periodically, we begin to stay up too late watching TV on Saturday nights. We begin to choose network programming over evening church programs. When unsupervised, children begin to pay just a little more attention to afternoon reruns than their schoolwork, a good book, household chores, or even active outdoor play. And, of course, adults happily accept the never-ceasing assertions that we deserve a break, looking to TV and its mindless game shows, soap operas, sporting events, situation comedies and late-night talk shows to relax us from the tensions of the day.
However, we cannot cast all the blame for the problems that arise from immoral television programs upon unregenerate media executives. After all, no one forces us to watch the programs they present.
While secular writers and producers must certainly accept responsibility for their large contribution to the moral decline of America, Christians have been guilty as well. Ted Baehr, a member of the board of directors of the National Religious Broadcasters, contends in his book, The Movie and Video Guide for Christian Families, that the "anti-church, anti-American, anti-everything attitude prevails in Hollywood today because the churches have retreated." In many ways our passivity and lack of interest has been as much of a contributing factor as that of Hollywood's continually degenerating moral code. We still sit down and view the questionable programs. We still purchase the products that make the shows profitable. Responsibility for the problems that arise from violent, immoral television programs rests as squarely upon the shoulders of those who habitually and carelessly push the “on” button as it does upon the program providers themselves.
The vast majority of us no longer benefit from the positive aspects that carefully selected TV programs and video cassettes can provide. We have slowly fallen into the trap of indiscriminate, misuse of TV. Whether a bad habit or an actual addiction, we need help.
There is no better time than now to reconsider our relationship to TV and commit to a fresh, new stance based on consistent Christian principles. The best first step that I can think of is to identify what God's Word says in relation to our TV viewing habits.