Would you let a stranger spend several hours with your child, communicating values, distracting him from homework, creating separation and distance from family? Even worse, would you let a stranger into your child’s bedroom?
“No way,” you say? Well, you’d better look again. Because if you are like most parents, there is indeed a stranger who is influencing, guiding, directing and enticing your child. And yes, some of these strangers are even in your children’s bedrooms. This stranger looks innocent enough at first glance, but has the potential to influence your child in ways you may not even suspect.
The danger that is enticing your child is electronic media, and its presence is growing. Children in America now spend, on average, six ½ hours a day exposed to electronic media. Their connection to this influence includes TV, computers, radios, video games and other electronic devices. Two-thirds of children, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report, now have a TV in their bedrooms. This doesn’t account for the hand-held electronic devices many children carry with them wherever they go.
Not alarmed yet? What about this? Children with TVs in their bedroom watch 90 minutes more a day than children without a TV in their room. They also do less reading and less homework. According to the facts, the more kids watch TV, the more likely they are to be overweight. Obesity in children is a national crisis. Turning a child’s bedroom into a media arcade does not help your child one bit.
Many parents say they care about what their children watch and listen to. Yet, children consistently report that their parents do not have any rules and set no limits on the amount or type of media they use. Those who do create restrictions don’t always enforce them. Children report that parents do not know what type of music they’re listening to. Parents seldom check the rating on CDs or invest the time to check out the lyrics. They pay little attention to the elaborate TV rating scale and do not use it to make choices about appropriate viewing content for their children.
Violent video games and glorified violence on TV spurs aggression in children. While watching violence does not make someone violent, research shows that children who are exposed to more visual violence engage in more aggressive behaviors. Isn’t that reason enough to set limits on a youngster’s television viewing and video game habits?
Allowing a TV in a child’s bedroom or putting electronic media like Game Boys and cell phone video games into their hands is tantamount to putting the fox in the henhouse with the chickens while pretending the fox is of no danger.
Electronic media in a child’s life increases isolation. It creates an environment in which the child can stay disconnected from family members. It severely limits family interaction. TV, the Internet and video games are creating an emotional gap between parent and child. What possible reason is there for a child to carry a video game with him wherever he goes, or for a parent to make a child’s bedroom so attractive and so media friendly that he wants to spend most of his time there by himself?
What about family solidarity? What about creating feelings of belonging by doing things together? Yes, children need privacy. Yes, they need some solitude and some time away from us. But do they need six ½ hours a day of “plug-in” contact?
Recently, while attending a soccer registration day, we heard a mother comment about her son, “I don’t know why I bother to bring anything else for him to do. All he does is play that Game Boy.” Sitting next to her was a child oblivious to the world around him. And yet the mother went on to say, “The good thing about it is, it keeps him busy and I don’t have to worry about him getting into things.”
Do you really want your child playing video games that glorify violence and numb him to real life events? A recent study revealed that 65 percent of 7th through 12th graders played the controversial video game Grand Theft Auto. This game, rated for mature audiences, is loaded with larceny and violence. It shows the killing of police officers and the beating of prostitutes. Is this the way you want your child to learn what it means to be a responsible, caring, cooperative adult?
What about the strangers who are teaching your child through their appearances on television? Is TV really where you want your children to learn about values, attitudes, behaviors? Do you like the messages they get from soap operas? Do you want them exposed to beer commercials? Is the television really the best forum to teach your children about dating, intimacy and sexuality? How do your feel about using sex to sell products? Have you seen any television talk shows lately? Is their model of disagreeing, which includes interrupting one another, increasing the volume and not listening to the other’s point of view, the way you want your children to handle disagreements?
What about the computer? Who are your children talking to in chat rooms? What sites do they visit? Are they being bullied or talked to with inappropriate language? Are they bullying others?
What are American parents thinking? What possible reason could there be for putting a TV or X-box in a child’s bedroom or within easy access? Does the child have so many things that this is all that the parent can come up with for a birthday present? Do the parents dislike being with the child so much that they want to purposefully isolate the youngster? Or are the adults simply so busy with their own lives that they don’t have time for their children?
The frenzy to connect to electronic media has created the Great Family Disconnect of our time. Don’t parents realize that six ½ hours a day of being plugged into media leaves children little time to plug into their family? Do the parents like it that way? Is family dialogue of such little value that it can be squeezed in between headphones and e-mail? Has Monopoly, checkers, shooting baskets, skipping rope and bike riding together become obsolete?
In 63 percent of homes a television is on during mealtimes. Is it too much to ask family members to take a 20-minute break from media noise to share a quiet dinner with meaningful conversation? Or would you miss your favorite program? Couldn’t our children become our favorite program for part of the evening?