I admit it: I’m a TV Nazi (a sleep Nazi, too, but that’s for another day). I can’t stand the sound of the idiot box once it’s been on for more than 30 minutes — if I make it that long, and if we’re talking about the shows that today’s children watch. Fox News is fine, of course, as is the Food Network, C-Span, and America’s Funniest Home Videos; old movies are great; and DVDs my husband and I have approved are all fine. But ever since my kids passed the Teletubbies stage, the television in our house has been largely silent.
It was mostly my doing — I had to convince my husband I wasn’t nuts to be so strict about the whole thing. But now he’s fully on board. He sees that there are many ways to use the television to one’s advantage, to have it in your life without the negative effects (sorta like sugar). The key is to start young, remain vigilant, and not be a television-watcher yourself.
The remaining vigilant part is the kicker. As parents, nothing is easier than letting the television be a babysitter. (Can you imagine raising kids without TV?) And there are times when it really can be harmless and you just give in — when kids are sick and home from school, for example. It’s not the mere exposure to television that’s harmful; it’s the daily diet. Television has become second nature, and there is absolutely no thought involved.
But it doesn’t have to be. In our house, watching television is not an everyday, mindless activity — it’s a privilege. Never once have my children turned on the television on their own, without permission. Watching a show is like going out to get ice cream. We plan for it, discuss it, and decide what we’re going to watch. Lately, The Waltons — we own the three seasons on DVD — has become a nightly ritual. So there you go — I do let my kids watch television!
Another hidden problem is that while the TV seems like it’s helpful to the parent, in the end it’s not helpful at all. You may get an hour of peace, but getting the kids to turn the television off is a complete nightmare and kids’ demeanors change after they’ve watched too much. You’re better off not turning it on in the first place.
I’m sure this all makes me sound like a nerd. If so, I proudly wear the label. More liberal, or loosy-goosy, parents would say I’m sheltering my children — to which I say, “Yup, as long as I can.” Perhaps they think my daughter’s lack of exposure to the new sexpot Miley Cyrus (as if that wasn’t just a matter of time) will ultimately be damaging.
It is true that there will come a day when my kids are thrust into the real world. How will they manage, you ask? They’ll either find other nerds or they’ll muddle through, like we all did, finding their way. How on earth can not having been exposed to Hannah Montana gyrating around half-naked on a bed be harmful? I’d love a reasonable answer to that question.
The ironic thing is that once you’ve raised kids without this stuff long enough, they look at someone like Miley Cyrus and think she’s nuts. They’re not even drawn to it. That’s because they haven’t been exposed to it so often that they became immune to it — as if it were normal. Or everyday. Or just the way life and everyone in it is.
That’s the scary part.
Suzanne Venker is co-author of the forthcoming book The Flipside of Feminism: What Smart Women Know – and Men Can’t Say (WND Books). Her website is www.suzannevenker.com.