How to get kids to turn off the television, by Michael Pearl

The Washington Times Sunday January 25, 2009
Reprinted by permission

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Many studies reveal that behavioral problems exhibited by our school-age children and their epidemic obesity are proportional to time spent watching television or playing video games.


Fifty-five years ago when I was a kid, no one in my neighborhood had a television.  After dark, we rode bicycles or played chase until our parents called us home at bedtime.  No wonder there wasn’t a single fat kid in our entire school.  But, you can be sure that, when we had the 25 cents admission, we would all head off to the Saturday afternoon double feature downtown.  What a thrill to see Tarzan wrestling an alligator or Godzilla tearing down the big buildings, and all in glorious black and white and scratchy sound.


Today, home theaters and computer games produce images, sounds and special effects that are awesome beyond anything we could have imagined, and it is constantly available in every home.  I am sure I would have given up bicycle riding, wrestling, fishing and tree climbing if I could have watched the programming available today.  But, what would I have become?


Every minute of a child’s life is formative.  A young adult is the product of all the minutes of his 18 years.  And there has never been a more effective mentor than the TV.  Some “so-called” experts say children are not significantly influenced, but the sponsors disagree to the tune of billions of dollars spent on advertisement. 


Honorable, successful, hardworking adults are not born; they are made.  Mental health is the product of an active and meaningful life.  Electronic entertainment is the avoidance of living.  It provides a make-believe world where success is measured by all the wrong values.  A child raised on Hollywood movies and video games is not learning to be successful, nor is he developing social skills, and he is certainly not living in the real world where success is purchased with responsible hard work.


But let’s not throw the blame on the kids.  It is not their fault.  And parents today are no less caring or less vigilant than former generations.  We are all victims of scientific advancements in electronics.  We have evolved from manufacturers of life into consumers of entertainment.  It is irresistible, an instant fix for boredom.  But boredom is the mother of creativity.  We all try to partake in moderation, try to limit the time our children spend plugged in to Hollywood, but entertainment becomes an addiction, and then our master.


So, what is a parent to do?  Passive entertainment has become a way of life.  If we say to our children, “No more television or video games; read a history book, play chess, go out and get some exercise,” they would rebel like an addict deprived of his heroin.


There is a life principle you must always follow: Never take something away from a baby without giving him something equally interesting.  Avoid the vacuum that produces rebellion.  Get the order right.  You must provide the better alternative before unplugging them from the intravenous entertainment drip.


The big problem for your children is that they have lost their connection with healthy alternatives.  If they went outside, there wouldn’t be any kids playing chase or building a tree house.  You must now lead them, become engaged with them.  If you fire their nanny (Blue Ray), you are going to have the assume her duties.  What can you do with half-grown kids that is going to be of interest to them?  And how can you possible compete with the bright, colorful, special effects of the fantasy world?  You cannot compete on the same level.  You must offer them something real, something old-fashioned – friendship, fellowship and creative activities.


Talk with your kids.  Don’t lecture them.  Explain to them your desire to see them become exceptional, not just average.  But, be sure they understand that becoming exceptional demands discipline: to lead, not follow, and to be productive when others are idle.  Ask them what they would like to do.  Take it one step at a time.  You may need to provide the boys with a workshop where they can restore a classic truck.  The girls may want to learn and practice, tennis, music or dance.  The whole family may get involved in martial arts, archery or other organized sports.  There is a real world out there full of fun and challenging opportunities that is naturally “entertaining.”


To begin with, some of the things you can do are to agree to limit the electronic monster to four times a week, two hours at a time.  Cut the time down as they become engaged in alternatives.  And, you may finally settle on one night a week for FAMILY movie night, with friends and popcorn, followed by games.  If you have the discipline, you may access the many educational series available, so when addiction calls, you can feed it productive information.


Finally, settle it in your heart not to nag or complain to them.  Join hands with them and lead them into productive lives.  The family is about growing together.  So, become an active part of turning them on to life, and eventually they will turn off someone else’s imagination and discover that they like their own better.

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