“I miss my TV,” my daughter’s classmate lamented to me. We were on our third day of an elementary school camp. Though we had luxuries like heated cabins, running water, and our days were occupied with endless outdoor activities, there were no TVs in sight.
“Do you have a TV in your room?” I asked her.
“Yes,” she said.
“What do you watch?”
“Whatever I want,” she replied. “I go to sleep with it every night.”
Forget teddy bears or special fuzzy blankets, this ten-year-old sleeps with her TV.
Shocking, but not so shocking–because it’s more and more common these days. Whether it’s a cell phone, video game, iPad, iPod, or a computer screen, kids in this country are overexposed to media. There are just too many choices, and the lure is powerful. Having a cell phone with texting capability and internet access makes teens easily accepted into the culture around them. But it’s not just teens. Kids in preschool and kindergarten have cell phones too. They are also a big market for other types of media consumption. After all, it’s so much easier to stick toddlers in front of the TV to keep them quiet than to have to chase them around.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children spend an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media like phones, televisions, computers, and other electronic devices. That’s a lot of passive entertainment, not to mention the majority of what the media puts out to attract kids’ attention is not as harmless as parents hope.
If someone came and knocked on your door today, and your child answered the door, what would you say if that person swore repeatedly at your child? Or if they got into a vicious, bloody fight with another person, right in front of your child? You know that shady part of town that has worn-down buildings with silhouettes of women and parking in the back? What if that person at your door invited your child to be a free customer to those places? Would you let that person into your home? I don’t know anybody who would. But how many parents don’t even realize the door is wide open, and that crass, low-standard, vile creep is allowed into their home on a daily basis…for seven hours?!
“My friend just cut everything out,” an acquaintance recently told me. “Her kids were playing video games all the time and that’s all they wanted to do.” A few months after doing this, the woman related to me that her teenage son came to her and thanked her. “Mom, if I were still playing video games all the time, I would never have started playing the saxophone.” He paused for a moment and added, “The only thing I regret is all those years I wasted. I don’t even remember very much because I felt like I was always in a daze.”
After hearing a report that the American Academy of Pediatrics put out a few years ago, I myself decided to cut way back on the media my children were exposed to. The report said that kids who have excessive exposure to media on a daily basis are more likely to experience attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity. (See American Academy of Pediatrics–Media and Children.) The AAP recommends children only view one to two hours of (all combined forms) of media a day to help them grow and develop properly. So, the media limit in our house is two hours. My kids didn’t like it when I instituted this, and they tried to fight it, but I wasn’t backing down. They only have one chance to be kids, and I’m going to do everything in my power to help them enjoy that as much as possible.
We use a timer, and my kids keep track of the time they are on TV or the computer. They don’t have cell phones, and they’ve survived just fine. And, when they do get to the point when they need a cell phone, it will only be for basic logistical needs and there will be no texting allowed. As far as Facebook goes, my husband and I have the password and the computer is within my view when our oldest daughter is on it.
I remember hearing someone once say that when you allow TV in your child’s room or you give them a cell phone at too young of an age, that’s when you lose them. It undermines your influence and impact as a parent. On one hand, you’re doing your best to raise them up to be mature and responsible adults who have a strong relationship with God, but on the other hand, they are being fed a regular diet of garbage that you don’t even see. As kids, it’s very hard for them to say no to those things without your help. They need you to put up barriers (even when they’re nine or twelve or fifteen) so they can still enjoy being kids, and learn what is appropriate and what’s not appropriate.
Don’t be afraid to draw the line on what you’re kids are exposed to. Take back your power as a parent. Play their favorite card game with them; go for a hike, or just talk. But YOU be the influence in their life, not the TV screen.
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