Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Thoughts on Television and Its Effects on the Imagination

Many studies show that heavy viewing of television adversely affects the development of language and imagination in young children and decreases the attention span.

 "I love seeing how your children play and have such great imaginations. I am ashamed to say that mine do not know the art of play. My oldest boy is 10 and has been raised watching tons of tv and playing lots of video games... My husband and I are really contemplating just getting rid of our tv right now. We have been without tv before and it truly did bless out family..." 

We have a second-hand television that we save for DVD viewing. Our family policy is one movie a week. We rent two DVDs a month from Netflix and the other two weeks the kids watch reruns. We don't play video games or watch television, not because we think they are bad, but because we feel our time on earth is limited and therefore, every moment is precious and must be used wisely. We simply don't have time for them.

We have lowered our standards
When we returned to the United States last year, we rented a furnished house for a few months. I had a chance to see what is available to Americans for viewing and was absolutely shocked at what I saw and heard. Ninety-nine percent of the programs and commercials were not suitable for our family. What really saddened me was the realization that many good people allow so much unworthy twaddle in their home on a regular basis. I don't think I am wiser than most, it is just that I have had the advantage of not watching American television for twelve years and so the media has thus far been unable to gradually, ever so smoothly lull my sense of morality and beauty to sleep, as it has done to many of my dear friends and acquaintances. 

 Before I continue please know that I am not one who believes in TV banning.
There are those who recognize television's merits and have the discipline to be very selective with their viewing choices and amount of time spent in front of it. They are those who watch the one per cent. I am speaking, rather, to those of us who recognize that we don't have that will power and realize that this is a detriment to our children's well-being. Here is a little exercise that may help you see your way better. Picture vividly in your mind the kind of person you hope your child will become one day. Take your time. Now I am going to ask you a very difficult question. How badly do you want this for your child? Our wishes will not make it come to pass, however, our choices are a different matter. You may be thinking that greatly limiting television may make your children out of touch with society. Even though my children have never seen a television program all the way through, I am amazed at how well my two teenagers are up to speed with current events and today's cultural wars simply from the short time they spend on the Internet reading the news and opinion columns from various sources. So the lack of TV has not kept my kids in the Dark Ages but on the contrary, it has enabled them to understand their generation from a higher vantage point. Regular discussions at the dinner table as a family and with frequent visitors about politics, music, abortion, world events, history, friends, the environment, fashion and movies helps our children to assimilate new information, formulate their own ideas and articulate them with clarity.

 If you take something away, you need to replace it with something better.
 So, let's suppose you decide to stop receiving cable TV, or you have written down the three or four shows that you feel comfortable allowing your family to watch. (You also feel comfortable having the Holy Almighty sitting in and watching as well) Or maybe, you sold your TV completely. Whatever the case, if you take something away, you need to replace it with something better or you will have a very unhappy family, indeed. This is your chance to make home a place where they want to be and to awaken their sleeping imaginations. Don't expect it to be easy at first. Expect protest. You see, the TV (and video games) has most likely stolen your child's desire to use his imagination in play because it has for years been doing all the work of forming the pictures for him. You now find yourself with someone who doesn't want to make the effort of imaginative play because his brain has become lazy. He doesn't care to read much on his own because he can't see the pictures. He will need some help from Mom (and Dad). You can help jump start his imagination by reading aloud many great books and by playing with him, providing raw materials, cooking more often from scratch together, learning a hobby together, starting a collection of bugs or rocks or coins, playing board games or making movies on your video camera from stories you have read. Resist the urge to replace television viewing with many activities outside the home. This will only be a crutch that may help in drawing him away from TV or video games, but it will also keep his imagination lame. There is no substitute for quality time together.

 You may be thinking that your child is not very fun to be with.
You may feel guilty over the thought that you really don't want to spend much time with him. Well, the sooner you make the changes in his environment, the sooner you will begin to see improvements in his behavior. Once his imagination has been quickened and he begins to fill his mind with more worthy thoughts from the best literature, once his hands become busy with tasks that are meaningful and creative, you realize, one day, that your child has become the beautiful person you hoped he would become. Most of you who are reading this post already know much of what I am saying to be true; I'm just trying to help you stop wishing for the ideal and start doing it for your precious children. one step at a time...


  1. Linda Spencer3.2.09

    I just had to post a hearty "Amen!". We adopted three boys(then 7, 7, and 5yo) out of the foster care system. They didn't ever read unless they had to for school (they told me that they didn't have to read anymore that school year since they had already reached their "AR" goals), they watched TV non-stop (and were exposed to lots of garbage). They were NOT fun to be around!

    We don't watch TV except for hand selected DVDs occasionally. My boys had to quit "cold turkey". I read out loud to them whether they wanted to or not. I required them to read to themselves 30 min/day (which gradually grew to now an hour a day or more). I'm a CM fan and so selected a very literature/real book curriculum.

    Now my boys love to read. They are very creative in their play, acting out the latest chapter from "The Little Prince" or "Pilgrims Progress", what ever is the current read. They take books with them everywhere we go and think it is normal to fill our day with good books, active outdoor play, and family games.

    It was a hard go at first, addictions are hard to break for all of us. Our family was united in what we wanted to accomplish for these little boys and are so thankful we stuck it out so we could get to where we are today.

    Thank you for encouraging parents to take control and train up their children in a way that is pleasing to the Lord.

  2. Excellent post again!! I love that the main idea of "stop wishing... start doing" applies in all areas of child-rearing, not just in eliminating TV from daily life. If we want our children to truly be great adults, then we have to actively be a part of the process. :-)

  3. Great post! We were so addicted to the tv that we got rid of it completely for a year as an experiment and it has changed the life of our family! We were given a tv about a month ago and use it for dvd use only, I was and still am amazed at the change that it made in my children! I like to encourage everyone to "try" this experiment!

  4. Anonymous3.2.09

    My son is anti-reading [long story post-adoption life, etc. We do "finally" [in his words] have satelite tv for a couple of reasons:

    a. I can block/lock offensive channels [which to my mind is just about everything--but he's almost 15]
    b. In spite of my saying almost every time the tv is on that "there's nothing but junk on" there is OCCASIONALLY something really worth while--and it isn't always the obvious stuff. [I found out about a teen pregnancy scare after my son was upset about the show "Secret Life of an American Teen."]
    c. I am a history freak and love to occasionally watch something on those lines, but Netflix is a good fix, too. However, my son [again!] is in public school, gets nothing from so-called "social studies" so he and I have had a great time watching some of my "boring history shows." It also provides occasional video for homeschool history.

    One VERY happy and totally unexpected side-effect has been seeing both of my kids become discriminating viewers. "All these shows are the same" both have said as they settle in for a prized hour o Disney channel teen shows. Even nicer has been an unusual sound--SILENCE. I've turned and found tv willingly turned off, computer on for writing stories, drawing pads and colored pencils drawing, board games being played. Etc.

    Is our tv subscription worth the price? NO! Will we keep it--YES. REASON d If my son is bored I'd rather he be bored AT HOME and not wanting to run with a pack of kids and get into trouble. Who knows? tv may again bore him and he'll do more art! :)

    Another great post! I always get something to think about at your blog!

    Lisa @

  5. This is so true. I was truly shocked by what I saw on TV in the US almost four years ago when I was there. It's probably worse now. My father is such a godly man, but he lives alone (my mom has already passed on). When we first arrived it was on a lot, and I was so surprised to see what he was watching (just regular prime time sit-coms, but, yuck!). I really felt like I was witnessing the proverbial frog being slowly boiled. Thankfully having my little kids around helped him to realize how inappropriate a lot (most) of those TV shows were, and he was always glad to turn the channel or turn it off while we were there.

    Japanese TV is also terrible. It's probably less vulgar than American TV, but more inane and less imaginative! We are a DVD only family, and it really is good once you get used to it.

  6. Excellent advice! My girls, both 11, have a TV but not attached to any channels. They use it to play DVDs/VHS on only. They spend HOURS playing with scores of plastic animals, each of which has a complex back story of likes and dislikes. They READ and look through many informational books we have on history, gardening, places, etc. We get Time for Kids free from the library and discuss currernt events and I have talked with them about many things I never dreamed I would at 11, but one of them has a burning need to know, well, everything! And I always answer, sometimes very simply but always an answer. I really like the people they are becoming! My family thinks they are deprived because they are homeschooled - my gooness! They have hours of time to play outside everyday, they helped me dig and plant a garden last year. I could not imagine them in a desk all day instead of sitting admidst a pile of art supplies or with a stack of books or rambling through the woods exploring! They feel sorry for their friends in public school and when they went to a friend's house and watched the tween Disney shows said they were totally annoying! Some of their friends hardly ever go outside except on the recess grounds at school. They come home and watch TV. Sad!

  7. I saw a book once called "Turn off the TV and..." and it gave many ideas for you to do with your family or for your kids to do when they can't think of anything except watching TV...for those of you who are interested in something like that, just look it up on Amazon and see if you can find it.

    Thanks for this post, Lindafay.

  8. Linda, you remind me of something I've noticed at our house since Christmas. We haven't ever had Nintendo, etc., but this Christmas my parents gave us a Wii. (We thought it would be nice because of the movement that goes along with it. It *has* been fun.) Every week or so now, my parents ask my kids if they have been playing the Wii. The funniest thing is, they forget we have it! They don't play on it during the week at all, really, and only play on the weekend if dh or I ask them if they would like to. TV is the same for us, because we mainly just watch movies on the weekend, unless Mr. Honey has something he wants to see in the evening.

  9. I guess I should mention what they do play in their free time. They play with the rabbit, they play ball in the side yard, and they play with their dollhouses. Or they write stories at their computers.

    I just think it is so funny that they have this cool toy and don't even think to ask to play it!

  10. Anonymous4.2.09

    We limit TV time, computer time, and have no video games so far. My daughter has a pretty healthy imagination and loves to play in the woods. She has recently noticed that some of her friends are less interested in that kind of play. They are bored with our gadgetless existence. It has been sad for us to see this begin so early. She is only 9 years old. I also wonder what to do with these children when they come to our house. They seem aimless in the absence of entertainment.

  11. Linda, I thought you might like to see this silly parody of CM's Student Motto that the kids and I came up with tonight over dinner.


  12. When our son was 4 we were concerned about his communication skills. They seemed good, even precocious at times, until we realized he was just stringing together quotes from movies to express himself. Our 6 year old daughter could tell us exactly where each quote came from.

    Prior to this I noticed that much of my children's play revolved around re-enacting TV shows and movies. There wasn't much original or creative thought.

    We were very concerned, so when Summer came we imposed a couple of rules: 1) no TV while the sun was up and 2) no TV an hour before bed. Since they went to bed at 7 pm, it basically meant no TV except when it was raining. There was resistance, but the fun of playing outside in the summer sunshine made it short. It took about 6 weeks before I noticed my kids incorporating original thought into their playtime.

    After the summer was up, we canceled our cable subscription. We've been without for a year and a half now. My son's way of communicating with us is totally different, and it is all his own!

    We celebrated our one year no TV anniversary with a fun trip, and can't wait until the next one. My kids are thrilled at having another holiday to celebrate.

    I can't help but think, what if we wouldn't have cut out TV? Would I know my son's thoughts like I do now?

    People may dismiss us as an extreme case, but I don't think so. I know children that have unlimited access to TV, ones with limited access, and ones with no access. I'm glad our kids now fall into the last group, because I've seen the multitude of benefits first-hand.

  13. All of these comments are so insightful and I suspect that they are probably more helpful to the reader than the post itself because you give real life examples. Thanks everyone, for sharing your wisdom and experiences in this area.

  14. I love not having broadcasrt t.v.!
    We enjoy our weekly movie nights that usually consist of an old black and white classic. NO silly cartoons! NO commercials!
    NO depressing news! I love the quietness in the evening...just our voices and book pages turning!!
    Come see what we recently watched!