Although people claim they are more busy than ever before–soccer games, violin lessons, swim meets, church, volunteering, committees, and overtime–on average, we somehow manage to watch 4-5 hours of tv a day! Back when our grandparents were doing life, television remained a novelty, turned on for specific times, when the more important things were done. Now, children anywhere can access Netflix, Hulu, and Youtube, watching whatever, whenever, and all the time.
Television has not only graduated to babysitter status, but it has become our psychotherapy of choice. At the end of a stressful day, we don’t sit down and process life with our family or read stories or play games: no, we plop down on the couch and numb out. The anesthesia of choice? Anything that takes our mind off our own life. To anesthetize: “deprive of feeling or awareness.” Most people will admit that they’d rather not be left alone with their thoughts–quiet disturbs them. We don’t want to be aware of our choices, our relationships, or our future. So we bow our minds to the “plug-in drug” of escape and hope that we can just forget the weight of everything piling in.
In her essay,”Television: the Plug-in Drug,” Marie Winn claims that television is not only eroding family rituals–the kind that bond a unit of people together–but that our excessive viewing time is diminishing our time to relate one-on-one, listen, and deal with conflict. We want to be entertained, so we struggling to listen. We want to be talked to with soft, kind tones, so we don’t know how to respond to confrontation. And because we are no longer engaging with real-life people, we’ve lost our connections to the very people we live with. “By its domination of the time families spend together, it destroys the special quality that distinguishes one family from another, a quality that depends to a great extent on what a family does, what special rituals, games, recurrent jokes, familiar songs, and shared activities it accumulates” (Winn, 2). Families no longer take the time to eat a meal together, or if they do, they circle the screen and don’t engage in conversation. A child will spend an average of 38.5 minutes (yes, you read that right) in meaningful conversation with a parent per week. The amount of time that child spends watching television each week? Over 24 hours. Who is getting the more influential voice over them?
“As family ties grow weaker and vaguer, as children’s lives become more separate from their parents’, as parents’ educational role in their children’s lives is taken over by the media, the school, and the peer group, family life becomes increasingly more unsatisfying for both parents and children” (Winn, 7).
So, television consumes us and has altered the family structure. It’s become a god we set aside quiet time for, and a teacher to our children. Even if you fall into the 2% of Americans who don’t own a tv (like we don’t), you still have access to view almost every movie or tv show out there (like we do). Even though our viewing has to be somewhat intentional, we still watch more than we should. Even tonight, I deliberated: watch a Judi Dench movie or write this blog post? The irony wasn’t lost on me.
Is it wrong to watch something? Of course not. If the movie is inspiring, truthful and beautiful, go for it? But if it doesn’t challenge, encourage, or motivate you to become a better person, it might not be worth the time. We often watch a movie with our children on “family fun night,” but not always. Sometimes we play games or create something or go somewhere together. Think outside the box–yes, literally. “By the age of 65 the average American will have spent nearly nine years glued to the tube”(Sound Vision). Think of what a person could do with those 9 years!
“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” –Groucho Marx
- Take a long, slow meal together. Ask questions and really listen.
- Pull out that dusty deck of cards or board game.
- Get a joke book and try to make each other laugh.
- Go Jane Austen-style and read aloud from a book of poetry, Shakespeare, or Psalms.
- Play soccer or football in the backyard.
- Build a fire and roast s’mores. Tell stories about your childhood.
- Take a walk around your neighborhood and watch the sunset.
- Get creative!