There are only two ways to deal with the ever-present television set in our homes – we either learn to spot the lie or else kick the habit.
Statistics vary on how much time children spend watching or semi-watching television. The most common statistic is between 24 to 30 hours a week, with about five hours of viewing commercials, maybe a thousand advertisements a week. Quentin Schultze of Calvin College, in his book “Redeeming Television” states that before a child enters school, he will have been ‘instructed’ b the advertising industry in 24,000 commercials. By high school the figure is over a million.

Most of us acknowledge that a large percentage of television’s content gives us reason for concern. Yet it can be a valuable source of information and entertainment. Since TV is here to stay, how then can we offset its negative influence in our lives and the lives of our children?

Spot the Lie. Cultural analyst Os Guiness suggests we learn to play the game “Spot the Lie” when an ad comes on TV. Other viewers, including the children, have to pay attention and then find an implicit lie, non sequitur, a distorted or inconsistent value, or totally irrational statement in the ad.

Perhaps it’s an ad that suggests that fathers don’t love their children unless they buy a particular car. Or that women are not beautiful unless they buy a certain brand of cosmetics. Or that it is okay for teens to be rebellious as long as they remember to call or text Mom and Dad on Christmas.

A reward can be handed out to those who spot the lie – a colored straw with ten straws being traded in for a special treat, i.e. a trip to the zoo or an ice cream sundae or a new school notebook. Be creative in your rewards, keep them simple, fun, and practical.
Spotting the lie helps train all of us to think critically and examine our values in contrast to the values presented on the TV. The game need not be played only with commercials. Try it during a regular program, too, whenever you feel the program is trying to condition our attitudes and desires and shape our goals and value systems in non-Christian ways.

Kick the Habit. Television’s temptation is not limited to its content. There is the issue of what television viewing keeps us from doing. Watching TV limits interaction with family members and participation in community and parish activities, and promotes passivity. When the TV assumes the role of parent, teacher, boss, advisor and hard-to-shake habit, it is time to consider kicking the TV habit together.

What can we do to kick the TV habit? Plan a “No TV Night”. This means no television, Nintendo, GameBoys or computer games. Fill the evening with games, or read aloud to each other, sing songs or tell each other unending stories. You know, the kind that lead up to a most exciting part and then the next person continues on the story from there, until everyone has contributed to the story. Or watch the sunset and count the stars as they begin to twinkle.

Plan alternate activities. Take a walk, ride bikes, write letters, learn a hobby, have family devotions – whatever activities the family can do together. Keep an “Imagination Station.” Fill a box or basket with creativity-inspiring items, such as colored paper, scissors, crayons, old magazines, blank paper, origami books, building blocks, puzzles, and “things to do” books. Use this basket instead of the TV as your babysitter.

Be Critical Thinkers. For those TV programs that must (?) be watched for one reason or another, we need to learn how to be critical thinkers and to teach this skill to our children. Turn off the TV right after a program and have a lively family discussion. Would you like to be the main character? Why/why not? Would you rather live with the family shown in the sitcom or with your own family? If you were producer of the show, what would you change? What seemed real in the program? What couldn’t actually happen? What did you think of the values portrayed in the program? What parts of the program did you find annoying/disgusting/in poor taste/boring? How would you change these parts? Do you think Jesus would have enjoyed watching that program?

For a discussion on programming principles, read aloud Psalm 101, thinking about how it applies to what enters your home through the television set. Using the principles in this psalm, what types of programming would you avoid? What type of programs would you allow on TV if you followed these principles? –Edited by Nancy R. Catan from various sources

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