Point/Counterpoint

Two moms square off on whether or not television is good for your family.

Editors' note: In the last decade, television has increasingly come under fire as a negative influence on society in general and children in specific. Case in point: A recent study suggests pregnancy rates are much higher among girls who watch a lot of TV with sexual dialogue and behavior. Such findings raise the question: Should Christians watch—or boycott—television? Here, two moms weigh in on the issue.

No More Television!

by Jenni Roney

A few months ago I asked myself a question: When my boys' generation is grown, who will be more successful—the man who can beat anyone at Guitar Hero, or the one with the highest emotional intelligence? I decided if I wanted to raise kids whose lives will have eternal impact, a high eq is a necessity. Unfortunately, I fear many of today's kids will have difficulty relating to people thanks to formative years primarily spent in front of the television. The TV set, I decided, really must go.

Yet despite that ideal, there are times I'm too tired to form a sentence (let alone read aloud) and choose to use the TV for my own sanity. At those moments I wonder how the pioneers survived without it. Of course, they had the advantage of working their sons in the fields until they fell onto their straw mattresses in a plow-induced coma at 7:00 p.m. As a mom with energetic boys and no spring planting to be done, I had to figure out a way to break my boys' electronic addiction but avoid sending myself to the Funny Farm. And what about my husband's sports fix?

Our family reached a compromise: We have a functioning TV, but it isn't hooked up to an antenna or cable. For my husband, the internet provides news, weather, sports—even ncaa tournament games. And I subscribed to a movies-by-mail membership, which allows us to make a list of classic family films online. The company sends us a movie from our list, and when we're done, we mail it back so they can send our next selection.

The movies-by-mail system has several advantages. First, I get to control what movies we pick—and many more wholesome choices are available online than in the video store. Second, a movie has a beginning and an end. So we avoid cries of, "But my favorite show is coming on next! Can't I watch one more?" Third, with no commercials, we remain blissfully unaware of all the products we "need" so badly. And finally, the boys pretty much forget about the TV and do other things such as playing outside, drawing, and fighting over legos (okay, so nothing's perfect). We've enjoyed family game nights of Boggle, Bingo, and UNO, making memories and laughing with our children.

But more importantly, removing the TV frees up time as a family to invest in relationships with other people. We now invite friends over for dinner rather than watching onscreen a fictional family eating dinner. Instead of passively watching a primetime game show, we host a lively game night for neighborhood couples. In his book Don't Waste Your Life, Pastor John Piper calls television "the great time-waster." Paraphrasing Luke 6:32-34 and Matthew 5:47, he says, "Even sinners work hard, avoid gross sin, watch TV at night, and do fun stuff on the weekend. What more are you doing than the others?"

According to Nielsen ratings, the average American watches four hours of television per day. That means that by the time we're 65, we'll have watched approximately 10 years worth of television. Imagine what our children—and we!—could accomplish in those 10 years if we all chose to swim against the current of our entertainment-driven society.

This season of life with children at home is precious and fleeting. I want to send my kids into the world knowing their parents were the primary influence in their lives—not the TV—and that we used wisely the time we had together. Hopefully as they fly from the nest, they'll be armed with outstanding emotional intelligence and firsthand knowledge that there's more joy in serving others than in entertaining themselves.

Jenni Roney lives in Tennessee, where she's a wife, full-time mother, freelance writer, and PTO president.


Television Isn't that Bad

by Dawn Zemke

I have a confession to make: Our family watches television.

But wait, there's more. Sometimes we actually eat dinner in front of the set. We pull out TV trays and chow down while Clark Kent struggles with using his superpowers or Jack Bauer has a really bad day. Sometimes we're so riveted by the action onscreen, we could hear a pin drop. And if someone needs to go to the kitchen for a second helping, well, thank heaven for TIVO.

 I know, I know—that's hardly the experts' idea of family dinner time. And we do spend many nights around the table, eating and sharing about our day in the traditionally accepted way.

Yet our family has grown closer because of time we've spent in front of the television. Here are a few benefits we've gleaned from the much-maligned boob tube.

First, television is a great conversation starter. Watching people—both real and fictional—cope with conflicts and make choices provides great fodder for discussion, especially when issues of ethics or morality are involved. Alcohol, drugs, premarital sex, and homosexuality are just a few of the topics my husband, Ron, and I have talked about with our teens thanks to a news story or TV series. And while we're aware of findings such as the link between sexualized TV content and teen pregnancy, we choose to monitor and talk about such issues rather than ban them. When the kids were small, the topics, though less provocative, were no less important: lying, cheating, stealing, and treating others with kindness and respect.

While parents certainly don't need a TV program to raise such issues, sometimes a fictitious character or situation provides a way to ease into a sensitive topic in a nonthreatening manner. We might begin by hashing out a Lost character's struggle with addiction but eventually wind up hearing the ways our kids encounter drugs in school or at weekend parties.

Second, television expands our horizons. Though my family lives in a Midwest suburb, through our TV set we see the horror of genocide in Darfur and the devastation of terrorism at home and abroad. We find hope in ordinary men and women acting in extraordinary, even heroic, ways. Television is a window to a larger world than what we encounter as we scurry through our daily routine. Seeing the reality of poverty inspires us to get involved—such as my son's participation in our church's summer mission trip to Appalachia.

Third, television keeps us connected. When our kids approached their teen years, I wondered if we'd experience what I'd heard from other parents—that they'd never want to bring friends home, preferring to go anywhere, and everywhere, else. We have a small house with a modest family room and no basement. Not much of a draw, I reasoned, compared to friends who had rec rooms complete with foosball and air hockey tables. But our large-screen television (and, of course, Ron's and my sparkling personalities) have encouraged our kids' friends to use our house as a favorite hangout. Whether they're watching movies or playing a group video game such as Rock Band, it seems we always have a houseful.

Ron and I don't mind. When the activity is happening under our own roof, we know and have input on exactly what movies and games our kids are playing. And best of all, we've gotten to really know the teens who make up our kids' inner circle.

Television has become a virtually inescapable part of our culture. It's out there, and rest assured, your kids—and you!—are going to come into contact with shows, movies, and video games—if not at home, then through friends or coworkers. While as Christians we're to be in the world but not of the world (John 17:14), we also have a responsibility to hone our ability to make good choices. So early on, desiring to train our children in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6), Ron and I resolved to take control of the television and make it a positive force in our home. Sometimes that's meant vetoing a program ("No, you can't watch Saw II"), and sometimes it's meant careful monitoring and discussion ("You can watch Rocket Power, but afterward we're going to talk about the poor choices those kids made"). In the end, we've learned a lot about our kids. And hopefully, they've gained tools such as selectivity and discernment for the time when  Mom and Dad are no longer controlling the remote.

Dawn Zemke lives and watches TV in Illinois.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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