Down the Tube

I have a confession to make. I recently bribed someone. Two people, to be precise. They were my grandchildren: A boy of eleven and a girl of eight. I had noticed that the children were watching TV more and more frequently. To tell the truth, I thought they were getting hooked, addicted. Television was eating up the time they might have spent reading or playing sports or chatting with their parents. So I offered them a challenge. I said "Keep the set turned off for a complete 30 days and I'll give you each a hundred dollars." Well, it was a pretty generous bribe for kids of that age. But I figured it was worth it if it worked. To be honest, I wasn't very confident they could make it. But they did. Both kids took me up on my challenge and to my surprise they were absolutely faithful. In fact, if they walked into the living room and found their parents watching TV, they would put their hands over their eyes. There are now two children in this world who are one hundred dollars richer. But they're richer in many other ways as well. That month of refraining from TV gave them a chance to rediscover a whole range of other activities. You see, the harmful effect of television isn't just in its content-the violence and the junk shows. Even more serious is the effect television has on the thinking process itself. Television critic Neil Postman says "each form of media encourages a different kind of mental process." Reading, for example, requires long periods of sustained attention and it fosters rational thinking. The printed page unfolds its narrative, line by line, teaching a coherent, linear thought process. Television, on the other hand, erodes the ability to concentrate with its fast moving images. It discourages analytical thinking by reducing complex ideas to images and condensing complex events to a forty-five second sound bite. And so, ironically, as our machines grow more complex, our thinking is growing simpler. The frenetic pace of TV has seeped into the classroom where teachers say it's harder to hold children's attention. A teacher who used to assign novels by Charles Dickens to his 9th graders says he can't do it anymore. Today, even 11th graders have a hard time reading Dickens. One study found that children who are heavy TV watchers tend to be less informed and less able to concentrate. Television has become a bane of family life as well. Statistics show that most fathers today spend only a few minutes a day with their children; mothers, too, are spending less time than they used to. But the average preschooler spends about six thousand hours in front of the television before entering kindergarten. Face-to-face interaction is being replaced by electronic images. So, maybe you'd like to try a little bribery in your home, as I did with my grandchildren. They now recognize they were hooked; they've agreed that from now on they're going to put a strict limit on how much TV they watch. And they've found they enjoy reading and other activities that were being crowded out by television. Now I generally don't advocate bribery, but maybe it's not such a bad idea when it's done for the good cause: unhooking kids from television.


Chuck Colson


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