in Your Child's Life
By Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman
Would you let a stranger spend several hours with your
child, communicating values, distracting them from homework, creating
separation and distance from family? Even worse, would you let a stranger
into your child's bedroom?
"No way," you say? Well, you'd better look again. Because
if you are like most parents, there is indeed a stranger who is influencing,
guiding, directing, and enticing your child. And yes, some of these
strangers are even in your child's bedroom. This stranger looks innocent
enough at first glance, but has the potential to influence your child
in ways you may not even suspect.
The danger that is enticing your child is electronic media, and its
presence is growing. Children in America now spend, on average, 6 ½
hours a day exposed to electronic media. Their connection to this influence
includes TV, computers, listening to music, playing video games, and
other electronic devices. Two-thirds of children, according to a Kaiser
Family Foundation report, now have a TV in their bedrooms. This doesn't
account for the hand-held electronic devices many children carry with
them wherever they go.
Not alarmed yet? What about this? Children with TVs in their bedroom
watch 90 minutes more a day than children without a TV in their room.
They also do less reading and less homework. According to the facts,
the more kids watch TV, the more likely they are to be overweight. Obesity
in children is a national crisis. Turning a child's bedroom into a media
arcade does not help your child one bit.
Many parents say they care about what their children watch and listen
to. Yet, children consistently report that their parents do not have
any rules, create no conditions, and set no limits on the amount or
type of media they use. Those who do create restrictions don't always
enforce them. Children report that parents do not know what type of
music they're listening to. Parents seldom check the rating on CDs or
invest the time to check out the lyrics. They pay little attention to
the elaborate TV rating scale and do not use it to make choices about
appropriate viewing content for their children.
Violent video games and glorified violence on TV spur aggression in
children. While watching violence does not make someone violent, research
shows that children who are exposed to more visual violence engage in
more aggressive behaviors. Isn't that reason enough to set limits on
a youngster's television viewing and video game habits?
Allowing a TV in a child's bedroom or putting electronic media like
Game Boys and cell phone video games into their hands is tantamount
to putting the fox in the henhouse with the chickens while pretending
the fox is of no danger. It is an example of child neglect at worst
and gross misunderstanding on the part of parents at best.
Electronic media in a child's life increases isolation. It creates an
environment in which the child can stay disconnected from family members.
It severely limits family interaction. TV, the internet, and video games
are creating an emotional gap between parent and child. What possible
reason is there for a child to carry a video game with him wherever
he goes, or for a parent to make a child's bedroom so attractive and
so media friendly that she wants to spend most of her time there by
What about family solidarity? What about creating feelings of belonging
by doing things together? Yes, children need privacy. Yes, they need
some solitude and some time away from us. But do they need 6 ½
hours a day of "plug-in" contact?
Recently, while attending a soccer registration day, we heard a mother
comment about her son, "I don't know why I bother to bring anything
else for him to do. All he does is play that Game Boy." Sitting
next to her was a child oblivious to the world around him. He was so
engrossed in his video game that he was unaware of the rest of the world.
And yet the mother went on to say, "The good thing about it is
it keeps him busy and I don't have to worry about him getting into things."
Do you really want your child playing video games that glorify violence
and numb him to real life events? A recent study revealed that 65 percent
of seventh- through twelfth- graders played the controversial video
game Grand Theft Auto. This game, rated for mature audiences, is loaded
with larceny and violence. It shows the killing of police officers and
the beating of prostitutes. Is this the way you want your child to learn
what it means to be a responsible, caring, cooperative adult?
What about the strangers who are teaching your child through their appearance
on television? Is TV really where you want your children to learn about
values, attitudes, behaviors? Do you like the messages they get from
soap operas? Do you want them exposed to beer commercials? Is the television
really the best forum to teach your children about dating, intimacy,
and sexuality? How do you feel about using sex to sell products? Have
you seen any television talk shows lately? Is their model of disagreeing,
which includes interrupting one another, increasing the volume, and
not listening to the other's point of view the way you want your children
to handle disagreements?
What about the computer? Who are your children talking to in chat rooms?
What sites do they visit? Are they being bullied or talked to with inappropriate
language? Are they bullying others? Do you know? Are you sure?
What are American parents thinking? What possible reason could there
be for putting a TV or X-box in a child's bedroom or within easy access?
Does the child have so many things that this is all that the parent
can come up with for a birthday present? Do the parents dislike being
with the child so much that they want to purposefully isolate the youngster?
Or are the adults simply so busy with their own lives that they don't
have time for their children?
The frenzy to connect to electronic media has created the Great Family
Disconnect of our time. Don't parents realize that 6 ½ hours
a day of being plugged into media leaves children little time to plug
into their family? Do the parents like it that way? Is family dialogue
of such little value that it can be squeezed in between headphones and
email? Has Monopoly, checkers, shooting baskets, skipping rope, and
bike-riding together become obsolete? Do parents like that?
In 63 percent of homes a television is on during mealtimes. Is it too
much to ask family members to take a 20-minute break from media noise
to share a quiet dinner with meaningful conversation? Or would you miss
your favorite program? Couldn't our children become our favorite program
for part of the evening?
The Great Family Disconnect is increasing in direct proportion to the
degree of connection of our children to their favorite electronic device.
TV, computers, and video games have become the plug-in drugs of our
times. They are creating family distance, isolation, and a decrease
in feelings of belonging and connectedness.
The stranger enticing your children needs to be unplugged, kicked out
of their bedroom, and sent packing immediately. This is your home, not
his. This is your family, not his. Take back the influence this stranger
has usurped in your family. Commit to being the parent you always wanted
to be. Establish guidelines. Set limits. Enforce those limits. Do it
consistently. Implement consequences if needed.
Disconnect from the Great Family Disconnect. Flip the switch. Bring
prime time back to your family.
© 2008 Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman.