March 21, 2012

Too Much TV?

For several years we didn’t have a television, and now that we have one, I’m concerned that my husband and kids watch too much TV. Sitting in front of the TV screen seems unhealthy to me. Do you have any advice?

Actually, your question raises several issues, all of them pertinent to us as Christians and parents.

Concerns with media focus on a few areas. One of these is the content; another is the time factor; a third is the way the media insinuates itself into our lives and disrupts family relationships. We will discuss these three areas, and then—as always—leave the decisions, which are the tough choices, to you.

Content varies so tremendously that it’s difficult to make one sweeping statement. Anyone who views a sampling of commercial TV is soon aware that explicit sexual content, violence, and highly debatable ethical situations are constantly being served in a titillating and explicit manner. Documentary, educational, and informational programs are available, but need to be carefully sought for and selected. The rapid-fire imagery of modern TV flicks quickly from one image to another with consequent shortening of the attention capacity of modern young people as a group. What we feed our eyes alters our brains, and recent studies on brain plasticity indicate that new neural connections and networks are centered in response to how we feed our brain.

2012 1509 page32Time spent in front of a television has been associated with an increase in obesity, thought to be related to the inactivity of the “couch potato.” A recent article published by Anders Grøntved and Frank B. Hu in the Journal of the American Medical Association, June 15, 2011, suggests a direct linear correlation between type 2 diabetes, fatal heart attacks, and all-cause mortality and the duration of TV watched each day. Not only is the inactivity a factor, but the food eaten while watching is both excessive and usually of a high-fat, salt, and calorie value.

It’s estimated some 40 to 50 percent of free time in many countries is spent watching TV. This means it’s the third-most-common activity, after working and sleeping, in many populations. Such numbers suggest that about three and a half to four hours per day are being spent watching TV in Europe and Australia. In the U.S. the average number of hours is estimated at five hours per day.

A third area of concern—although we are sure there are many more—is the disruption of family relationships. So many husbands and wives become “e-hermits,” living in isolation—with disastrous consequences for relationships.

The strongest protective action against at-risk behavior relating to substance abuse and self-demeaning activity is to form strong, trusting, supportive relationships with our children. How many youngsters are deprived of these relationships by parents who immerse themselves in “surfing the Net” or watching favorite TV programs? Some children are perched to “vegetate” in front of the “idiot box”—the surrogate babysitter.

It’s foolish for us to rail against modern technology; it’s far more important for us to regulate and use it for its positive potential, while avoiding the pitfalls.

We recommend that you select content very carefully, limit the time spent watching, and intentionally engage in actual family interaction.

Not only will you reduce risks of obesity, but you also will encourage meaningful interaction that will yield a lifetime of benefits to you and your family.

The urbanization of modern societies has led to greater reliance on TV and the Internet. The difficulties of making a living and paying for the never-ending latest technology have many of us competing to have the newest gadget or phone. We probably should have an “electronic blackout” every day, setting a family time that is dedicated and inviolate.

You are correct in your concerns—but you will have to decide on change together, and make the time-out from TV (and the Internet) a most precious and valuable time.

Allan R. Handysides, a board-certified gynecologist, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department. Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is associate director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.