I once saw a cartoon which showed a boy gesturing towards a television and the devil grinning nearby, against a backdrop of flames. The boy was saying, “I didn’t know there was TV here!” and the devil was replying, “There’s nothing but TV here!”
That pretty much summed up my views on television. A TV was a soul-sapping contraption that had no place in the domestic church. Yes, my first two children had been reared on educational kiddie shows, and my husband Mike and I did enjoy watching sports, “Jeopardy,” and the occasional sitcom. But that was before my third child, Clare, taught us a lesson.
It happened one Monday evening. Ten-month-old Clare was toddling around the living room. Daddy was watching a football game and, during a commercial break, Clare paused in front of the TV. She was captivated by the commercial, which was a typically suggestive ad featuring a scantily-clad woman. For Mike and me, it was an aha moment.
When we saw Clare standing on her wobbly little legs, gazing raptly at the TV screen, we realized that we’d been terribly naïve in assuming that our kids hadn’t been paying attention to our prime-time programs. We resolved then and there to stop exposing our kids to the pernicious influences of TV. To that end, we had two options: (1) be super-vigilant in monitoring what the kids saw on TV, or (2) toss the tube altogether.
We decided to toss the tube.
That was in 1989. We remained TV-free for many years afterward but, with an eye to adding audio-visual materials to our homeschool resources, we eventually bought a TV/VCR system. Since we lived in an area in which cable was required for access to regular programming, we were limited to watching videos. It was the ideal setup. We happily accumulated a collection of family-friendly films featuring saints and Bible stories, “Liberty’s Kids,” animated amoebae, and that guy from Drive-Thru History. All was well.
Then, suddenly it seemed, we had three college-age kids, each with a requisite laptop. The household’s clunky old Dinosaurus Computerus, which had been used mainly for word processing, research, and flash card practice, was no longer the only monitor in town.
Our resident laptop owners introduced their younger siblings to the hilarity of the funny cat videos which ran smoothly and swiftly on sleek monitors, and before we knew it, watching Sister Wendy talk about frescoes from a squeaky videocassette wasn’t the thrill that it used to be. The lack of cable service to our household no longer mattered a whit, as the convenience of streaming video provided the trio of laptops under our roof with almost unlimited access to TV shows. What’s more, online games offered a new and tantalizing alternative to old-school board games. Monitoring what the kids did online, when they did it, and for how long became a new and burdensome task for Mike and me.
But the inherent discomfort of a half-dozen or so kids clustered around a small laptop monitor made our job somewhat easier. One of the children would invariably have his view obstructed by a sibling, and the constant shifting of positions to make things “fair” took some of the fun out of video-watching. No matter how entertaining the mischievous kitties on-screen, one could not watch for long without getting his ribs elbowed or his toe stepped on. Of course, online gaming was even less practical: How do you divide a mouse eight ways? With the size of the viewing audience at any given time providing a built-in, if imperfect, stop to intemperate screen-gazing, Mike and I decided that things could be worse.
Last week, things got worse.
A relative gave our family a Christmas gift of a large flat-screen television. Another relative gifted us with a new game system and a plethora of addictive games.
Check that. Things got MUCH worse.
Now we have a state-of-the-art television with built-in WiFi, in a room with comfortable seating for all. Need I mention that parental monitoring has been bumped up to a whole new level?
But I have to admit that I’ve been seeing a lot of familial bonding take place around that television, particularly when Madden NFL 25 is onscreen. My nineteen-year-old, normally a solitary kind of guy, has been spending lots of time in the glow of the Play Station 3, affably talking gameplay with his heretofore-neglected ten-year-old brother.
And Mike, who would typically pass his entire evening reading dry academic-type stuff, has lately spent quite a few postprandial hours watching the onscreen action as his boys direct virtual quarterbacks. (The other night I actually saw staid Mike fist bump Dominic after a successful play. I almost fainted.)
My daughter Rose and I have taken to staying up late watching reruns of “Monk” together. And my own eyes have been opened to the inspirational potential of cooking shows like “Chopped.” (No more plain tuna casserole will be served in this house.)
So I have a shamefaced confession to make: I’m starting to think that maybe – just maybe — having a television……may…not…be…such…a…bad…thing…after…all.
CatholicMom.com readers: TV or not TV? That is my question.
Copyright 2014 Celeste Behe