Television Parenting 21st Century TV

Don’t be Surprised if Today’s Kids See Life as One Big Commercial Break

Television today is still a “baby sitter” both for adults and preschoolers. When people are bored or simply want to rest, they watch TV. Some are not really interested to watch at all. They need the TV to put them to sleep. As soon as you turn it off, they wake up.

 With the remote control, watching TV can be a dizzying experience. You might get confused with what characters go with what plot. What with that mysterious hand switching channels during commercial breaks, you find yourself following several shows at the same time. Sometimes you have to shout, “stop!” and confiscate the remote control. “Please decide which program you want and stick to it”.

 That was supposed to be final but what’s this switching channels again? “Mom, there are commercial breaks!” would be the excuse. Today’s TV imports still have family-oriented shows and the rest are soap operas, game shows and their local counterparts which include slapsticks or tearjerkers, noontime variety shows, movie personalities’ song and dance, and movie Dom’s gossip sessions.

 These are the kinds of shows very young children are exposed to. Most of these are shown at times when kids are awake and those of school age are already home. Programming leaves much to be desired.

 One of the positive developments in local TV is the emergence of talk shows discussing current issues as well as TV-magazine formats. For mothers, “Sesame Street” is heaven-sent. You can put the little tykes in front of the TV (at least 4 “rulers” away – instructions to the little ones) and have a little break from mothering.

 But violence, even in cartoons, is the order of the day. You see Bugs Bunny hammered on the head or blown to pieces by Sam his Enemy No. 1 or Road Runner running over the coyote. Tom and Jerry and now their sons slug it out; and of course, the Japanese robots and the superheroes in the endless fight between good and evil.

 You don’t have to think about the violent “drama” teleplays or movies and their trailers, especially the one where the lead actress pokes a gun on the actor’s head who says, “Go ahead, and shoot it”. You’d probably close your eyes and shudder to think of the countless kids exposed to this kind of violence. And you parents are helpless. Ads just pop out of the boob tube every 15 minutes and you can’t tell which one will go on. Not unless the stations publish a list of advertisers or sponsors. Boy! That’s going to be a long list!

The crucial thing about TV is, it is a powerful medium. Repetitious subliminal messages are being exploited by advertisements that target kids. They are mesmerized by commercials. Cigarette and liquor ads suggest, “It is good to smoke and drink” without warning about its dangers. They often show images of sophisticated living.

Teachers reveal their frustration with college students who have limited concentration that usually lasts only for 15 minutes due to commercial gap syndrome. They suffer from what noted psychologists term “attention deficit disorder”.

Moreover, these teachers lament. Kids raised by TV hardly read, preconditioned as they are by TV-spoon feeding. (How many students actually read a book for their term paper? If they do, they choose a very short book but most just rent a DVD version.) There is nothing wrong with this audiovisual education like “The Planet Earth” but reading is entirely different from watching. Reading develops the imagination unlike TV, where the camera can focus on the smallest detail.

The fast pacing of images gives the illusion that “life is never continuous…it is fragmentalized; it is made up of commercial breaks. And if one doesn’t like what is seen and heard, one can change channels”. In reality, one can “change channels” in one’s mind and switch to fantasy.

 Television’s powerful medium can be utilized in a positive way. Already public service ads by both the station and advertiser are being shown. It aims to educate the public on traffic and safety rules. Effective communication must be two-way. TV programs now feature citizens’ woes and call the attention of the concerned government agency or ask citizens’ cooperation in government programs. Not surprisingly, this produces faster results.

It is hoped that the government will subsidize alternative TV productions that will really give wholesome entertainment, education and develop local talent rather than the superstar “mentality” and its subsequent commercial rating that dominates the industry today.

In the high-tech world of communications via satellites, fax and computers, our children are bombarded with instant, varied and conflicting messages. It is easy to be carried away with images of fun and make-believe like the MTVs that seem to be getting more and more hallucinatory and lead an aimless life. Or children of the TV generation might be indecisive due to the myriad choices they are confronted with.

 This is real life. There is no instant replay or fast-forward. “Changing channels” needs a lot of thinking and weighing of consequences, advantages and disadvantages.

There is great pressure not to be traditional. Don’t apologize. You can still be progressive and choose traditional values. Indeed, your children need to have an anchor and a focus – good old-fashioned principles and priorities.