Letters From a Young Catholic

My reflections as a Catholic young adult passionate about the Faith, seeking to grow in knowledge and understanding of God and discerning the will of the Lord in my life.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Media's Impact on Youth

From a recent Zenit article:

"It is well established by a compelling body of scientific evidence that television violence is harmful to children." The harmful effects include: the learning of aggressive behaviors; desensitization toward victims of violence; and increased fear of being victimized by violence. The article notes that literally hundreds of studies support the conclusion that viewing televised violence leads to increases in subsequent aggression. The chances of encountering violent content on TV are high. One three-year study found that 60% of all shows sampled contained some form of violence. Moreover, much of the violence appears "sanitized" and fails to show realistic harm to victims. In addition, often the violence is committed by attractive characters who suffer no remorse or criticism for their behavior. Sanitized or glamorous violence, note Kunkel and Zwarun, increases the risks of harmful effects on children. Quantity concerns Worries over these negative effects are compounded by data showing how much time children spend exposed to media. On May 24 the Kaiser Family Foundation released a study showing that many busy parents encourage television use among their children. The report, "Media Family: Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers, Preschoolers, and Their Parents," was based on a national survey of 1,051 parents with children aged 6 months to 6 years old and a series of focus groups across the United States. According to the study, in a typical day 83% of children under the age of 6 use screen media (TV, videos, computer), averaging almost two hours a day. In many homes the TV is a nearly constant presence, from the living room to the dining room and the bedroom. One-third of the children surveyed have a TV in their bedrooms. The report did point out that well-designed educational programs can be beneficial for children. As well, many parents reported being satisfied with the television programs their children watch. At the same time many parents expressed guilt about their children's media use, believing that they should be spending more time with their kids. Some expressed concerns that they may have set in motion something they soon won't be able to control: that today's educational shows will give way to violent video games. The study also found that many children are exposed to television when their parents are watching adult shows. In fact, a third of children live in homes where parents simply leave the TV on most of the day, period [. . .] The article observed that children aged 4 to 12 average 864 hours a year in front of the TV screen, compared with 960 going to school. The potential for good, but also the need for vigilance, regarding media usage was dealt with by Benedict XVI in his message for the 40th World Communications Day. In the text the Pope called upon the media to be a protagonist of truth and promoter of peace, and to avoid the distortions that occur when "the media industry becomes self-serving or solely profit-driven, losing the sense of accountability to the common good" (No. 3). Benedict XVI also noted the importance of forming people to help them use the media intelligently and appropriately. Secular research seems to indicate that that task is more necessary than ever." ZE06081901

It's articles like this that make me want to say, once again "Thank-you Mom and Dad for raising us without TV!" That's right. I grew up without a television in the house. Amazing really, isn't it? I'm not Amish. I'm not eighty years old. I live in North America, attended public school, and come from a middle class family, yet, somehow I managed to grow up without a T.V.

When I was little I sure whined and complained about the lack of television in the house. Everyone else (and this is no exageration) in my class at school had a TV. People used to think I was strange when I didn't have a clue with regards to the plots in the most popular after school programs. I remember once sitting in class in high school and the other girls around me were talking about this person Mark who had slept with Jenny who had a baby with Paul. . . etc. . . Sadly, considering that my hometown has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the province, I wasn't totally shocked, but I thought this was a little extreme for the lives of my peers. . . it wasn't until later that I figured out that they were talking about a soap opera they all watched.

Often my friends would be puzzled by the lack of TV in our house. Not having a TV was beyond all understanding for most of my peers. We could have afforded to have a TV in the house but it was a conscious choice on the part of my parents not to have one.

Though sometimes I felt "left out" and as if I were "missing out" by not having a TV, now that I'm older, I'm grateful we didn't have one. What did we do with those three or four extra hours a day we had since we weren't watching TV? Instead of watching TV I did crafts, played outside with the neighbourhood kids, took piano and clarinet lessons, was in soccer, softball, and swimming, took ballet and jazz dance lessons, volunteered at the local nursing home, sang in a community choir, etc. . . I was a busy kid. I didn't need a TV to keep me occupied. I also doubt my Dad would have read me the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy out loud if we'd had a TV.

In the interest of full disclosure, when we were all teenagers my parents reluctantly bought a television and VCR so that we could watch movies with our friends at our house. That way my parents figured they could keep an eye on what we were watching. This was probably a smart move on their part and they made a point of watching and discussing the movies with us. Even then though all we had was a VCR and a TV. No channels. None whatsoever.

My mom is so reluctant about having a TV in the house that she hides it. . . underneath a blanket and behind a framed print of a Madonna and Child!!! It's actually quite funny when people first come over to watch a movie at our house. They sit down in the family room and ask, "Where's the TV?" "Oh, just wait a second," I'll reply, as I remove the blanket that covers the TV and move the image of the Madonna and Child that is leaning against the front of it.