Every year there are reports published about how much television our children watch, and how much is productive. And every year there is a reaction throughout the internet community about how terrible the parents are who use TV to babysit their children.
So the question, is, should children be allowed to watch television? And by television, I am talking about primetime, and specifically the dramas that populate the networks, premium channels and cable. Competition shows (American Idol, Dancing with the Stars), Quiz Shows and sports are generally acceptable, since their content is rarely if ever risque or morally questionable.
So how do you know if you should let your child watch a show? Better yet, how do you know if you shouldn't watch a show?
This question comes with the notion that certain elements of a show are unacceptable for younger viewers, or even unappreciated.
1. Maturity level of the viewer. This is a big reason not to allow children to watch a show, and it's often overlooked. The themes and language of a show (this is not foul language, but just dialogue and certain elements of sentences) are usually written for an older, mature audience. Similarly, themes are often possess a nature that is not suitable for younger viewers. All of these serve to enhance the viewing experience of the audience, but they are often too much for children. Consequently, they can be bored or find certain shows dull and unentertaining.
This then puts them off the show forever, and they will never go back to watch the show again when they are older and might find the content more interesting and intriguing. By allowing a child to watch a show too early, there is the possibility that they may be turned off it forever, and may miss out on a very good show. First impressions are the most important when meeting a new person; so, too, in television viewing. The pilot needs to suck in the viewer and make them want more. But the viewer must be of the maturity level where the content is not only appropriate, but also makes sense.
2. Language - Back when I was in college, I worked at the local Park District during the summers, doing various maintenance jobs. My boss would always tell me that he would swear far less when I was working there, simply because I didn't swear too often. The problem was, that I would swear far more from working there, simply because I was surrounded by it on a daily basis; that's just the way the employees talked.
The point is that language is very imitable. If people hear cursing and swearing, they are more likely to repeat cursing and swearing. And the last thing a parent wants is their 10 year old talking like Al Swearengen. Even though it would be fun to try and decipher his cryptic messages, the instances of swear words would be too many to count. And your child needs someone to play with. But if he talks like that, no parent will allow their child within 10 yards of him.
3. Violence - This is one of the most prominent features of television, ranging from network shows to cable, coming in varying degrees. It can take the form of explosions, gun shots, mass quantities of blood and especially physical abuse. While generally not as imitable as language, given the lack of access to grenades and submachine guns, this can still have a very desensitizing effect on younger viewers.
This can especially be the case when they begin to believe that problems can and should be caused by violence or fisticuffs. Unless they understand that the violence and the action on TV is not real, then they are likely to duplicate the actions they see on television.
4. Sex - We live in a world that glorifies sex, advocates sex before marriage and loves to depict anyone and everyone having sex. In fact, if you're on television and you're not having sex, then there is something wrong with you. The online message boards erupt in joy when a long flirting couple engages in this seminal act of love.
The question is, when did sex become the be-all and end-all of relationships? What happened to authentic love? The problem is not television, as people would suggest, because TV is representing to the world what it already believes. It did not invent pre-marital or extra-marital sex, but it does promote it. Children need to understand love before they can engage in sex, shows, even great ones, rarely depict actual love. It is very good at depicting lust though.
Television becomes a great medium when people with properly formed consciences are the viewers, and this usually does not exist in younger viewers. People need to be able to distinguish between good and evil, between sin and morality. If you are able to separate the immoral acts from the moral, and if you are able to explain why certain actions are wrong and why you won't repeat them, then the television can and will open a wide range of new worlds.