For many years, people have complained that television is a terrible influence on society—and on the family in particular. But that doesn’t necessarily have to be so. Television can be a valuable tool if you know how to use it. Here are some things you can do to make sure television’s influence on your family is a positive one.
1. Practice selective viewing. In the April 1989 general conference, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve said, “We should strive to change the corrupt and immoral tendencies in television and in society by keeping things that offend and debase out of our homes” (Ensign, May 1989, page 80).
Probably the most important step in making the most of television is to set up household viewing rules that establish restrictions on what is watched. Avoid turning on the set just to see what’s on. You and your children should have program choices in mind before you sit down to watch. Consult a television schedule and reviews that can help you assess the nature and content of the program. And when the program is over, turn the TV off.
2. Limit the amount of time your family spends watching television. For one week, chart how much time each family member spends watching TV and how much he spends on other activities. Then, as a family, analyze the results. Discuss your concerns and the possible need for changes.
During this discussion, specify how much time per day you will watch, as well as times when the family may not turn on the set—before breakfast, before homework, or on week nights, for example. Also, help each child develop a list of activities he can do instead of watching TV.
3. Turn off the TV when programs are objectionable. Teach your children to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate programs. More and more objectionable topics and scenes are making it into programs. If such material appears in a show, turn it off, then discuss with your children the harmful spiritual effects of watching such programs.
4. Encourage all family members to watch quality programs. If parents place a priority on viewing wholesome, educational shows, children will often learn to do the same. Parents need to set the precedent. In his conference talk, Elder Ballard mentioned positive programming, like reports of local and world events; geographical and historical specials; cultural programs featuring theater, dance, and music; and features on cultures throughout the world. (See Ensign, May 1989, page 78.)
One way to help your children learn to make wise choices is to have them name several of their favorite shows. Then ask them to put the programs into categories according to the type of show they are: cartoons, situation comedies, sports, science fiction, news, and so forth. If you find the selection is rather narrow, review TV schedules together and suggest a few programs that will broaden your children’s exposure.
5. Watch and discuss programs with your children. Many people think of TV only as an entertainment medium—something with which to relax or escape—not something to think about. But research reveals that instructing children while they are watching TV has a great effect, particularly between the ages of six and twelve. Questions asked and answered during a program have greater impact on them than questions discussed before or after.
Some questions you might ask your child are: “What do you think the story will be about?” “Have you ever seen that happen?” “What kind of person is the character?” “How do you think the story will end?” “Have you ever felt the same way the character must have felt?”
6. Help children learn critical viewing skills. Use TV as an educational tool. You might teach them, for example, to explore the range of possible alternatives to conflicts and the consequences of each. Ask, for instance: “What is the character’s dilemma?” “What are some possible actions?” “What are the consequences of each action?” Then, “Which would be the best solution, and why?”
7. Discuss values. TV explores all types of subjects. If you don’t feel the values being portrayed are correct, turn off the set and explain to your children why you did. On the shows you do choose to watch, discuss a character’s actions or the program’s subject. This helps you find out how your children feel about certain issues and gives you a chance to teach them gospel values. Praise them when they agree with gospel attitudes and help them see how to apply these values in their lives.
8. Combat violence. Encourage children to watch programs in which characters help and care for each other. Studies have shown that these types of programs influence children positively.
If excessive violence appears during a program, turn it off and discuss the problem with the child: “What motivated the character to commit the violent act?” “Would someone in real life respond differently?” “How could the conflict be solved without violence?” Make sure you point out the painful consequences of violence, as well as the harmful effects of viewing violence.
9. Use TV as a springboard for reading. Children will read when their interest is stimulated, so encourage them to watch educational programs and then do additional research on that particular subject or another subject the show brings up.
10. Gain a personal perspective about TV. Be mature enough to know that sometimes nothing on TV is worth watching. There are many alternate hobbies and interests that you and your family can pursue in your discretionary time; many times television should be a long way from the top of your list of things to do. Nothing positive comes from watching bad TV. Learn to watch those programs that support and sustain gospel values.
Television has a powerful and immediate impact on viewers, and it can transmit a great deal of useful information. Rather than condemning it altogether, use your children’s interest in it to stimulate their analytical skills and further their education.