?The Age of the Screen?

Oct 29th, 2011 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) expressed deep concern about the effects of exposure to ?screens? (i.e., TV screens, computer screens, monitors, iPads, smartphones, and other such devices) on children.  In fact, the AAP called upon parents to place severe limits on the exposure of young children to such ?screens.?  According to the AAP, 90% of parents reported that their children under the age of two ?watch some form of electronic media.?  These children, parents also reported, watch an average of one to two hours of TV a day.  The report also contends that a considerable number of parents indicated that TV ?is very important for healthy development,? and therefore leave the TV on virtually all waking hours.  The doctors of AAP reject such a notion, arguing instead that ?unstructured play and face time with parents produce far greater educational outcomes.?  Indeed, Benedict Carey, reporter for the New York Times, indicates that the AAP ?makes clear that there is no such thing as an educational program [on TV] for such young children.?  Here are some of the other findings from this report:

  1. TV exposure around bedtime is associated with ?poor sleep habits and irregular sleep schedules, which can adversely affect mood, behavior, and learning.?
  2. By age 3, almost one-third of all children have a TV in their bedroom.
  3. About one year ago, the AAP argued that children and adolescents ?spend more time engaged in various media than they do in any other activity except for sleeping.?
  4. The 2010 Kaiser Foundation report suggested that children and teenagers spend more than 7 hours each day engaged with various media.  That means that such individuals will have spent 7 to 10 years of their lives watching TV and other media.
  5. The number of American homes with TVs outnumbers the number of homes with indoor plumbing.  The average American home with children has four TVs, one DVR, up to three DVD players, two CD players, two radios, two computers and two video game units.
  6. About 70% of American teenagers have a TV in their bedroom and at least one-third of the nation?s teenagers have a computer with internet access in their bedroom.
  7. As Albert Mohler reports, ?The pediatricians warned that the presence of a TV in a teenager?s room is associated with higher rates of substance abuse and sexual activity.?

What should we do with the results of this stunning report?  Obviously, parents are the ones who put these devices in the bedrooms of young children and of teens.  Therefore, it is up to the parents to exercise control and discipline.  Permit me to suggest some observations and several guidelines:

  • First, the effect on the brain of watching television is staggering.  Clement Walchshauser observes that ?watching television produces highly altered brain wave states when people watch for a mere twenty minutes.?  It puts the brain into a totally passive condition unaware of its surroundings and lessening the attention span (Fundamentalist Journal [October 1984]:12).  In addition, obsessive television watching has further negative effects:
      • It demands our time.  It is nearly addictive as it draws the viewer in, resulting in more and more time spent in front of the TV and less serving God, family or others.
      • It determines behavior.  A national report entitled Television and Behavior was issued by the National Institute of Health in 1982.  A summary of more than 2,500 studies conducted since 1972, the report demonstrated that there is ?overwhelming evidence of a causal link between children?s watching television violence and their performance of violent acts.?
      • It distorts the perception of reality.  Children especially confuse real life with TV life and tend to adopt TV?s values.  A recent study discovered that ninety percent of boys surveyed would rather watch their favorite TV program than spend time with their fathers.  Quentin Schultze reports that ?. . . the lure of the television is strong for young boys, who especially like the aggressive characters and automobile violence of the action shows.?
      • It dulls moral sensitivity.  A steady diet of soap operas, situation comedies or movies desensitizes and enables one to accept that which not too many years earlier would have been rejected.  Adultery, premarital sex, homosexuality, murder, violent rage are all a part of entertainment today.  Obsessive viewing of such activities produces an acceptance and toleration of acts repugnant to God.
      • It destroys meaningful family life.  When a family spends its time in front of the television, there is no significant communication occurring nor is there time for games, reading, music, etc.  It is lethal to creativity and enjoying family relationships.
      • Obsessive viewing of television, then, not only affects creative potential, it likewise produces significant negative behavioral effects.  It is next to impossible to see addictive television viewing as anything but harmful and potentially destructive.
  • Finally, that exposure to ?screens? produces passivity and violent prone and irrational behavior demonstrates the need for some guidelines, rooted in Scripture, to help make wise decisions.  Several of those guidelines include:
    1. The principle of stewardship of time (Ephesians 5:15-16).  Time is like any other commodity:  We must decide how we will use it.  This includes entertainment choices and the amount of time those choices require.
    2. The principle of self-control (1 Corinthians 6:12).  One of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control (Galatians 5:23).  There is no greater test of this virtue than personal discipline in the amount of time devoted to TV and/or movie viewing.  Knowing what we know about the effects, this is the only wise choice.
    3. The principle of moral purity (Philippians 4:8).  This verse in Philippians makes clear that we must make the choice as to what we allow into our mind, allowing our minds to dwell on what is ?true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellence and worthy of praise.?  These virtues produce godly living and form the grid through which we make entertainment choices.  A steady diet of television and Hollywood movies obviously violates these virtues.
    4. The principle of edification (1 Corinthians 10:23).  The believer in Jesus Christ has great freedom but with that freedom goes immense responsibility.  Although we may have the freedom to participate in many forms of entertainment, most of those forms may not edify, build us up in the Christian faith.  In fact, a regular diet of this entertainment may actually tear down our faith.
    5. The principle of God?s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).  In our lives, we do all for God?s glory.  There are no exceptions, including entertainment choices.

What then should Christians do?  Entertainment choices are never easy but in light of the above principles, allow me to suggest several practical guidelines for wise decision-making in the age of the screen:

  1. Participate actively in entertainment choices.  Always ask yourself, ?How is this affecting me??  In short, be a critical thinker when it comes to entertainment.  Passivity will simply not cut it!
  2. Be creative in choosing family entertainment.  The television or the movie theater are not the only choices.  Consider a visit to an art museum, to a concert, or to a historical place.  Also, consider family reading times, where you read a book out loud together.  Starting when the children are young makes it much easier when they reach the teen years.
  3. Read carefully and critically program descriptions for television programs and movies.  Prepare your children for what they will see and then discuss the entertainment content, themes and worldview presented in the program or movie.
  4. Keep a log of how much money is spent by the family on entertainment.  Periodically evaluate with the children whether too much is being spent.
  5. Do not stare passively at commercials, TV programming or anything else for that matter.  Discuss their content and the product with children and with one another.
  6. Practice turning off the screen!  Explain to your children why you are doing so.  Let them see that when things offend or when behavior is becoming addictive, it is wise to exercise such self-control.

In conclusion, Psalm 101:2-3 seems most appropriate:

I will give heed to the way of integrity. . .

I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart.

I will set no worthless thing before my eyes;      

I hate the work of those who fall away

It shall not fasten its grip on me (NASB).

See Benedict Carey in the New York Times (21 October 2011); AlbertMohler.com (21 October 2011); and James P. Eckman, Biblical Ethics, pp. 79-87. PRINT PDF

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One Comment to “?The Age of the Screen?”

  1. Janelle Nissley says:

    The Screen article was excellent, well-written and very timely. I wish much much more would be said about this. I believe this is one of the reasons that the church in America is in such poor condition. Thank you for all of the Scripture that you included as well. ~Janelle (Busenitz) Nissley