TV, or not TV

TV, or not TV—that was the question. I may not be Hamlet, but I struggle with my own issues of existence. And that was the issue.

When the decision to banish the television to the closet finally was made, I did not realize there would be times I would be forced to defend my stance. Apparently, the combination of TV and children incites as much passionate opinions as politics or religion.

When I’ve mentioned my children did not watch TV, I’ve been told in response that: “my kids watched TV and I think they turned out ok” and “my kids watched tv and they turned out pretty good.” I’m sure those children did turn out just fine. But how can you avoid insulting someone when what you want to say is that “ok” isn’t good enough? How do you explain that you are aiming for something higher? With Hashem’s help, I pray they become erliche Yidden (holy Jews) in their hearts, their souls and their actions. Although eliminating television in and of itself will not accomplish this goal, shielding them from the filth, mindlessness and utter waste of time that defines most of TV is a major step.

Rabbi Ezriel Tauber, in a lecture, said that no one would ever put a sewer in their living room because no one wants the filth gushing right into the middle of their homes. Rabbi Tauber added that having a television was just like having a sewer, because it enabled the garbage and filth of society to flow indiscriminately into your home. At the time, I was not married so I didn’t really have a “home”. And, in classic avoidance mode, I reasoned that all TV wasn’t that bad, and I would not watch anything with inappropriate content.

But over the years, like a bad memory that haunts you, Rabbi Tauber’s graphic analogy periodically came to mind. And I continued to shut it out of my mind until I had to deal with my first child.

At two years of age, she began turning off the TV while saying, “TV is bad for your neshama”. After much discussion, and every imaginable excuse had been exhausted, we put the TV away. To be honest, there are times I would love to plant my children in front of the television and have some respite, or the chance to get something done (it’s somewhat ironic that we don’t view taking care of our children as getting “things done”, but that’s another article). My daughter was invited to play at a friend’s house and I was told that they did not usually watch videos, but today was a particularly rough day, “things” had to get done, and the other children would be watching a video in another room. Every day can be a “rough” day with things to get done. The analogy may seem a bit harsh, but I’ve come to believe that TV is as addictive and calming to a child as a drug is to a junkie. I’ve been told countless times that I can’t shield my kids forever. But I can shield them from many things now and will do so for as long as I can, until they are mature enough to handle items of a more adult nature. Even radio has become questionable. Listening to the news while driving recently, before I could change the station, we heard that a mother was under arrest for killing her six year old son. My five year old asked how a mommy could do something like that. How can you explain something to a five year old that an adult cannot even understand? We don’t believe in total abstinence from secular culture; but at their present ages, we reserve the right to filter what our children see and hear as best we can. My children attend storytelling time at the local library because the content is age appropriate, wholesome and enjoyable. We go to museums, aquariums, parks, and amusement parks. We don’t live in a bubble. My children know there are people who are not Jewish. They are aware that there are secular and Christian holidays and that we do not celebrate these because we are focused on our own rich traditions. “What a child says in the street he must have heard either from his father or his mother” (Sukah 56B). With today’s children, an appropriate addendum might be, “or television”. I am neither so naive or so idealistic that I believe the answer to all my child rearing problems lies in the absence of television; the home environment, the school, and the peer group are the most critical factors in determining how a child will turn out. But a common thread I noticed among children that I view as role models for my children was the fact that they had no television in their homes. Now, my husband and I wonder how we ever had time to watch television. With three small children and working out of the house, I rarely have a spare moment. The spiritual reward in getting rid of the television would have been enough, but we’ve seen an unexpected bonus—children who are self-sufficient in entertaining themselves. Whether they are coloring, doing puzzles, legos or engaging in the vast panoramas of pretend play situations they create—they are very busy children who don’t plant themselves in front of a television. Would they have been this way with a tv? Well, I guess we won’t know that now, will we?

-Debbie Cohen


by  Debbie Cohen
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