Building a Solid Foundation -- Part 3
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As we become busier and busier, we see more and more little bodies hunched up in a dreamlike state, their emotions being manipulated before pervasive blaring black boxes. Young children find themselves drawn as a captive audience to its colorful imagery, fragmented movements, music and unrelenting hullabaloo. They can easily be influenced by the powerful mass advertising and commercialism of television. So, just as important as teaching children good table etiquette and instilling them with moral values is teaching and showing by example intelligent television viewing habits. And last, but not least, in our efforts to build a solid foundation, we should remember an important and often overlooked source of help and support—the extended family.
Leonard Eron, Ph.D., and his associates at the University of Illinois, “found that children who watched many hours of TV violence when they were in elementary school tended to also show a higher level of aggressive behavior when they became teenagers. By observing these youngsters until they were 30 years old, Dr. Eron found that the ones who’d watched a lot of TV when they were eight years old were more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for criminal acts as adults” (American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/pubinfo/violence.html).
Media violence is especially damaging to children under age 8 because “they don’t have enough real-world experience to have a good sense of what’s realistic,” writes educational development psychologist and media-violence expert Ron Slaby in Children’s Advocate Newsmagazine. (Television does not generally show negative consequences of violent acts.) By age 18, children have witnessed 200,000 acts of violence; three to five acts per hour in prime time; 20 to 25 acts per hour in Saturday morning cartoons and. . . don’t forget the news hour.
Violence on television is not all we have to worry about. There is also the problem of seeing the foolish interactions, repulsive manners and offensive behavior of children and adults. I wouldn’t let my children watch The Jeffersons (disrespect, rudeness), and my grandchildren are not allowed to watch Power Rangers, Ninja Turtles (violence), Roseanne, The Simpsons (rudeness, disrespect for authority), Goosebumps, Are You Afraid of the Dark? (scary) or Sabrina the Teenage Witch (witchcraft portrayed as harmless).
Seeing and listening to child actors dressing, acting and talking like an adult (Two of a Kind, Spice Girls), being more clever and sophisticated than their parents or elders (many commercials), talking sassy to other children and to adults, as well as seeing and listening to quarrels between fathers and mothers (Roseanne, The Simpsons), all make long-lasting impressions. Children mimic what they see. If they watch inappropriate television shows, your efforts to teach respect, responsibility and restraint may be undone.
In The Disappearance of Childhood, Neil Postman raises another interesting question about television viewing: “What does it mean that our children are better informed than ever before? That in having access to the previously hidden fruit of adult information, they are expelled from the garden of childhood?” I did not want my children to grow up too soon, or have them exposed to faulty sexual information, habits, customs, behaviors or actions of which I did not approve. I wanted to teach them spiritual values, morals, codes of behavior and sexual ethics in a time and manner appropriate for our family.
Not all television viewing is harmful though. Sesame Street tries to teach important values, as do other instructive programs, such as Mr. Dress-up, Fred Penner, The Magic School Bus, Wishbone, Arthur and a few others. We should always be aware of our children’s viewing habits and as they get older we can watch television with them and discuss issues as they arise.
Invite the help of grandparents
While we want to limit our children’s exposure to the negative influence of television, we should invite our parents, siblings and other relatives, to participate in the lives of our children and make child rearing a joint effort. We all need help and support. So do our children. Grandparents have a wealth of experience to share. They can help lift the heavy burden of parenting alone. They can help reinforce our child’s concepts of love, trust, honesty, hard work, kindness, dependability, neatness and politeness.
If you want grandparents more involved, teach your children to be respectful toward them. Involve your parents early on in the lives of your little ones since this helps establish a bond that will hopefully last forever. Grandparents can enjoy leisure activities with them, such as sitting on the floor to build a block skyscraper, taking a “leisurely stroll” in the park or just sitting back and watching the little ones grow and develop, hugging and kissing their hurts away. If grandparents are not accessible, approach older reliable friends who might like to do “grandparent” activities with your children.
Even if your parents do not always agree with your child-rearing practices, or do not live close to you, they can still play an important part. They can write letters to their grandchildren. They can include stories about their heritage; these serve to create a connection between grandparent and child, and between the child and the past. They can relate memories of the child’s great- and great-great-grandparents. And they can share anecdotes about their own parents as youngsters, as well as sharing the many lessons they have learned. These letters can be kept as chronicles of their forebears, cherished memories to be read over and over again. Even if your parents are dead (or unavailable), you can relate stories to your children, hang old family pictures on the wall, show them where Grandma and Grandpa used to live—keep their memory alive.
Hard work and joy
In a world where parenting skills are constantly being eroded, we, as parents, need a concrete plan of action. We need to ask ourselves: Is a good foundation being laid? Are we setting reasonable boundaries and consistent loving guidelines? Do we discipline our son or daughter when they need it? Solomon tells us in Proverbs 3:11-12: “My son, do not despise the LORD’S discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in” (New International Version throughout).
Are we making the most of our mealtimes? Are we using that time to teach manners and as a joyful opportunity to get to know our children better? Are we actively involved in directing our child’s play? Are we monitoring our children’s television viewing habits?
There are no magic solutions in the serious business of child rearing. What is required is much love, hard work, dedication and perseverance. When I looked into the innocent face of my firstborn many years ago, I had no idea of the work ahead, nor of the joy and tears we would share and still do. I didn’t know I’d have 27 grandchildren, some close, others far away, and have the opportunity to share in their lives. My hope, and I am sure yours is too, is that our children will continue to have a solid foundation and listen to the instructions and examples found in the pages of the Bible where we are lovingly admonished, encouraged and promised: “[God] will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure” (Isaiah 33:6). Hopefully we do not need a Super Nanny or a Dr. Phil.
For more biblically based information on building a strong marriage and family, be sure to read our free booklet Making Life Work.