That is the question…

by Doug Duncan


Most people accept that television is here to stay and believe that it is better to learn to live with it than try to ignore it.  There is a lot of pressure on children to know what is being shown to avoid being 'left out'.  Many parents object to the violence and sexually explicit content of programmes,  Some keep the TV set and try to regulate its use.

The problem is the very medium itself. TV has a detrimental effect upon the viewer physically, mentally, socially and spiritually.

Physical effects

TV is particularly damaging to young children.  It is used to 'baby-sit' infants and older children.  Unfortunately TV puts the child into a passive state and he does not get the necessary motor development which will help him with reading, writing and numeration.  He can curl up with his 'cuddly' and return to the passive state of babyhood.

Even for adults, TV viewing creates illusory experiences.  When watching any programme, all one is doing is watching.  When watching a programme about mountain climbing, there is no actual participation in the activity itself.  While this seems to be stating the obvious, the deception comes in the form of creating in the viewer the feeling associated with having done something when he has not done anything!

Sesame Street has been cited as an educational programme suitable for young children.  Unfortunately, Sesame Street will cause the same damage to a child's brain structure as any other programme.  Leading child-development expert and author, Prof. J.C. Pearce states that the programme's effectiveness hinges on parental involvement.  Where this was lacking, regular viewers of the programme made slower cognitive progress than non-viewers and children with learning disabilities fell even further behind!  Even though some children were able to recognize letters as a result of watching Sesame Street, this does not equate with growth in broader cognitive skills.

Some studies suggest that the light source from the TV screen is unnatural for the eye and that it has the effect of slowing the brain-waves down by one-third.  The effect of this lasts for a considerable length of time after the viewer has ceased watching.  It produces the 'drop-down' effect where a viewer finds it difficult to motivate himself out of the soft chair once ensconced and just stares at the screen unblinkingly.

Although pictures are shown with perspective, TV viewing also has a detrimental effect upon the eye's ability for 3-D perception.

The very act of watching TV affects the brain and stunts intellectual development in children because the higher structures of the brain which create internal images to spoken words and add creative imagination, are effectively shut down during TV viewing.  Prof. J.C. Pearce, says that only the lower part of the brain is active during TV viewing and the behaviour patterns of the lower brain are “a blind, unreasoning drive for survival, food, sexuality and territory.”

A “TV” child may be able to read, write and spell correctly but tests reveal that most cannot give meaning to words because they haven't developed the capacity for abstract thought.  By comparison, a child who is having a story read to him is exercising and developing the higher part of the brain.  He is far more active and can interrupt with questions and comments.  He is also having to use his mind to connect the story with his own experiences and create the mental images.

Children brought up on large doses of television become restless, ill at ease, have short attention spans, require more stimulus through loud noise, movement of constant verbal interaction.  Most of these symptoms are also present in those diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

I am not aware that researchers have even bothered to look for a link between ADHD and TV viewing.  It could be a worthwhile exercise because, children who are temporarily deprived of TV, reverse the trends associated with ADHD.  They become less withdrawn, get better marks in tests, show more imagination and improve their powers of concentration.  They also become more restful, quieter and responsive, all characteristics associated with increased learning abilities.


Emotional and Psychological Effects

Children brought up on a steady diet of TV develop a passivity towards social events.  They also become quite cynical having been exposed to a deluge of advertising slogans and messages.  Over 18,000 murders witnessed by the time they are teenagers makes them depressed and numbed.  Because the imaginative part of the brain has been largely idle, they now find themselves stuck in a reality which depresses them.  Tests suggest that they do not have the imaginative ability to see any alternative.

Socially, TV has become a conversation and relationship killer.  Where once people sat around and talked, the act is forced if the TV is turned off.  Even the furniture layout is focused around the family alter, the TV set.  In more affluent, or addicted homes there is more than one set so that family strife is reduced when it comes to deciding who is allowed to watch what.

Sports and News

“But I only watch it for the news and sports!  Surely that's OK?”  Maybe, but one needs to realize that in spite of the appeal of live action and seeing the news as it happens, TV news is not necessarily accurate.  The viewer only sees what the camera focuses on and the end result can be quite misleading if the entire situation was not seen.

To be sure, the zoom lens can get the viewer closer to the footballer than if he were watching live from the grandstand, however, because of the limited panorama of the cameras lens view, the armchair viewer is unable to see who the ball-carrier is about to pass to, the receiver's position and the angles of trajectory etc.  There are distinct advantages in seeing the game live even if the paying spectator cannot get so close to the action.


Spiritual Effects

Perhaps the most sinister damage caused by TV affects the viewer's world-view.  It is not necessarily the violence on TV that is the problem since the Bible is also very violent.  It is the values that are being transmitted; the relative standards, materialism, covetousness, rebellion, socialism, and the non-Biblical message that are promulgated by commentators' and scriptwriters.  Would you allow someone to blaspheme in your own sanctified home?  Yet Christians allow blasphemers, adulterers and all the abominable people mentioned in Romans 1 to entertain them in their lounge room every evening via the TV set.

Some naive folk protest the innocence of their viewing by maintaining that they are not affected by the programmes.  If that is true, why do companies pay premium rates to advertise on the medium?  The promoters and advertisers know the power of the visual image to brainwash and sway thinking.


Should a Christian Watch TV?

Romans 1:32 after describing all kinds of unsavoury people in the previous verses, states:  “Who knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”  Watching them on TV gives tacit assent!

TV is a time-waster.  It stops effective communication and family and neighbours and robs active commitment to the Great Commission.  We will be called to account for the time we have spent sitting idly in front of the box.

David offered a useful guide in Psalm 101 which can be applied to TV, books, movies and other entertainment: “I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.  I will set nothing worthless before my eyes;  I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me.  A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will not know wickedness....The one who has a haughty look and a proud heart, him I will not endure.”

If we were to frame that Scripture and see it on top of the TV set, it would be turned on so little, it could be dispensed with and the capital and time be more fruitfully utilized.


Doug Duncan is the Chairman of Westminster Hall, a private Christian university which commenced operations in Hobart, Tasmania in 1993.  Westminster presently offers four-year degree courses in Education, Naturopathy and Physical Therapies (Biblical medicine) and Theology and a one-year diploma course in Law and Government.  The institution recently gained registration to accept overseas students with present inquiries coming from all over the world.  Prospectus with course details and fees information is available by writing to Westminster Hall, PO Box 600, Kingston, TAS 7050, Australia.


Doug and his wife, Bronwen have four children, two of whom are married.

© Lues 2012