April 30th, 2007

On Seashells and Diversion


photo credit: e-magic

I rarely watch TV. Sometimes when I quilt I’ll turn on the TV to see if there’s anything on other than the normal degenerate filth. In the past few weeks I’ve seen some commercials that a car company is using to promote their vans which have flip-down TV screens, allowing you to play a DVD and placate your children so you can enjoy some peace and quiet.

These commercials really disturb me. The children are shown fighting, throwing food, screaming and causing a general ruckus, when an adult enters the room and flips down a TV screen. The children immediately turn to the screen, drop their jaws, roll their eyes back a little into their head, and watch whatever is on. Silence is created, the child’s umbilical cord is plugged into the system, and the adult walks away content. The ending line of the commercial says “your kids will thank you, and you’ll thank us.”

Such parenting tactics are, in my inexperienced opinion, passive and escapist diversions to shut one’s kids up in order to enjoy some peace and quiet.

This mentality reminds me of Mildred in Fahrenheit 451, who is constantly wearing electronic seashells (in our day, ipod headphones) or watching shows on the walls (large TV screens) in order to escape the dull monotony of her life and avoid fixing her familial problems:

The little mosquito-delicate dancing hum in the air, the electrical murmur of a hidden wasp snug in its special pink warm nest. The music was almost loud enough so he could follow the tune.

Without turning on the light he imagined how this room would look. His wife stretched on the bed, uncovered and cold, like a body displayed on the lid of the tomb, her eyes fixed in the ceiling by invisible threads of steel, immovable. And in her ears the little Seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk coming in, coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind. The room was indeed empty. Every night the waves came in and bore her off on their great tides of sound, floating her, wide-eyed, toward morning. There had been no night in the last two years that Mildred had not swum that sea, had not gladly gone down in it for the third time. (Fahrenheit 451)

Whether we are voluntarily plugging ourselves in or plugging our children in, the intent is the same: diversion. Such entertainment can certainly be used sparingly as a form of recreation. But when our children have their seashells inserted for four hours a day, something is definitely wrong. Parents are shirking their divine responsibility to teach and nurture their children, choosing instead to delegate such responsibilities to the entertainment industry—a world with far different morals, goals, and tactics.

Children would benefit much more by listening to a conversation between their parents where they expressed their love for one another and their family, discussed the gospel, or opined on life, philosophy, and world events. They would learn far more useful information by reading a book than by staring at a screen for hours on end, being inundated with deceptive advertising and enticing imagery. Our society would be much better off if everybody turned their seashells off and actually talked to one another.

With so much time spent being entertained and plugged in, we naturally neglect our other responsibilities:

Recreation is important, but in many cases we have allowed it to literally root out of our daily lives the study of the gospel and the scriptures. No doubt our challenge is not so much a lack of time as it is the perpetual rat race which smothers us under a virtual tidal wave of tantalizing trivia. (W. Cleon Skousen, Do You Really Want the Rest of the Book of Mormon?)

Being anxiously engaged in a good cause requires our time and energy. Wasting it away with seashells and similar diversions is the fruit of a slothful servant.

14 Responses to “On Seashells and Diversion”

  1. Chris
    April 30, 2007 at 10:31 am #

    “Children would benefit much more by listening to a conversation between their parents where they expressed their love for one another and their family, discussed the gospel, or opined on life, philosophy, and world events. ”

    Bahhahaha! Connor, wait until you have kids. There will be days when you will think the TV is a god send!

  2. Connor
    April 30, 2007 at 10:36 am #

    I was waiting for somebody to make this comment… :)

    No doubt there is some educational, beneficial material that children can watch. But endless cartoons, raunchy sitcoms, and degrading movies are far from qualifying as “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy”. Media, like anything else, should be used sparingly and in moderation.

  3. Naiah
    April 30, 2007 at 11:01 am #

    Connor, inexperienced as you are, you are totally right. Chris, I’m a mother of two, and somewhere along the line we woke up to the realization of the very truth that Connor’s putting forth here.

    The AAP currently recommends that children receive no more than ONE hour of screen time total per day (tv or computer), but most children get far more than this.

    We’ve chosen to eschew tv in our house, and it has made an amazing trasnformation in our children’s attitudes and behavior.

    Never forget that children are always learning. The entertainment industry is a poor teacher for the most part.

    Kids would rather be playing. In lieu of a tv, I have a big Ikea shelf full of educational toys, art supplies, activity books and the like. We also have a big Rubbermaid tub of outdoor toys for the kids. When I need some quiet, usually, all my kids need is a gentle nudge towards one of these.

    Sure, there are occasions where I have relied on “the electronic babysitter,” (what I call DVDs on the laptop) but that kind of tactic is reserved rare important times.

    Contrary to what we’ve all been tacitly brought up to believe, not only do you NOT need tv, it is in fact bad for you. I would much rather see my children anxiously engaged in some random creative endeavor with their countenances sparkling than staring vacantly open-eyed at the screen.

    Whenever they do watch something, we try to make sure that we help them kick start their brains again. It’s really simple–just get them talking about (and therefore actively thinking about, instead fo just passively absorbing) what they just watched. When it’s time to move on, but the kids are stuck on that ‘input mode’ from the screen, just get them to do something creative, even just “Can you color a picture about it?”

    I do maintain that too much tv/video is bad for you. (Honestly, I’m even cutting back computer ‘screentime’ for myself these days.) Studies are showing eerie statistical correlations between ADD/ADHD/Autism and tv watching. A causal effect has not been isoltaed, but even the correlation must be heeded.

    As for the phenomenon of ipods and the like, well, people flounder with myriad emotional problems from vague malaise to full-blown clinical depression. Others suffer identity crises, and I find myself wondering, how much of this stems from never taking the time to be alone with our own thoughts. CD player in the car, tv running in the background at home (many friends of mine do this), ipod while jogging…it seems we have an aural input for every time of our day (marketers look for windows to sell to, y’know…).

    My pet scripture these days is Psalm 4, verse 4 where it says “commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still.” We need quiet time, and our voices as well as other righteous ones as we teach them, need to ring in our children’s ears much more than the latest whatever itunes has to offer up.

    Connor may seem idealistic and extreme in this attitude, but as one who has gone there and seen its fruit, I can testify that he is right.
    You can’t knock it ’til you try it. (You’ll never go back, I promise.)

    Just try it. Wean yourself. Wean your family. Fill that time with other good things. (To leave it unfilled only creates other problems.) Have things on hand to do, and direct your family to them. Allow for quiet time, and time alone, and see how you all grow. For us, our children have been much better behaved, they have also been more mentally active, more ‘clever;’ my husband and I both have felt more internal peace, leaving room for greater growth as individuals and greater intimacy as a couple both with each other and with the Lord.

    Change is always scary; noone like the unknown. Don’t fear this one. Once you get past the difficulty inherent in changing any habit, it’s amazing.

  4. Chris
    April 30, 2007 at 11:05 am #

    No one in their right mind lets their kid watch raunchy sitcoms and degrading movies unless you consider Dora the Explorer opr Wonder Pets raunchy sit coms or Cars or Toy Story degrading movies?

    Yes, media should be used sparingly but there is plenty of good programming on TV. My kids love to watch Animal Planet and Planet Earth on Discovery. Not everything on TV is trash or a waste of time. There is plenty of good educational programming for kids and parents to watch.

    Like I said, wait until you have kids – you’ll realize that your expectations of sitting around all the time talking about church, world gov’t and philosophy won’t go over real well with a two year old.

    Sometime experience in life is all we need to see more clearly :)

  5. Connor
    April 30, 2007 at 11:06 am #

    I’m glad to hear of the fruit of your labors, Naiah.

    I know that in my own life, now that I’ve cut the cord and stopped watching TV for the most part, I wonder why I ever loved it as much as I once did. Like most other things I find that it becomes addicting, and whether you stop cold turkey or over time, you’ll be amazed at how much more fulfilling and complete life is without it.

  6. Chris
    April 30, 2007 at 11:07 am #

    @Naiah:

    I agree with you. But its ok if TV is used sparingly. As a matter of fact, in the summer I make my kids play outside all day – no TV.

    But let’s not go so far as to say that there isn’t anything good on TV – its simply not true.

  7. John
    April 30, 2007 at 11:11 am #

    No TV in my house. None.

    When I visit friends and familly, I am often shocked at what they’ve gradually allowed their kids to see.

    I always feel guilty when I shove in a tape or something to occupy the kids. These little people need a lot of attention and care, and I don’t think Jerry Springer, Dora, or the Power Rangers can really give them that. :)

    My boys are kings of the backyard.

  8. John
    April 30, 2007 at 11:13 am #

    But let’s not go so far as to say that there isn’t anything good on TV – its simply not true.

    Let’s not go so far to say that even most of it is good.

    I can’t stand broadcast media anymore. To have someone forcefully stop what I want to watch in order to advertise me is getting extremely offensive.

    There’s not much of a reason to have TV anymore to me. I can pick what I want so easily using other media.

  9. Chris
    April 30, 2007 at 11:17 am #

    @ John:

    I didn’t say that most of what is on TV is good – please don’t put words in my mouth. You are right – its mostly trash and you should use it sparingly as with all other media – especially the Internet.

  10. RoAnn
    April 30, 2007 at 11:56 am #

    Great post, Connor! “Sparingly and in moderation,” sounds great to me.

    We have a married daughter who handles this very well, IMO. Using their TiVo to record appropriate shows for her children, she can then choose both what and when her children will watch television.

    Sometimes this may be after chores, piano practice and homework are done. Most often her children are busily engaged in developing talents, working, reading, or playing together, separately, or with friends at home or at a friend’s house.

    Occasionally she is overloaded and/or under time pressure to get something important done without interruptions, and one option is to let them watch an approved show for an hour.

    The children seem to understand that TV watching is a special recreational activity that needs parental approval–like going to a friend’s house, or going swimming–not a daily habit. Begging Mom to watch TV when you are bored simply won’t work!

    We’ve been impressed with how well our daughter manages to regulate her children’s TV watching, keeping it as only one of many entertainment options, and strictly controlling the content.

  11. Jocelyn
    April 30, 2007 at 7:50 pm #

    Connor, I totally agree.

    I found in my own life that watching less TV makes me much more of a happy, productive person. It also helps me be more in tune to the Spirit (hence why I’m more happy and productive!). It’s amazing how much time and energy can be sucked away by something that really, in the end, doesn’t matter at all!

    I’m not anti-TV. I like to watch an occasional show here or there. But I do strongly encourage limiting TV time.

  12. m&m
    April 30, 2007 at 10:41 pm #

    We lost the TV connection (just local channels) and we really don’t miss it. We can get General Conference on the internet, and most other things have clips or replays. We do have our collection of movies, and I think that is OK here and there, as Chris said, in moderation. I like this approach because then we have complete control over what they watch. When they do watch, I always say, “Do something while you are watching” — I encourage them to draw, build or do something like that so that they aren’t complete zombies. I’m one who is grateful there is an option like that on the days when I am under the weather or need to get something done. But we have found that having our ties to the TV cut has been a really good thing, and has meant that our children want to turn to it less than before.

    In general, I, too, worry about how “plugged in” our society is these days. My famous last words right now are: “No Ipods for us.” We’ll see how long that lasts, but I really am not a fan of white wires coming out of everyone’s heads. :)

    That said, I think it’s important that we be careful about generalizing our personal choices to others. (In other words, if you have an Ipod, I don’t think you are an evil persona. :) ) There is no “one right answer” with how to approach this issue (minus the general principles we are taught [think For the Strength of Youth, for example]). After all, the reason we have life and opposition and such is to learn how to exercise agency to learn for ourselves what works, what brings the Spirit, what keeps us in balance, etc. For each person, the specifics might look a little different. And that’s not always a bad thing. :)

  13. Allthoseinfavormaydosoby...
    May 1, 2007 at 12:56 pm #

    I’m going to go with Chris on this one. Yes, use it sparingly as with everything else, but I can’t even have a decent 30 minute conversation about the ‘stimulating’ topics of politics or religion, let alone my kids. Lets look at this post when Connor has two toddlers of his own and is fighting for their attention when trying to explain why Laman hated Nephi or the intricacies of the House vs. the Senate. :)

    NO, my kids don’t sit around watching the boob tube all day long, but man does it make it easier sometimes. SO I agree with both of you guys I guess!

  14. Dustin
    November 24, 2008 at 8:30 am #

    When we were first married my wife would make comments about other people’s children. One of the first comments I heard was “My kids will never act like that!” I laughed and said “good luck, I think you just cursed us.”

    So now three strong willed children later I’m sure she laughs that she made that comment too. Yesterday we made it about 15 minutes into stake conference before I took our 1 year old to the toddler room. Then my 3 year old came to join me, then finally our 6 year old.

    We have a DVD player in the car. I love it. The problem is that we have to be in the back seat to control it – unlike my brother’s car where the movie is controlled from the driver’s seat. So we only use it when we know we are going to be in the car for over an hour.

    Unfortunately, we don’t have any raunchy sitcoms or the like on DVD so they are generally left with watching Disney films.

    I must add though that what has become a habit on routine 30 minute drives to the in-laws’ house is singing primary hymns. We take turns picking a song to sing. So sometimes our 3 year old just wants to hum the Indiana Jones theme, and I think that is OK too.

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