Friday, February 1, 2008

The Domestic Church: Dealing With Television


Let's say you are a family that is trying to strive for holiness, trying to foster virtue in children, and trying to do everything possible to make Christ the center of the household. You've instituted family prayer, you educate your kids in the faith, and most importantly you try to actively live the faith so as to be an example to your children. It goes without saying, you are by far the primary influence on your kids... hopefully. Well... maybe there is some competition on that point. Despite all your best efforts to protect your children's innocence, there is another presence in your home with the potential to subvert those efforts and provide an entirely different education for your children; an education in the ways and values of the world. That presence is the TV.

Let's be frank for a moment. If you were Satan, and wanted to powerfully subvert the influence of parents on their children, what better way then to send a trojan horse into the homes of millions of families; a wolf wrapped in sheep's clothing? This is in fact what has happened in the last 50 years as TV has made its way into our homes with some real benefits (good programming, relaxation, entertainment) that mask the monstrous drawbacks (sexual, violent, anti-family, anti-parent, anti-Christian, downright Satanic programming). There a have been a very small number of times in my life where I can honestly say that I was spoken to by the Lord in a real way, and one of them had to do with TV. About 4 years ago I had an extremely vivid dream, where the Lord chose the Blessed Mother to deliver a message that scared the daylights out of me. The Blessed Mother showed me a vision of our family, and in our struggle to follow Christ we had rebuffed many attempts by Satan to "sift" us from the Lord. In Satan's struggle to influence us and our children, he had resorted to the last and best means to counteract our influence on our children, the TV. I remember having woken up extremely startled and in a sweat, with a last vision of a conduit established into our home where Satan could still quietly exert influence... indeed, it was already going on. I remember immediately telling Molly we needed to cancel our cable TV subscription, and that we needed to seriously consider how we use TV in our home. I also praised God that he would communicate this message in such a direct way. I had always been a big TV viewer, watching hours and hours of TV a week, never willing to give up cable TV (despite the obvious horrible programming on some channels) because I was so into sports I couldn't bear to give up the ability to watch all the sporting events I had come to love. Within minutes, I finally had the conviction and the clarity of focus to do a complete about-face.

There a couple of theories about taking control of the television. I used to laugh at drivers who had a bumper sticker on their car saying "Kill your television." I thought it was extreme and silly. I don't laugh anymore. Anyone who decides to get rid of television altogether has my utmost respect, and I certainly agree that is a good option for solving the problem of the influence of television in the family. It also encourages reading and seeking out other, more wholesome forms of entertainment. But, I also think it is possible to have a television in the home and exert control over it (instead of the other way around). We have chosen to go this route for a number of reasons.

First, we homeschool in the classical method, which has a huge focus on reading and a marked de-emphasis on any learning having to do with a screen. So reading is already a primary form of entertainment and learning in our family (which is one of the reasons we wanted a small library in our new home). Second, we as a rule don't allow our kids to watch broadcast television programming, especially unmonitored. There is too much filth on TV to risk that, and even good programming has horrible commercials. We exert control over their viewing by only allowing DVD's and videos, and only ones that we have approved (and there's obviously no commercials). Also, we limit TV viewing as much as possible to 30 minutes per day. There are days where this doesn't happen, but most days we stay within this limit. Sometimes during nap time our older kids will watch a movie (Clara knows "The Sound of Music", "Mary Poppins", and "Heidi" backwards and forwards). As our kids grow older, the TV can be used on occasion to edify and instruct with educational films. We don't have cable TV now, and we won't in our new home either. Molly and I do watch one program after the kids go to bed ("Lost" on ABC), and we like to rent movies for our own in-home "dates" (we've made our way through many of the Jane Austen movies recently).

One question for us has been, how will we place and contain TV's in our new home? If anyone out there doesn't realize it, the way you will view TV is about to change shortly (whether you like it or not). By February 17, 2009, all TV signals broadcast over the airwaves must be digital, and all standard analog signals will be shut off. This means that if you have a TV, and you are getting broadcast over the air, your TV will not work come February 17, 2009. You either have to buy a converter box to convert the new digital signal back to the old analog for your now obsolete TV, or you need to buy a new HDTV. Men of the world are now uniting in having a fantastic excuse to pitch getting a new HDTV to their wives ("Hey, we have no choice, the government is making me do it."). HDTV's have come way, way down in cost, and will continue to this year as masses of people buy them. We are going this route, simply because a new home overs a good cut-over point, and newer flat TV's will work well with the aesthetic of our home. We will have one smaller flat TV in the Master Bedroom, and one more standard flat TV downstairs. Never under any circumstances will there be a TV in a children's bedroom. Likely, the only place the standard TV can go is in the family room, which means it needs to be contained and out of sight so that it takes an act of the will to watch TV. How can this be done?

I've found a couple options, neither of which I like very much, but it's a start. Here's someone who came up with a (rather ugly) cloth cover for their TV.
It's an option, but I think the cover would not be used all the time because it would take too much effort to put it on the TV (eventually, we humans revert to the path of least work). Another option is something like this:
I think this is a little heavy-handed, and may not fit our interior, but it's an option. A more likely alternative is that I will have to design something and make it myself. I like the fact that you can have a nice, clean look with the flat TV on the wall, and the cabinet kind of ruins that. Maybe some kind of roll-up cover? Or a few pegs on the wall, over which a nice wood cover is slid? Who knows, as long as the TV is out of sight, out of mind until we choose to use it.


Anonymous said...

Personally, I have found that even having a T.V. in the MR bedroom cuts down on reading time and talk time with the spouse. Yes, it's convenient for when you do want to watch a movie, but also convenient for when you're just too lazy to talk. Our family has found that one t.v. is plenty, and we do keep it out of main traffic areas so that it really takes a conscious effort to view anything (in our case it is also all DVDS). I know you've talked before about the MR bedroom wanting to have a certain tone to it, as much to be an example to the kids as anything, and I think that demonstrating that your relationship is THAT important would be another step in that direction. My bottom line opinion: Yes, it's nice to have a t.v. for the occasional movie, but I definitely don't see a need for more than one. So if you go with that, you don't need anything to cover or disguise your t.v. It's just put in a very low-traffic area. And what a statement it makes on the "domestic church" to those who visit your home!

Brendan Koop said...


That's a great comment, and it really shows that you are on the same page as us in terms of the location of the master bedroom and its importance. I pretty much agree with you. However, for us, there are a couple mitigating circumstances. One is that I am still working on my PhD, and may still be doing so in our next home. It's not great for us if I have to be somewhere secluded working on my PhD every night of the week, and Molly has to be somewhere else (this is status quo in our current home). So we will have a small desk in our new bedroom that will allow me to work, even late if I have to, while Molly can watch TV and decompress from the day after the kids go to bed, and we can still be in the same room.

Also, I actually wouldn't care if we didn't have a TV in the bedroom. I hardly ever watch TV, and when I do I hate sitting on the bed up against a pillow because it kills my back. But, this is actually Molly's favorite way to watch TV (it's one of the few areas of polar disagreement we have!). She would rather do that than go downstairs and sit on the couch. It's just more comfortable for her.

But, for the reasons you mentioned, I think it may even be good to cover the TV in our room. It at least would be good to reaffirm that TV is not important to us.

Molly Koop said...

I guess it is one of my quirky traits. I am more comfortable laying on the bed to watch tv. And usually, I am watching it alone as Brendan said. There was a season during the final days of his classwork for his PhD that I actually watched tv in our room every single night for three months. I was in my first trimester (I'm usually VERY sick for about 20 weeks)and by the end of the day I couldn't even open a book, let alone read it. I needed to decompress from the day and this (sad as it may be) is how I did it. The tv in our bedroom has also come in handy during those seasons filled with sick children. Just recently we had three of our four children experiencing symptoms of a stomach bug. They literally laid in our bed for three days. It was nice to occasionally turn on the tv during those days for a reprieve from the story telling, magna doodling, and "bucket passing." Watching tv in the bedroom together is certainly not the norm, nor the ideal, but sometimes it comes in handy.

Anonymous said...

I very much enjoy reading your blog. This suggestion for dealing with the television probably isn't practical, but it would be elegant. At my office, they have flat screen televisions installed in the ceiling that can be lowered down by a remote. The nice thing about this would be that the television would be completely hidden when not in use. So, instead of a covered television located on a wall, you could have a nice painting, etc. Anyway, just a thought. - John

John Curran said...

Interesting! We've done without television in this house since moving here about 12 years ago. Why? There's "nothing on", depsite the huge number of cable channels. My solution has been NetFlix, where I can order dvd's of my choice, and watch them "deliberately." Only one tv in the house, and never in the bedroom-- it helps one to get to sleep, if the room is dedicated to that, and no other recreation, like tv or reading; I do agree it would be nice when one is ill in bed!

Now, with two small children in the family, I've seen some of the cartoons they watch at their home, and am appalled at some of the content obviously designed for the adults watching along. Luckily, they prefer books and workbooks to tv themselves! (ages 3 and 2)

Now as to 'covering' or 'hiding' the television... surely that is some sort of denial that it exists, and trying to make it "go away"! Unless the tv is actually unattractive esthetically, why bother? I do see your point about downplaying its importance, but just not turning it on might achieve that.

I enjoy these posts very much, and thank you for sharing them, and welcoming comments!

Brendan Koop said...

Yes, hiding the TV might be a little odd, but I think it serves a functional purpose. "Out of sight, out of mind"; i.e. if it's not right there in front of you, you're less likely to turn it on. It's also important for guests in that it not seem that TV is a major occupation of ours, or that any room is oriented around a TV in terms of design.

Jenny C. said...

I love your TV post. We recently had some of the same TV conversations and traded our DISH for high-speed internet. I was finding the kids were turning on the TV when I wasn't aware and we felt they just had too much access. The change has been great!

One TV show that has helped me with my kids is Word World on PBS. It is on at 11:30. While not the ideal teaching method, if the kids are driving me batty right before lunch I can send them down to work on phonics skills. It has really helped reinforce phonics for my 4-year olds, and they still feel like they're getting a little TV time.

Mostly I feel like I waste too much precious evening time zoning out in front of the TV. Joe and I decided to give up TV during the week (S-Th) for lent, giving us more opportunity for reading, talking or playing games. We'll leave the option for an occasional movie on the weekends, but mostly I just don't find the TV very constructive for our life. It is really a time-management killer...who knows, maybe in the future we'll give it up all together!

Molly Koop said...

I've seen "Word World" on PBS occasionally. Hey, your kids drive you batty right before lunch? My kids NEVER drive me batty when I'm preparing meals. :) "Super Why" is another reading show on PBS on at 9am. I've used that in times of desperation as well. I have found that the dvd situation works best because I can screen ALL of them before the kids see them. Sometimes, even the most well-intentioned shows are not within my standards. One show on PBS that is NEVER allowed in our home is "Arthur." Have you heard the language and name-calling on that show? Luckily, I saw an episode before my kids were even born so I knew I'd never have it on in our home.
Our evenings lately have been spent in lots of conversation about the details of the new home so we haven't even had the slightest desire to turn on the tv at night--except for last Thursday when "Lost" started. Hey, we've been waiting for nine months. I had considered Netflix about a month ago, but I just told Brendan a couple of nights ago that I decided not to do that as of now since I would just rather not give myself an excuse to zone. If I'm zoning, perhaps I should be sleeping. Thanks for all the fun comments!

Molly Koop said...

Another note about hiding the tv. I have experienced WAY too many gatherings (family or otherwise) where the guests are gathered in the family room and since the tv is just sitting there in plain view, it gets turned on. If it were covered up by something I guarantee that people in the room would have just chosen to talk with each other. It's this "Hey, there's the tv. Let's just see what's on" mentality. Then the group ends up watching some incredibly stupid show, or some sporting event that no one even cares about.

Brendan Koop said...

Ah... I have such fond memories of said "gatherings."

Anonymous said...

Yep, I think when people, even extended family members are over at your house and they see that the t.v. is covered or otherwise not easily accessible, they assume that you don't want it turned on. I've covered the t.v. before just for occasions like this when I don't want the t.v. to take the place of "togetherness".