Tune in to the Kids

“If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do will matter very much.”
That quote is by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. I expect her sentiment is widely shared. To tend the future, surely we can do little better than to start our children on a patch to help make the world a still better place to live.
One step in that quest is to control their use of TV, and now also the computer and ‘net. It’s not always easy. TV can be baby-sitter or family recreation, mindless entertainment or educational aid, purveyor of good and bad values, incentive for imaginative play or violent pranks, tool to spark creativity or blunt boredom.
Summer–especially a rainy one–may tempt parents to rely more on TV and computer games to keep children occupied. Here are some practical suggestions to make that a developmental experience.
1. Watch your own TV (and ‘net) habits. To be a role model, make deliberate, informed decisions about what you watch and when. Turn the set off. Reduce surfing.
2. Don’t use TV as reward or punishment. That gives it too much importance in kids’ eyes.
3. Have children select shows with your guidance. Set limits on the amount of “junk” watching-for yourself, too.
4. Forbid programs you consider harmful or evil–but explain your reasons and objections.
5. Make TV watching a family affair when you can. Play games and encourage discussion afterwards, to help children learn lessons and get value from the programs.
Here are a couple of ideas for making TV an interactive learning aid:
a) During commercials, have everyone write down a prediction about the story’s end. After the show, compare solutions and talk about different cues and clues.
b) To spark interest in academic subjects, keep a globe or atlas handy to find far-away places mentioned. Create math problems out of repetitive elements. Encourage your kids to read more about a subject on TV, and to tell the family about it at meal time.
The technology of TV is only 50 years old. It has changed society drastically. Now the marriage of TV, computers and telephone makes for a very powerful combination tool! It is creating vast global changes again, and much faster.
Technology advancement is a reflection of human uniqueness and competence. It will continue as long as there are people. Discoveries and inventions are neither good nor bad. Their effects are determined by how we use them.
As parents, grandparents, and others who care about the well-being and development of children, we have important privileges and responsibilities. “Watching TV watching” is one specific way to enjoy and meet them.
Linda Wiens is an educator, author, planning consultant, and president of Quetico Centre.

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