It seems like every time you walk into the living room, the television is on and your teen is sitting around, flipping through the channels to find the hottest program. You walk into their bedroom - the television is on, their headphones are in their ears, or they're staring at the computer screen.

We have such a media-craved, media-controlled society that it has diverted attention away from interaction and personal relationships with parents and friends. If people can't get along, can't work out a situation, or are just tired of being with people, it's easy to retreat to a machine - something they don't have to argue with, that won't talk back to them, and something they can enjoy.

Instead of having a relationship with a person, they have a relationship with a video screen. They have a difficult time with friendships, with friendships of the opposite sex that could develop into marriage, and with family relationships. They don't have to work things out - they can just shut things out. Turn up the volume. Rent another movie. Watch another television program. Because they are totally absorbed in some kind of media, our young people are finding it difficult to develop wholesome relationships. In addition, they are also receiving much of their philosophy of life through music, television, and movies.

The question is, "How much is too much?" It's probably unrealistic to think your young person will actually shut the television off and never turn it back on. But where should parents draw the line? How can you draw the line in a way that is palatable to everyone and makes sense to your young person?

The typical American household has a television on seven hours a day. Teenagers watch approximately 21 hours of TV a week. Watching television is cited as the favorite leisure activity among teenagers, with 80 percent of those surveyed saying they watch television during their leisure time. Teenagers are the people with the most amount of leisure time at their discretion.

Remember, what your teen watches instills values into them, shaping them for their present and future life.
- Ron Luce
Bob Keeshhan, of Captain Kangaroo fame, says, "Television is really part of the extended family now in people's homes. It's right in the living room. Ninety-nine percent of parents don't care what their children watch on television because the parents use it as a baby-sitter." Even among teenagers, as long as we know they are not getting in trouble, we don't really care what they are doing. We let television raise our young people and dictate their values.

Among the violent acts seen on television, 73 percent of the perpetrators go unpunished. Most violent portrayals do not show the consequences of a violent act - 47 percent show no harm to victims, 58 percent depict no pain, and only 16 percent show long-term consequences. Twenty-five percent of violent television incidents involve the use of handguns which, according to a study, can "trigger aggressive thoughts and behaviors." Christian teens are more likely to watch MTV (42 percent) than their non-Christian peers (33 percent). The typical teen will allocate roughly one quarter of their television attention - about 25 minutes a day - to MTV.

How does watching television affect families? It can disrupt communication among family members and negate socialization skills. Perspective is lost if kids are watching television shows alone with no parental input or discussion. As a results, kids are getting a distorted view of social reality. They view 20,000 murders (in 22,000 hours of television viewing) on television before the age of 18 without parents helping them understand that murder is wrong.

Again, what is a parent to do? Be very aware of how much television your young person is watching, whether it is in their room, at a friend's house, or in the living room of your own home. Find out what is being fed into their heart and mind. Also be aware of what programs they are watching - not just their names, but what they are about. Remember, what your teen watches instills values into them, shaping them for their present and future life. It will either depress or inspire them, motivate or discourage them.

Take control of the influences affecting your young person. Do this very diplomatically, because up to this point they have had the run of the show. They could flip the channels as much as they wanted, going through the cable and satellite channels at their own discretion. If all of a sudden you come down hard and say, "No more TV!" or "You can only watch the news," they may very well react negatively.

You are going to have to show them your desire for an increased relationship with them. Let them know you desire to do more family activities together - to go out and actually experience adventure rather than just watch it.

Is their leisure/extracurricular time being flushed down the drain by television, or are you designing character-building/relationship building activities to enrich your family? When your young person reflects back on their growing-up years, what will they remember doing most with their leisure time? Will they remember staring blankly into the television for hours on end, or will they remember a series of things you implemented to help them grow and develop?

Decide what programs and/or movies you want to watch together. Sit down as a family and talk about what is right or wrong in the program. Talk about why it is right or wrong. Use these opportunities to instill character and teach lessons, as opposed to just sitting in front of the television and vegging out.

Think of how much television you watch and how absorbed you get. Monitor your own TV-watching habits. Do you sit there and respond to your teen without really listening? Are you asking your young person to quit watching so much television, yet you are absorbed in it yourself?

Psalm 101:3 says, I will set before my eyes no vile thing. Don't let anything that is going to corrupt you, distract you, or pull you away from God enter your heart or mind. Think about that on behalf of your young person. Have we let the media become a surrogate parent?

Do we wonder, "How could my young person actually think or act like that? Where did they get that attitude from?" when all the while we have let the television come into our living room and kidnap our hearts and minds? Let's be the parents God wants us to be by actively helping to shape the perspective of our young people as they develop into young adults.

Source: Rescue Manual For Parents by Ron Luce.
Excerpt permission granted by Albury Publishing