Explorations by Kenley Neufeld

Movies, Television, and Children

By on June 17, 2008

Parenting is a huge responsibility and it will affect our children’s (ages four and eight) future in ways we can only guess. We make decisions for our children on a daily basis, but are we are making the right choices? Two particular choices we have made in our household pertains to media – we don’t own a television and the kids have only seen three movies to date (Cars, March of the Penguins, and Horton Hears a Who). Though the kids see television when they visit grandma (cooking shows!), it isn’t a presence in our home and they don’t seem to miss it. At a recent social gathering of friends, I was surprised to hear of a 7-year old watching Hotel Rwanda and the latest Indiana Jones with her dad and of a 5-year old who watches an hour or two of television or videos daily. This came days after Leslie and I went to a PG-13 Hollywood blockbuster and noticed some very young children in the audience. It makes me uncomfortable but at the same time makes me question our choices.

Is it more damaging to prevent access to media or to expose them to our cultural norms? These choices are conscious decisions, but they are not necessarily black and white rules – illustrated by the movies the kids have seen. As parents, we certainly enjoy film, and have watched television in the past, but our interests have drifted elsewhere. We are also influenced by the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh and the Five Mindfulness Trainings. In particular, the Fifth Mindfulness Training states:

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family and my society by practising mindful eating, drinking and consuming. I will ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being and joy in my body, in my consciousness and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programmes, magazines, books, films and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger and confusion in myself and in society by practising a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.

Though I find myself occasionally second guessing our decision, I know it feels right in my heart. There is no real need for our children to watch television or go to the movies. Even the tamest of films and programs have elements of sexism, sarcasm, violence, fear, hatred, etc. The children will learn of these things soon enough and we don’t need to expose them to it purposefully. Another influential resource is the book The Plug-In Drug: Television, Computers, and Family Life by Marie Winn.

So, what do you think?