We’re told not to let our children watch TV.
Sponge Bob will turn them into brain dead rats.
Maybe a show on a bald Canadian preschooler is better, or a documentary on wild puffins.
But nothing is so good as letting them run wild outdoors.
I agree – for the most part. Although I, like many parents, use TV as a babysitter at times, somewhat guiltily leaving my kiddo in front of carefully selected shows for a while each day, while I perform basic functions like feeding the cats, cleaning the dishes, and sitting down for longer than three minutes. I know, some sainted parents are able to do everything in the world without TV, but I’m not one of them, my child isn’t theirs, and we all have to accept that there are conditions of each other’s lives we know nothing about.
I imagine my child running around on a farm all day, or visiting with extended relatives with no need for mechanical entertainment, and that sounds nice. A way of life to work towards.
But there’s something lacking that, in our spiritually impoverished modern lives, TV provides, however badly.
Picture books are lovely; some of the greatest stories of our time come as chapter books for children.
But there is a job that story provides – myth, as we call it in the cultures of others.
More than just educating children about facts and science, hygiene and friendship.
The big stories tell us about our place in the cycles of time and life. They help us find our place in the world. They teach us about how to struggle bravely and beautifully through inevitable suffering. They show us who to be, how to love, and how to recognize and step out of idiocy before it consumes us.
TV does that job.
In a haphazard, selfish kind of way, TV mirrors to us the shared dreams and myths of our culture. It teaches us what a good life is supposed to look like, how to ride the rough waters of life, and how to be a good person.
Entire industries are devoted to connecting bleach to the myth of motherhood, teaching us what a happy childhood looks like while selling us orange juice or patio furniture. It teaches us about heroism through tales of caped ninjas. We learn about the discovery the self from aliens wielding glowing swords.
TV doesn’t teach us how to live wisely, of course.
Often it’s job ends at selling us something – which is how we end up thinking the end-all-be-all of human life is to own your own home, or plan for retirement, or be really skinny. It tells us our only shot at living an exciting, meaningful life is if you are born the son of a space king, or a wealthy real estate mogul, or ridiculously thin and naive.
But television does give us a language of myth, of story, with which we can speak to each other, relate to strangers, and measure the meaning of our lives.
If we’re going to demonize TV (and by all means, do), we are going to have to find a way to replace this source of mythic vitamins in our lives.
We are going to have to find a way to feed our children stories – big, deep, many layered, meaningful stories. Stories that, like folktales and religious mythology, unfold over a lifetime. Stories that teach us who to be, how to live, how to suffer, and how to find and honor our souls, in the furnace of this world.