Simple Living/Downshifting, Streamline Your Life

Why TV is Bad for You

As a kid I remember talking to one of my friends at school who was upset because his parents revoked his television privileges for a week for “being bad.” (Whatever that means.)

I retrospect, this is probably one of the better things that happened to him as a child. After all, he pretty much lived and breathed Transformers and He-Man (oh, the 80’s!) It seemed like nothing much ever came from him that wasn’t “fed” to him from television.

Children are extremely impressionable and unique people. We become less and less “unique” as we age as our purity gets eroded by the bombardment of culture and society. Though adults often insist that structure and order are essential parts of childhood, and that children need to become “responsible members of society” I am amazed at how many of them simply sit their kids down in front of the television and walk away when raising their kid becomes too “daunting.” Or they medicate them, but that’s another story entirely.

TV is the anti-child. It sits there and entertains, sends a message, and the child watches without having to use his own mind. TV tells a kid what to think, how to react, and what is really important. The box becomes a big link to the outside world when children are not at school. But more importantly it stifles creativity. This kind of “dumbing down” of creative energy is what leads to the very essence of career mediocrity that so many people suffer with today.

We are getting to an age now where television is departing and being replaced by the internet, video games and the like. These have an advantage over television that they are interactive activities. You can be creative and do all kinds of things on the computer. And video games even have some of their merits. Dance Dance Revolution is the first video game that’s getting people into shape everywhere. Really!

As we incorporate these “distractions” into our daily lives more and more it is important to distinguish the interactive elements in them from the passive elements. This is why television is such a problem. It is passive. Nobody got anywhere in the world by being merely entertained. Plenty of people have made significant strides in life from starting a website or creating an online business. This is a different story. If you hate your dead-end job, don’t waste your time in front of the television. It will only make you feel and act more helpless and powerless to change your situation. And your creative powers will slowly erode.

Children and adults do have one thing in common after all:

We are susceptible to the same kind of mediocrity.



  • Thistle October 19, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    Hi Mike. I enjoyed your post. Here are a few disconnected thoughts/comments:

    1) You say that what concerns you about TV is its passive nature. Movies and books are also passive. Do you feel that those are also creativity-stifling paths to mediocrity?

    2) Even if we keep our kids (and selves) away from the TV, what about the media that seeps in from every direction? If you turn on the radio, drive down the road, go to the store, write comments on blogs, etc. you can’t get away from the advertisements. Those ads tell our kids how to feel, think, and be, too. In fact, I’d say the advertisements are the most damaging aspect of television watching. I’ve often watched children’s programming and wondered just how many millions of dollars were flashing before my eyes when the commercials hit. Companies hire child psychologists to figure out how to make kids insane for Barbie and McDonalds. It’s questionable in my mind whether that even ought to be legal.

    3) I agree—DDR is an awesome move from gaming being an activity-replacement to a source of physical activity in and of itself. The Wii is really capitalizing on that idea now (Wii Sports and Wii Fit).

    4) Some would say that we become more (not less) unique as we age—that our experiences carve into the tabula rasa and form our persona. But it does seem that TV directs those formative thoughts and experiences to conform to some Hollywood version of ‘the American norm,’ and in that way deprives a child of his individuality.

    Yeah. Okay. TV sucks. But, hey, “Transformers” and “He-man” weren’t all bad! Now if I could only find my She-Ra sword perhaps I, too, could save the universe…


  • Mike October 19, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    Hi Thistle,

    Thank you for your comments! I certainly have a lot of thoughts on this subject, as I believe that this problem goes beyond just television.

    The difference between books and television is a large one that I neglected to mention in my post. With television, you have the image right in front of you. When you read, you interpret the visual aspects and environment of what the words represent. It may be a PHYSICALLY passive, but very MENTALLY active pastime. Take the Harry Potter series, for example. Before the movies came out, everybody who read the books had a slightly different mental image of what the characters looked like, the layout of the school (Hogwarts), the dynamic of the characters and the overall “ambiance” of this made-up world. Reading is a very active thing to do! It can develop the creative mind, especially for kids.

    In many ways, what goes on in the mind is more real than what goes on in the real world. Especially if you “create” it. This proves my point even more. And what is reality, anyway?

    I don’t feel that same way about movies as I do about television for some reason. Perhaps because of the ads, and also in part because a movie has a tale to tell. It isn’t as “episodic” and people are more involved when watching in general. I am not sure I can really explain my rationale better than this.

    Your thoughts about ads are extremely accurate actually. It’s hard to escape. I’ve always felt that most advertising, whether through TV, billboards, magazine stands and the like are the physical equivalent of distracting background noise. It affects all of us, but it’s difficult to determine to what extent. It’s hard to see just how different the world would be without it, and how much it affects kids interactions. It could be a really big thing.

    I like your thoughts about how we might actually become more unique as we get older too. I’ve never thought about life this way. I might explore this a bit in my next post if you don’t mind.

    Thank you for your insightful comments!

    I always liked She-Ra, by the way! She could have taken He-Man down.


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