I Read the News Today

Should your adolescent children be encouraged to watch the news on television? Before reminding me that "an informed populace is the hallmark of a strong democracy" think about what you, an adult, get from televised news. Do you acquire information unobtainable elsewhere? Do you learn what is going on in your local community and across the world? Do you get something of value, information, a feeling of calm? Because I don't. When I watch televised news, I just get agitated. I see injustice, excess, pollution. I see innocents coming to harm and guilty people flourishing. I see adolescents going hungry and children being abused. I see flood, fire, and famine, and doom, despair, and destruction. I feel one part informed and two parts violated. Worse, there's nothing I see on the televised news that changes my behavior. Does knowing that there is a shortage of blood products cause you to donate at the blood bank? Televised news isn't convincing me to do anything any more than watching Sigourney Weaver in "Aliens" makes me want to go to Neptune to look for minerals. "If it bleeds, it leads" might be good for ratings but it isn't good for my mental health. There are other sources--more accurate and calmer sources--from which to learn what's going on in the world. Written news gives me a chance to analyze and reflect. Even more importantly, I can choose what topics I want to focus on. If a headline suggests that a 19 year-old mother has burnt her three-year-old son with a cigarette lighter and then pushed him into a table and killed him, I can skip that story and focus my attention on that which allows me to get through the day. You and I already know of the egregious child abuse going on in our communities. Being pummeled with information doesn't help the child, it just makes the viewer miserable. If I'm watching news on TV, it's too late to turn away. And it's not just child abuse that is better read about than watched. What about the incessant barrage of information about celebrities? As Mary Pipher points out in a slightly different context, your family may be a pain in the neck, but Jusin Bieber isn't going to come up with a few bucks for you if you're behind on your mortgage. Those professional athletes about whom you know everything, their batting averages, what they studied in college, their salaries? When you've spent three consecutive nights in the hospital with your barfing kid, those same athletes are unlikely to come by and take a shift so that you can get a shower and some rest. Whether or not you can benefit from the disorienting, disjointed onslaught of painful images on TV, what about your kids? Wouldn't a discussion of events--local and global--be a better way to share your values with your progeny? By bringing up events of the day over the dinner table, you can control the flow of information and the pace of the conversation. Because you can't take back an image. Once your children have seen something, there is nothing you can do to allow them to "un-see" it. By turning off the news, you also communicate to your children that your house is a place where there is time for reflective conversation without uncontrolled invaders. Quite a concept in a world where even restaurants are overrun with blaring screens. The wonderful Spanish expression, "sobre mesa," which means "relaxed conversation after a meal" can't happen if you can't hear one another over the pounding of the TV. Orwell got it right, as always. In 1984, a book that remains prescient, 66 years after its publication, citizens are required to attend the "two-minute hate" in which they hurl invective at an enemy shown on a huge screen. The "spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling" which Wordsworth never imagined is meant to keep the populace in line with hating an unseen antagonist. The enemy today is the feeling of outrage at that over which we have no control. Or as Bruce Springsteen said, "She didn't get me excited, she just made me feel mean." Maybe it's time to update Timothy Leary's phrase, "Turn on, tune in, drop out." To bring up healthy families in these perilous times, it might be a better idea to "Turn off, tune out, and drop in"--dropping in on family conversation in particular might be a plus. Leave the disjointed, graphic, and harmful images for those who can't turn off their televisions.

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