Life with the TV: 21 tips for dealing with the thing

by Abdul Malik Mujahid

Not everything that comes through TV is bad. However, because the average child between two and 11 years old watches over 27 hours of poorly supervised television per week; because the only thing that kids do more than watch television is sleep, and because most parents are unaware of the indecent liberties that television takes with our children, you must control this 19 inch Shaytan, as a friend of mine calls it.

1) Permissible and Forbidden on TV: TV programs include stirring documentaries about history, science, and nature as well as excellent dramatizations of classics. It also includes a lot of forbidden in terms of violence, sex, antifamily and anti-Islamic values in cartoons, sitcoms, talk shows and films. It’s the job of parents to observe whats on TV programs and guide their children. One rule you can use when teaching your kids the right and wrong of television is the following: if it’s Haram to do then, it’s Haram to watch.

2) TV Rules for Children: A carefully programmed TV can be a beneficial ally! Set clear rules for your children on how much TV they can watch, when they can watch it, and which shows are permitted. Then stick to your policy no matter how many tears and voices protest. You are the boss. You can unplug the television whenever you want to.

3) Don’t Just Allow “Watching TV”: Allow children to watch a particular program which you have approved, not just “watch TV.”

4) No Channel Surfing: Channel surfing usually means watching the worst of the shows which are on at any given moment. More stops at sex and violence scenes.

5) Homework First: Insist that homework and chores be done before TV is turned on. (No this is not considered child abuse, not at least in Illinois where I live.) Only one in ten parents require children to do homework first at this moment.

6) Watch Together: Watch TV with your children. It will be lots of fun. You might have some topics to talk about later. You may share some laughter as well. If you cannot watch with them all the time, at least do it occasionally.

7) Talk to Children about the Programs: Talking to your children about the programs they watched or you watched together will give you an opportunity to debrief them about the rights and wrongs in them.

8) Never Use TV as Babysitter: No matter what, don’t just train your little Muslim to become an avid TV watcher by letting TV calm him down when he is crying or when you want to do something else other than attend to the baby. Also make this rule clear to the babysitters you hire as well. If you have no choice but to subject you child to a daycare center, choose one which does not use TV as its control mechanism. Seventy percent of daycare centers use TV during a typical day.

9) A Smaller Screen is Better: A small-sized TV is better than a larger size TV. The larger size encourages worse watching habits.

10) One TV is Better than Two: One TV placed in the living room will help you keep an eye on what is being watched. A TV in your child’s bedroom is the worst thing. It is not that you don’t trust your children. It is the TV which you don’t trust. The average household in America has 2.24 TVs in their homes and 54 percent of kids in America have a TV in their bedrooms.

11) No Cable Channels: With a few exceptions, cable provides more of the bad TV and adult-oriented programming. I was staying at a pious Muslim’s home as the TV brought a rush of his kids in the room I was staying in. To my astonishment, they ignored their “uncle’s” presence and protest as they intensely watched a hot nude sex scene on some cable channel. Recently in Florida, during the daytime, a cable company showed adult programs.

12) Encourage Commercial-Free Channels: Public Television and other Commercial Free TV have more informative programs. It is estimated that the average child sees 20,000 commercials per year. Unlike adults, who often mute out commercials, or who get up and make a mad dash for the bathroom during the 60 to 180 seconds, children like TV ads. They like to be told what to lobby for…and lobby they do.

13) VCR Gives Parents More Control: VCR gives you control of TV time and programs. Many parents use the VCR more than television programs broadcast scheduled times. Balance your TV consumption with videos of good programming offered by Muslims and non-Muslims. This will be more in your control and will contribute to the learning process of children. Some of the good video programs could be as good as anything on TV. Adam’s World for children ages two to nine is one such video series. Tens of thousands of children learn and have fun with Adam and Aneesah.

One day, I noticed Sister Lonnie Ali (Champion Muhammad Ali’s wife) had ordered another set of Adam’s World. Since I knew they had a complete set of Adam’s World, I asked why she was buying another one. She told me that Asad (their son) had watched Adam’s World so many times that all the tapes were worn out. She said he must have watched each tape more than 100 times. His game at one point was to say the dialogue before Adam said it.

14) TV Off Days: Some Muslims keep TV off all Ramadan. Every year there is a campaign called TV Turn Off Week, which encourages people to not watch TV for at least a week. You may want to do the same for very personal reasons. Television can affect young children in adverse ways: aggressive behavior, difficulty falling asleep, nightmares and an insatiable appetite for advertised products. If your kids are showing signs of this nature, eliminating TV for a week or so may help.

15) More Family Activities: TV takes away family time. Poorly managed television wastes opportunities for kids to learn how to relate to other people – including their parents and siblings. And relating with their families is a desire of today’s youth. In a nationwide, ethnically balanced survey of 750 ten to sixteen-year-olds, “three-quarters said that if they had a choice between watching TV or spending time with their families, they’d opt for family time.”

16) Buy a Movie Camera: Yes you read it correctly. Instead of children being subject to TV, give them the tools to control TV. Empower them with technology. Give them a gift of a video camera. Consumer Reports has a lot of recommendations for good camcorders. Let your kids write a script, shoot a video, edit it on their computer, and put it back on VCR or incorporate it in a multimedia production (and send a copy to Sound Vision. That little producer might have more talent than you think.)

17) Plan Your Time: If you develop the habit of developing a personal plan, children are likely to follow you in the considerate use of their time. By developing a plan for using your time, you will learn to place TV time in proper proportion to other things in life which you want to achieve.

18) Start a TV Journal: To make good use of TV programs, ask children to write a report about it. Have them answer questions like: who were the characters? What was the plot? What was good? What was bad? What did the program try to promote? Let them be the critic instead of simply being lost to agenda of television producers.

19) Fight bad TV programs: Always protest wrong types of things inserted by producers in what you and your children watch. If you don’t protest and pursue the matter, they will learn that they can get away with this and will do more of it, not less. Call toll-free to record your dislike of a program: 1-800-TV-COUNTS (operated by the Parents’ Television Council, a family oriented, non-Muslim group).

20) Stick to Your Guns: Your children will resist all rule-making efforts to limit their TV time and program selection. Discuss your reasoning with them, but stick to your guns. This is a decision about their growing up as Muslims. More than 4,000 studies have proven that the behavior of children is affected by their TV watching habits. You cannot let false images and wrong ideals distort the future of your children. You must help tomorrow’s Muslims today by being reasonable, but firm. If you don’t control TV, TV will control you, your pocket, your children, and your worldview.

21) Children Follow You: The bottom line principle of parenting is that children follow you. If you are a couch potato, and fail to practice what you preach, don’t expect your rules to have any value. Watch what you are watching if you want anyone to follow your rules about TV. Whether you give prime time to your family or to TV will determine the future direction of your life and your children’s life.

“O ye who believe! Why do you preach something you are not practicing? It is of most distasteful in the sight of Allah that ye say that which ye do not” (Quran: 61:2-3).