Sometime back a row erupted between France and the US over television programming. "Too many American made programs are being shown on French television," protested the French. To a casual observer this may sound strange. After all, what is the difference between French and American values? True, the French consider the Americans uncultured but the matter goes beyond culture.
The French argued that American television series were undermining their values; that American programs depicted and glorified violence whose effect would be felt on French society as well. Even when sharing common societal roots, people are concerned about preserving their own values. Imagine the situation when we, as Muslims approach life from altogether a different perspective.
Muslims believe in One God, Allah; they believe the Quran is the revealed Book of Allah through Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace; and they believe in family values. This means no pre-martial sex; abhorrence of violence and waste; no drugs nor alcohol, and respect for elders and love for the young ones. The western value system stands at the completely opposite role. Yet, are Muslim parents in North America aware of the challenge facing them?
It is of paramount importance to know how Muslim children are subliminally being assimilated into the greater North American society. One of the most powerful tools which influences them is television.
Already, Muslim children are used to processed foods and automated living. They are now being trained for 'processed thinking' and 'automated culture', as well, through television.
A parent's worst nightmare is a six to 13-year-old television addict who watches television in the morning before going to school; fixing himself/herself in front of the set as soon as he gets home in the afternoon and gets another dose before going to bed at night. Variety of e-gizmos have turned favorite shows and movies into an endlessly repeatable pastime. Video games have added to the home box's allure.
Children are in love with Barney today which is nothing more than a jumping doll, filled with cute critters and special effects. A child may learn how to force a smile upon himself but that will be the end of learning. Because of indoctrination by the television, children have little patience to pursue anything that requires a steady stream of thought or the linking of one thought with another. It is potentially addictive to undermine a child's imagination. Even these electronic amusements take a backseat in comparison with the kind of passive activity they induce.
This passive experience crowds out other, more active endeavors, such as congregational prayers at home, playing indoors and outdoors with family members, reading, etc. These traditional forms of interaction with children are most definitely not passive. They are all physically, mentally and spiritually active. A child watching television cannot build a model at the same time or let his/her imagination soar in a good book. Instead, they are cut off from participation, imagination, even from the rest of the family. The child's facial expression is transformed. The jaw is relaxed and hangs open slightly; the tongue rests on the front teeth (if there are any) and eyes develop a glazed, vacuous look?
Television reveals to children all of the 'backstage' activity of adults. It exposes children to behavior that the adults have spent centuries trying to hide from children. The average child watching television sees adults hitting or killing each other or breaking down and crying. It teaches them that adults do not always know what they are doing. Revealing the 'secrets' of adulthood has virtually destroyed the notion of childhood as a discrete period of innocence. There are now more adult-like children and more childlike adults!
An average child will have watched 5,000 hours of television by the time he/she enters first grade and 19,000 hours by the end of high school - more time than he/she will spend in classroom. They spend 28 hours a week watching television - more than doing any other single activity except sleeping. Those 28 hours do not include the time spent watching videotapes, playing video games, or listening to iPod's or CDs.
Research has shown that prolonged television viewing by children is associated with more aggressive behavior, lack of creativity, patience, imagination, participation, and physical, mental and spiritual development. So who will correct it and how?
No institution plays a bigger role in shaping the attitude of children than the family. The ultimate responsibility rests with the parents. It is imperative to strictly limit TV watching time and other electronic amusements, and continually monitor children's behavior. At the same time, the influence and impact of the short time they spend watching television should be counterbalanced with other healthy activities such as reading, Islamic quiz or general knowledge competitions within the family and/or friends, games which require thinking, congregational prayers and indoor/outdoor activities with the family. In this way, TV can at least be put into proper focus, if not completely out of the picture, inshaAllah.
Talking with children also helps. 'Not to them, but with them.' Encourage them to share their thoughts and ideas, and to think things through. Let them know that both logical reasoning and creative thought are wonderful accomplishments. Encourage children to read books and to consider their significance in the larger scheme of things.
Avoid 'drilling' your children or forcing them to 'listen' to you. Rather, 'you' should listen to them !