Statistics show that 99 percent of American households have at least one television set in their home, and 66 percent of those homes have three or more television sets. Statistics go on to show that when four to six year-old children were asked whether they preferred to spend time with a family member or watching TV, over half of the children chose watching TV.
TV Now and Then…
Growing up, free time was considered family time and was spent working side-by-side, playing games, and enjoying talking with one another about the events of everyday life. Through these interactions and the quality time that was spent together, we were able to build friendships and close bonds with our family members that are still strong to this day.
In contrast, too many children today are spending more time with the television than with those they live with. Oftentimes, the amount of time spent in front of the television is not always determined by the child. A parent utilizing the TV as a babysitter is all too common. A TV can be a useful tool, but it shouldn’t take the place of an engaged parent. When children are spending all this time in front of the television instead of interacting with their parents, they aren’t learning important life lessons and strong family relationships are certainly being sacrificed.
TV and Conflict
Television not only takes away from building relationships, but it also hinders and causes conflict within existing relationships. For example, multiple people may want to use the television at the same time resulting in arguments over what show to watch and the duration of viewing time. Also, the noise levels created by the television can prevent important conversations from taking place, take away from personal quiet, reflection time, and cause distractions from daily activities such as chores and homework[i].
TV and Lack of Communication
Poor communication within the family can lead to “…excessive family conflict, ineffective problem solving…and weak emotional bonds.”
Sitting down as a family to watch television can “bring you together,” but, individually, each family member’s attention is focused away from the family as a group and is centered instead on the television screen. In general, talking is taboo while watching television. If one were to pose a question or make a statement during a show, those around would instantly hush the individual and insist that he or she wait for a commercial break or the end of the movie to speak.
Communication is a vital component of developing and maintaining relationships between family members. When family members are discouraged from speaking at any time, feelings of rejection can result, and future conversations may never take place because of a fear of others not caring to listen or show interest in what someone has to say.
Studies show that family interactions and relations, daily chores, and other social exchanges or events are the most common activities that suffer as a result of excessive media use[ii].
Building Communication in a Family
Researchers have found a strong connection between communication patterns and relationship satisfaction within a family. Communication within a family can build bonds of trust, unite family members on common goals, and build self-efficacy. Family members are more likely to forgive one another and show respect to each other when there is open communication patterns within a family.
The following are ways a family can work on building communication:
- Communicate often: Make and set aside time to spend with your family. Talk over what each family member did during his or her day. Time spent in front of the TV could be swapped for time together around the dinner table. Don’t waste that time spent traveling in a car or tucking your child into bed; use it to have meaningful conversation.
- Communicate clearly and directly: It’s crucial to speak clearly in order to avoid miscommunication and hurt feelings. This is especially important when working to resolve conflict. Using “…indirect and vague communication will not only fail to resolve problems, but will also contribute to a lack of…emotional bonding between family members.”
- Listen: Communication is a two-way street. When we talk with family members, it is important to listen and seek to understand what the other person is trying to tell us. Listening also shows respect for the other person and makes him or her feel validated and important.
- Remember who you’re talking with: Not all people communicate in the same way. Children talk and understand differently than teens and adults. Adjust the way we talk to fit the skills of the person we are talking with.
Make it a priority to find ways to have meaningful conversation and truly communicate with your loved ones. It has to be a priority or it probably won’t happen.
On average, Americans watch more than 4 hours of TV every day. According to that statistic, if one were to look at the life of a 65-year-old, he would have spent around nine years of his life up to that point in front of the TV! Today we live in a society that is full of distractions, don’t add more by allowing the TV to consume large blocks of your time. Television viewing can create conflict, and takes away quality time that could be spent with loved ones.
Urie Bronfenbrenner, a family scientist, once stated, “The family is the most powerful, the most humane, and by far the most economical system known for building competence and character.” As families, let us strive to work together to build these kind of relationships with each other through positive communication and quality time spend together. We need to turn off the TV and cherish the moments we have with those that are around us.
[i] Rosenblatt, P. C., & Cunningham, M. R. (1976). Television watching and family tensions. Journal of Marriage and Family, 38(1), 105-111.
[ii] Chory, R. M., & Banfield, S. (2009). Media dependence and relational maintenance in interpersonal relationships. Communication Reports, 22(1), 41-53.