October 16, 2008

Outside the Box

by Liz Marjollet

From a very young age, television affects a majority of Americans. Around the toddler age, there are all sorts of educational shows, from Sesame Street, to Dora the Explorer and Fireman Sam. There are now even channels dedicated just to children's programming, such as PBS's Sprout, which has programs running from six in the morning until twelve o'clock in the afternoon. After this age, when kids start to chose their own programs, cable TV offers never-ending options. There are channels dedicated to solely playing music videos and programs pertaining to music, such as MTV and VH1, while there are also a seemingly infinite number of channels pertaining to every sport imaginable, if you have the right cable. With all the options, it seems that today's youth are dangerously close to becoming permanent fixtures in front of their TVs.

And yet, there are still some Americans out there who do not have that magic box or cable. My two sisters, brother, and I all grew up without cable or satellite TV. Growing up, it seemed like we were at a disadvantage. But looking back, I'm not necessarily sure that's true. Sure there were plenty of times, especially in middle and high school, when it felt like everyone was talking about some music video or other, but even without cable we still had the possibility to watch all the network shows, like Lost, Grey's Anatomy, American Idol, or Survivor. Yet, I never felt the need to be home on a certain day at a certain time to watch a specific show. As a result, I watched very little television.

However, having encountered the completely new atmosphere that is dorm life, I am starting to slowly fall into a pattern of watching more television. I have started to watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report because that is what everyone around me likes to watch. And I enjoy them. But I still do not need to get my daily fix of TV.

Despite my feeling like a very small fish in a pond full of cable and satellite users, the U.S. Census Bureau says that as of 2006, there were still 37 million homes in the U.S. without satellite or cable. Although, as we approach 2009, with the new regulation requiring all households to switch over to digital signals, that number has probably shrunk drastically.

With the never-ending options available, some may argue that today's youth will be less interested in reading or interacting with their peers. Having observed from the outside most of my life, I agree with this argument, unless parents take control and regulate what their kids watch on TV and when. For most, the television offers a break or distraction for parents to have a moment for themselves, and I don't think this is a bad thing, I just think that it shouldn't be the focus of a parent's day. Kids shouldn't grow up on TV. TV should be a supplement that they are allowed to watch within reason.

The problem with today's society seems to be that many children don't want to read as much, but would rather watch television. I think part of this is the result of all of the options that television has to offer. As Sen. Barack Obama said during the last presidential debate, "parents need to turn off the television and start instilling that thirst for knowledge that kids need."

(Photo by Clara Natoli of Rome, Italy via morgueFile.)

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