Back in the day, when the world and I were young, my brother and I were the family dishwashers. This was the forties, and unless we got lucky we did the job every night after dinner. One night I washed; the next night I dried, but as soon as the food was put away we got down to our real business, which was to make the other one do more work than we did. This involved diligently searching for any tiny speck of food left on a washed plate, so the washer had to wash it twice, but the dryer only had to dry it once! Hah! One point for the dryer! Of course, the next night the situation was reversed. All this was accomplished in relative silence. This was so that we could at the same time listen to the radio. If we got into an argument, the radio got turned off. Our weary mother was a teacher, and found little patience with fractious children who ought to be getting done with the job at hand and on to their homework. So we mostly behaved, because we wanted to listen to the radio more than we wanted to fight.
There was no TV back then – I was in college when we got our first tiny TV – but every night there were radio shows! “Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy!”; “The Green Hornet”; “ Buck Rogers”; “The Creaking Door”; “Lights Out”; “I Love a Mystery” – all of them somehow more vivid because we could use our imagination to create the people who owned the voices. It was wonderful. And oh, those mystery shows! Scary, scary, scary! Many were the nights I checked under my bed before I turned out the light! I didn’t know what I was afraid might be there, because I had nothing visual to apply, but I looked!
The pertinent thing is that at our young age we could only imagine what our experience and our minds could enable us to picture. We were basically protected from horror by the limits of our actual reality. How unlike some of the television shows today, which graphically illustrate every kind of depravity. So, there are shows I simply don’t watch. I like cop shows; I like spy dramas, I love football! But I find I cannot watch psychopathic horror shows. The images are far beyond anything I can easily dismiss. They stay there. And so I try not to clutter my mind with this degree of illustrated evil. Could I handle it? I don’t know. I choose not to. Believe me, I don’t for a minute think there is no evil lurking in my mind! My miserable sin nature is very busy luring me with all sorts of evil, which God enables me mostly to resist, but I think I surely don’t need to go looking for more. I am an adult, with a clear understanding of the reality or lack of same portrayed on the screen, but I still can be affected by what I watch.
Which brings me to our children. Can we really convince ourselves that terrible graphic images on the screen have no effect on them? That they, too, don’t somehow struggle to find a safe place to hide pictures they cannot forget? Are we carelessly burdening them awfully with concepts they aren’t even able to process? Can we believe that they’re not changed, however subtly, by these experiences? We wrap them in seat belts. We vaccinate them against disease. We teach them about dangerous strangers. We would give our lives to save them. And still, in spite of how we try, we know we cannot wrap them totally in soft cotton batting. The world as it is will indeed batter them in many ways. But could we please try our best to protect their very young minds from images God never meant for them to see or try to understand? Could we let them be innocent a little while longer?
If we were to have a – what shall we call it – a strenuous disagreement with our spouse, we would never sit our toddler down in the middle of it! You know what would happen: the little one would be frightened to tears. So how can any sane adult assume that a small child with absolutely no life experience is able to understand the intricacies of television and know that it is all make-believe? One of my daughters had nightmares for years after watching the Wizard of Oz, because of the Flying monkeys! Flying monkeys, for goodness’ sake! Who knew! Certainly not me! How much more frightening must be portrayal of real people doing awful things. Our babies’ minds are such precious things. We need, need, need to protect them, and do it diligently!
Am I urging an absolute absence of television? I am not, though some choose that path. Time marches on, and so does technology. There are great programs to be found there, for children and adults alike. But just as we are careful to dress our kids appropriately for the weather, we need to filter what can reach their minds.
The truth is that God charmingly limited their understanding, placing the responsibility of caring for them upon us. The way a baby will crawl happily toward a hot surface or toward the edge of a bed is a perfect illustration of their total innocence of the consequences of going over the edge. We grab them.
We need to be just as protective of their minds, that they not fall over the edge or be scarred by burns. Grab them.