A remarkable little device for TV control: the switch

May 23, 1994|By Elizabeth Scott

THERE is this remarkable little device that comes with all televisions. It is called the on/off switch, and as far as I know, it has been available on TV sets since their invention.

In fact, with all of TV's added features over the years -- remote control, wide screens, multi-channel viewing -- this original feature is still a part of the set.

I call attention to this feature because lately the public, parents included, has forgotten the switch's function. Ranting about junk TV comes from intelligent people who want the networks to subdue television programs. Granted, these parents have valid concerns about the sex, violence and other messages transmitted by TV. No child, or adult for that matter, needs to be exposed to the excesses of the tube. Yet, parents feel compelled to complain to the networks that television shows are becoming too racy for their children to watch.

Excuse me, but who is watching the children? How many parents are watching television with their children, monitoring their viewing or even choosing their shows? Few, it seems. If the show is inappropriate or the limit of TV watching has been reached, why not turn off the set?

Probably because we tend to forget who is responsible for us and our children. We blame others for our lack of control. That practical little on/off switch has two functions. We take only partial responsibility for one of those uses. We turn the machine on, but then complain about the lack of responsibility of the networks.

Television viewing, however, is a two-way street. The networks survive on ratings, which are determined by the number of sets in use. If we are responsible enough to turn the set on and accept what comes into our living room, then we should be responsible enough to turn it off when we are distressed about a program. Few parents see it this way.

It is much easier to criticize MTV for airing a show like "Beavis and Butt-head" than it is to sit down with a child and say, "I don't want you to watch this show" -- and then enforce that statement. It is far more common for a parent to fret about the trashy topics on "Oprah" or "Inside Edition" than to choose to off them.

Many parents are unable to control their children's TV habits because their own habits are beyond control. To relax, to sleep, or for simple background entertainment, adults turn on the set without a second thought, unaware that this action encourages a child's desire to watch.

We need to recognize junk TV when we see it, surely, but we

also need to recognize our responsibility as parents and viewers. And we need to remember about that original feature.

Elizabeth Scott is a teacher in Baltimore.

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