Published here with permission from The MOORE REPORT INTERNATIONAL - September/October 1998

The Moore Foundation, Box 1, Camas, WA 98607

Effect of the "On-Screen Age" on Families

by Dorothy Moore

Like the proverbial fly caught in th spider's web, our society is caught in the "on-screen" trend which threatens the existence of home-life as it used to be. Everywhere we look, we are urged to rent a video; load a new software game; watch a special TV show; or surf the Web. From the screen come pictures, information overload, trivia, and various stimuli which rule our lives.

Research on television has long shown that it is mostly negative with bad language and amorality, if not immorality. It is designed to "hook" the listener and create curiosity for what's next, that is hard to resist. I have never known of a family who has been really successful in controlling it, especially when Mom or Dad is busy, gone, or preoccupied. It could be compared to a dangerous undertow in the ocean, because of the way its temptations pull us under. Some people, including adults, seem to be almost hypnotized with this addiction. TV is empty, impoverishes instead of feeds, and has persuasive power to shape the minds of the watchers.

But what about videos in our homes where we can be selective instead of going to the theater where many have thought the influences and/or the second feature might be objectionable? Some think there's little or no difference. My dad was not a Christian but he had high standards for us children and we were never allowed to got to the theater. At its best anything theatrical is an escape from reality. And even then there is always pressure for more of the same, so that children, especially, are led so far from real life that it is difficult to help them learn responsibility and the consequences of impulsive actions.

What about educational videos? No doubt there are some very informative videos which teach about specific things the family may be studying. But these need to be carefully selected and limited, with the children knowing that they are expected to give input on discussion afterward. One long-time educator remembers when films came into the schools and were predicted to be the great tool of teaching. "But sitting in the dark put too many kids to sleep," he said, "and most of the expensive equipment wound up in closets." One man recalls the use of films when he was in school: "We loved them because we didn't have to think for an hour, teachers loved them because they didn't have to teach, and parents loved them because it showed their schools were high-tech. But no learning happened."

Then how about computers? We have been warned about the dangerous information that can be found in cyberspace in terms of standards and, educationally speaking, there is much doubt even among educators that computers produce excellent learning. At present says The Atlantic Monthly  of July 1997, "There is no good evidence that most uses of computers significantly improve teaching and learning." And the Nov. 10, 1997 issue of Education Week reported, "There is no guarantee that technology improves student achievement." Many experts agree that technology's complexity is better suited to students at the high school level and possibly children with disabilities. Generally the younger children need the "hands-on opportunity to manipulate physical objects" that computers cannot offer. Even Steve Jobs, founder of Apple Computers, who has probably given away more computers to schools than anyone else, has come to the conclusion that no amount of technology will make a dent in the problems of education.

Specialists have stated their concern that because computers separate children from reality, they may indeed hinder rather than enhance basic learning, creativity and intuition. Like other on-screen devices, they represent passive learning when children need active learning. They also largely eliminate parent-child interaction. As I have quoted before, in connection with methods Christ used in training His disciples: "It is not the highest work of education to communicate knowledge merely, but to impart that vitalizing energy which is received through the contact of mind with mind, and soul with soul. It is only life that can beget life." Desire of the Ages, p. 250

Several principles apply to the decisions which parents need to make. The first consideration has to do with CHOICE -- to see or not to see, to hear or not to hear. Is it worth the time it takes, are there other constructive activities which would be better (such as exercise which is seldom adequate), is the program in our home in balance? Next are LIMITS and CONTROLS. I have known of constructive time (not games) on the computer used as a reward for goals met in both physical and mental work. This has helped with a reluctant learner. Then there are the STANDARDS we must set for the images and sounds with which we choose to spend time. Shall we set our standards at a level somewhat higher than society we live in? Their standards are going downhill every day. So if we compare ourselves with society, our standards will also go down. The only safe way is to set our standard by Phil. 4:8. "...whatsoever things are true... honest... just... pure... lovely... good report... think on these things." Or I Cor. 10:31 "...whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."