Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
September 20, 1999
Canada's cure for irritability
A survey published in the Sept. 11 Globe and Mail found that 60 per cent of Canadian parents with children at home had experienced irritability sometime during the last six months.
The biggest question raised by this survey result is: Who are the other 40 per cent of parents? Are they comatose? Have they already achieved sanctity? Or, are they lying?
These three possibilities are real. But there is a fourth possibility, one which arises out of last month's Canadian Paediatric Society report on Children and the Media. That possibility is that a large portion of parents have avoided feelings of irritability by parking their children in front of the TV set for extended periods.
The CPS report cited several studies including a Nielsen report which says that Canadian children on average watch 23 hours of TV a week. The CPS goes on to say that TV viewing limits children's time to develop vital activities such as playing, reading, learning to talk, spending time with peers and family, storytelling and regular exercise. While these activities are all beneficial to the child, most are also activities which have great potential to provoke irritability among parents.
This is not the end of it, however. The CPS further notes that even one to two hours of TV viewing a day by school-age children has a significant negative effect on academic learning. As well, children who watch lots of TV are less physically fit - they snack more and exercise less. In other words, a child who watches even the average amount of TV is less intellectually bright and less energetic - both good things for parents who want to avoid feelings of irritability.
There is a downside to all this TV viewing. It shows up once the child hits his or her mid-teens. More than 1,000 studies have shown that exposure to heavy doses of TV violence increases aggressive behaviour, especially among adolescent males. By the same token, the average teen is exposed to 14,000 sexual references a year on television. TV portrays extra-marital sex as normal and risk-free - and sex between unmarried partners on TV is 24 times more frequent than that between spouses.
There is an alternative to this chaos - one which is likely at times to increase parental irritability. That is the teaching of the Catholic Church which sees the family, not the TV set, as the heart and centre of a civilization of love.
Parents are not merely the biological progenitors of their children, they are their primary educators. This is a right; it is also a responsibility. It is a responsibility which does not end when children start school or even when they leave home.
Pope John Paul notes that not only does the fourth commandment call for children to honour their parents, it also implies that "Parents are called to 'honour' their children, whether they are young or old."
This honouring of children means that parents must take responsibility for what their children learn at school and for what they learn in front of the TV set. It need not mean throwing out the TV and living in a cave. But it does mean ensuring that what children experience through all media serves their long-term spiritual, moral, intellectual, emotional and physical well-being.
Of course, all parents, except the Mother of God, are sinners. Their interaction with curious, active, imaginative and recalcitrant children is bound to give rise to feelings of irritability. But such feelings are not a bad thing. They can lead us to find our own weaknesses and to seek God's help in overcoming them. Children give their parents endless opportunities to grow up.
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