AGOOD deal of publicity has been given to the warning to Catholic parents on the dangers of television to school-children given by Fr. Bernard Rickett, Headmaster of the Becket School.
Fr. Rickett's warning covers the following points. Homework is scampecl; and children hurry their meals; and they go to bed too late. TV time cuts out the needed time for private reading which is essential to the formation of the mind and the power to write good English. Moral standards in TV programmes are often unsuitable for the adolescent mind. And the last, and most original suggestion, is that TV in the home is an ailverse factor on vocations.
Practical suggestions for remedying this state of affairs include the following. No TV during term-time for younger boys; only thought and discussion-provoking programmes for older boys. During week-ends and holiday times the parents should control choice of programmes. In general, parents should try to discusswith their children interesting programmes so as to stimulate more critical viewing.
WHATEVER we may think of these suggestions, one thing is quite certain — and yet widely overlooked: it is that television, for better or for worse, is today, in the case of a high proportion of the cornmunity, the one single most formative public influence. all the more powerful in that its effect is made more or less unconsciously.
Yet is it as bad as we make out 7 To some extent, the mere fact that it is always there and obtainable at no immediate cost is a tremendous safeguard. Our experience with younger people of widely differing ages is that TV interest very soon wears off, children (most of them with full 'lives to live) actually being more selective than their parents. We wonder, too. how far children of any age today suffer from what Fr. Rickett describes as " suggestive talk, doubtful jokes and even action unsuitable fdr the adolescent life." There is something to be said for .the fact that even in this "familiarity breeds contempt." If there is real moral danger, we should look for it rather in situations in straight TV plays— and, often, the better the drama as drama, the greater the danger. Even discussion programmes can raise problems which are not suitable for the too young. Yet it is precisely in good plays and good discussions that the educative value of TV tends to lie.
Fr. Rickett certainly makes an important and interesting point
when he raises the question of the influence of television on vocations. But the real question is surely a much wider one: what are the influences today which militate against the growth in youth and adolescence of vocations in boys and girls, who, one may reasonably surmise, would have gone on to be priests and nuns a generation back ?
This is a problem that deserves careful study and, so far as we know, little has been done about it in this country. But we should be surprised if in any investigation the factor of television would loom very large. Life is easy and comfortable for most children today. Prospects of employment, good pay and success are normally rosy. Days are filled with many distractions, some good, some less good. but they all tend to push into the back of the mind the deeper considerations on the meaning of human life and the call to higher and dedicated forms of generosity.
The remedy, we imagine, is to be looked for in positive measures of spiritual education and training in parish, school and home, suited to the psychology of the contemporary young person, rather than in any prohibitions of what is not intrinsically wrong.
WE are not, of course, calling in question Fr. Rickett's plea for parental and school supervision of TV-watching by children, according to their agegroups, and his concrete suggestions, if intelligently applied by parents, are a start.
But our guess is that once a television has been in a home for a reasonable time, the young become pretty good censors themselves of TV programmes because they find something better to do, including reading. If they do not, this suggests that home conditions arc not suitable for a boy's or girl's proper development or that the particular children in question are not the type who will ever make good use of their spare time. In the latter case, we may be thankful that a good many TV programmes are likely to widen knowledge and broaden the mind.
Certainly the responsibility of parents is considerable, especially in making sure that homework is properly done. A wider responsibility rests on them to help their children to fit even television into a Christian outlook. But preferable to any negative regulations would be better education and instruction of both parents and children, through the parish and other ways, in the spiritually constructive use of the conditions under which the future generation is being called upon to live.