Dr. Val Farmer
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Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Heavy Television Viewing Destructive To Moral Values

July 2, 2007

A study, commissioned by the Culture and Media Institute, analyzes the relationship between exposure to media and Americans’ acceptance of responsibility for their own lives and how they regard or treat others. As destructive as the content of entertainment and news media might be to the erosion of values, the main implication from the study is that most harm comes with the quantity of television viewing.

The survey compares American adults according to how many hours of television they watch, on average, every evening. People who watch an hour or less of television each evening are categorized as "light" television viewers while those who watch four or more hours of television each evening are categorized as "heavy" television viewers.

In this study, 25 percent of the public fit the description, "heavy" viewers while 22.5 percent fit the description of "light" viewers. The self-described heavy viewers consumed, on average, more than four times the amount of nightly television as the light viewers. These starkly contrasting TV habits linked directly to dramatic differences in the two groups in terms of both attitudes and actions.

Here are the main conclusions from the study. To view the report in its entirety, you can go to www.cultureandmediainstitute.org/specialreports.

The more a person watches television, the less likely he or she will:

- accept responsibility for his or her own life and to meet obligations to others.

- accept responsibility to support the needs of others by making charitable contributions or volunteering time.

- accept responsibility to respect the rights of others by practicing classical virtues like honesty, reliability and fairness.

- accept responsibility to uphold high moral standards on social and sexual issues like divorce, sex outside of marriage, abortion and homosexuality.

- value religious principles and obedience to God.

- attend church or religious services on a regular basis.

- believe the media are influencing the nation’s moral values.

The most telling finding is that increased exposure to television correlates with a decline in acceptance of personal responsibility.

Media critic Michael Medved was asked to give the keynote address the night the results of the study were unveiled.

He theorized about the connection between heavy viewing of television and the weakened moral and social values they espoused.

"First, and most obviously, the heavy television watcher gives so much attention to the tube that he’ll find scant time to spare for real-world relationships. Any individual who commits the bulk of his waking, non-working hours to his TV set will find it difficult to take part in [family and neighborhood associations]."

"A heavy TV viewer inevitably short-changes his communal and intimate relationships in favor of his engagement with the phantom characters on the tube. On the one hand, lonely people with few meaningful personal relationships will turn to the TV set to fill the empty spaces in their lives; on the other hand, TV addicts will end up harming the meaningful friendship and family connections that make life worth living."

Quantity not quality is the issue. Medved further opines, "The provocative new study from the Culture and Media Institute doesn’t examine what the respondents choose to watch, but rather measures the overall extent of their TV viewing, regardless of content. Perhaps some of the heavy viewers spend all four hours per night riveted by The History Channel, or Discovery, or PBS (fat chance)."

Medved continues, "...it doesn’t matter how tasteful or admirable the viewing selections: four hours (or more) per night will bring the same doleful impact—leading to more isolation and less durable and significant real world relationships, a more dire perspective on the world around us along with a corresponding sense of desperation and powerlessness, and a superficial, impatient, emotional emphasis on immediacy and feeling, rather than context and consequence.

"In other words, the problem with heavy television viewing isn’t the low quality of what we watch (though God knows the quality is low) but rather the high quantity."

What is the take home message from this study? The power of media influence will only grow greater with time. If parents want to raise their children to take responsibility for their lives, have good moral values, enjoy supportive and living relationships, have strong personal identity and beliefs, and adhere to and participate in religious and community life, then train them to be "light" consumers of media.

If you or those close to you are heavy consumers of mindless pop entertainment and news - 25 percent is a lot of people, then curtail the viewing and attend to that which is more important - a vibrant family life and community participation. But there is a problem. Heavy viewers are less likely to make the connection between values and their mindless and misguided diversionary viewing habits.

To read more of Michael Medved’s thoughts, go to www.townhall.com and read, "Why TV Addiction Links to Liberalism."