Breaking Free of TV Prison

​I feel pretty good about myself after reading that the average American wastes 13,471 hours a year fiddling with the remote control, trying to find something to watch on TV, which probably doesn’t include the time spent actually watching TV—more than four hours a day or an estimated 9 years for a person who is 65. Just thinking about it makes my brain throb.

Since I don’t own a TV, that’s bonus time I can spend on productive activities, such as shopping on Amazon, arguing with my daughters, and pursuing my wife’s preferred pastime for me—yard work.

This is something I have in common with Pope Francis, who for more than 25 years has kept the television turned off because of a promise he made to the Blessed Virgin. In an interview with the Argentinean newspaper La Voz del Pueblo, he said: “I have not watched TV since 1990. It’s a promise that I made to the Virgin of Carmen on the night of July 15, 1990. I told myself: ‘it’s not for me.’”

Even though he loves soccer, the Pope resists the temptation to turn on the boob tube. Instead, he asks a Swiss Guard to tell him how his favorite team, San Lorenzo de Almagro in Buenos Aires, did in the league rankings.

I didn’t always share his philosophy—or eccentricity, depending upon your view. I grew up in a home with five televisions, one in every room. Four of them worked and one was broken, but we kept it anyway because my father refused to take it to the dump, possibly hoping it would miraculously repair itself. Every so often, he tried to turn it on, expecting Ed Sullivan or Andy Griffith to appear.

He loved shows about cops and robbers and World War II, so TV violence was a regular part of our lives, and gunfire constantly echoed throughout our home. Sometimes it sounded like the Battle of the Bulge was being fought in our living room.

I endured enough violence back then to last a lifetime. But television has gotten much worse, and even prime time is saturated with graphic violence, sex and profanity, which leads me to conclude most programs can be succinctly described as “trash.” (That’s a professional term I like to use.) The problem, however, is Americans don’t realize its trash. They call it “entertainment.” I recently saw an ad for another creative milestone, an Amazon-inspired program titled, “Stripped, the nudity-fueled game show.”

As parents, we have to monitor and limit what our children watch because TV can easily lure them into an insidious world that perverts reality, a world where wrong is portrayed as right, and right is portrayed as wrong. Few programs have characters who are good role models, and religion is typically presented in a negative light. Rather than being a source of guidance, TV exalts decadent lifestyles. This is something I learned the hard way.

When our four daughters were young, I’d come home from work and often find them huddled around the tube, gasping in disbelief, cheering and laughing. It was like the bleachers at Yankee Stadium during the playoffs after too much Budweiser.

They were watching Jerry Springer, which like other tabloid shows popularizes degenerate behavior. Reality TV accelerated that trend with programs like Jersey Shore, Teen Mom, Mob Wives, Housewives of (pick a city) Miami, Beverly Hills and New York, and the inimitable Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

I warned my daughters repeatedly, but no one listened so I resorted to self-righteous violence … and tore the cable box out of the wall. It felt so liberating I wanted to break down my neighbor’s door and tear his cable box out too. The screen went dark. There were tears and screams. What had Evil Daddy done?

“Are we supposed to be Amish?” someone hissed.

“What’s wrong with that?” I replied.

As a consolation, I went to Wal-Mart and bought a set of rabbit ears, which gave my daughters access to two channels, some news, Leave It to Beaver reruns and the weather. Cable-service salespeople still show up at our door and gasp when they discover we don’t own a TV. They think we’re eccentric and even worse, un-American. Which is probably true.

Save your family. Turn off your TV. Try doing something radical … and pray together. If you don’t protect your children and yourselves from the destructive influence of television, it will seep into your lives, and soon things you were convinced were immoral will seem acceptable and fashionable. But by then, it will be too late.

Follow the Pope’s example. Switch off the TV.