Television and the Montessori Child: Part 3

If you’ve read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, you’ll know that television can be very good or very bad, depending on the content, but that we as parents and teachers do have quite a bit of control over what our children see. However, there are times when children end up seeing inappropriate subject matter – or they really wish to! How do we deal with those situations?

In the Classroom

As a teacher, you may sometimes see the negative effects of television reach into the classroom. Children may use language and behaviors from inappropriate TV shows in their interaction with other children. How can you handle this? It’s usually best to talk one-on-one with the child and explain to them that they are using words or behaviors that are unacceptable at school.

Sometimes it’s necessary to discuss TV habits with the child’s parents. It’s hard to know when to do this, but my guideline was that if the TV shows (or movies) are actually affecting the child’s ability to work during school, the parents need to know about it. In one of my classes, there was a second-grade girl who routinely came to me during classtime and told me that she couldn’t concentrate because she was thinking of a scary TV show that she had watched the night before.

I talked with the school’s director, and she agreed that I needed to say something to the parents. During the parent/teacher conference, I mentioned that their daughter was complaining about the frightening images she was seeing while watching TV. She was obviously scared and it affected her ability to concentrate. It wasn’t easy to talk to them about this; when I brought it up, I was trembling because I wasn’t sure of their reaction.

The parents didn’t say much right then, although they exchanged glances, but the next day the mother came up to me after school and told me how grateful she was that I had mentioned it. Her husband was the one letting their daughters watch the violent show every week, and even though she told him it was too much for them to handle, he only took it seriously when he heard it from me. Sometimes that objective opinion, kindly shared, can make a big difference.

In the Home

As a parent, you know that even when you are careful about what children watch in your own home, you cannot control the things they see when they’re at school or at friends’ houses. This is a difficult problem. I recommend talking to your children before the situation arises. Have frank discussions (depending on their age) about what kinds of TV shows and movies are available today, and how they should handle it when a friend wants to watch something inappropriate.

Let them know that you’re happy to come and get them – with no lecturing – if they ever want to leave a friend’s house rather than watch something unsuitable. And be willing to talk to them – again, without lecturing – if they’ve seen something disturbing and need your help to understand and process it.

As you create guidelines for your own home, you might here this common refrain: “But mom, everyone else is watching it!” I know I used this line on my own parents. Rather than simply dismissing their complaints, or giving in, try to understand what they’re feeling.

Most children take their friends’ opinions very seriously, and dislike feeling left out. Many times, simply repeating their words back to them lets them know that you’ve really heard what they’re saying, and that’s enough. Of course, we know that not everyone is doing everything, but they don’t know that yet.

My Own Experience

My parents were quite strict with us when I was growing up (I am a pastor’s daughter, after all) and there were definitely times I felt left out because I didn’t get to watch some of the TV shows and movies that my friends did. However, I did not feel bitterly towards my parents for it, and there are several reasons why.

First, they explained their reasoning to me instead of falling back on “Because I said so”. Children, quite rightly, feel disrespected when they’re not given a valid reason for their parents’ decisions. In my parents’ case, they were using the Bible as their guide, but whatever reasons you have for or against a specific TV show – be they cultural, religious, educational, or ethical – be sure to explain them clearly to your child.

Second, my parents provided many options. They didn’t keep us from movies and television completely. They often let us invite our friends over to watch age-appropriate shows. This open-door policy let us have a wide social circle but let my parents keep an eye on what we were doing. If we did see something that they didn’t approve of, they were not angry but instead let us know that they were willing to talk to us about it if we desired.

The Effect of Television on the Developing Child

Many people today are lax and unconcerned about what their child sees. They often use their own feelings as a guide: if they’re not bothered by what they see, why should their child be? They don’t understand that children are in the process of creating the adult they will become. Maria Montessori uncovered this truth when she quietly observed children working. She saw that a child’s interaction with her environment became, almost literally, the building blocks of the child’s personality.

An adult can see something scary or violent and shrug it off; it’s forgotten merely minutes later. A child can see that same image, and it will become a permanent part of their psyche. They may remember it for years, even into adulthood. The trouble is, they often don’t have the language to tell us about it. They show no outward signs (at least right away) of being haunted by what they’ve seen, so we make the mistake of thinking it hasn’t affected them.

Children need as much emotional and spiritual protection as they do physical protection. Let’s not child-proof the house with outlet covers and locks on cabinets and then leave the TV on all day, every day, heedless of the damaging images and words our child takes in. The Montessori method does not forbid the presence of a TV in the home, but it urges us to use our analytical minds in all things. It’s our privilege to create the child’s environment so that he has the opportunity to absorb the very best.

For More Information:

Parents Television Council
PBS Parents – Article on Children & Media

Interested in learning more? Check out the first two posts in this series:

Television and the Montessori Child: Part 1
This post takes a look at the ways that children are influenced by violence, sexuality, and marketing on television.

Television and the Montessori Child: Part 2
This post talks about ways that television can be used positively as a learning tool.