Television and the Montessori Child: Part 1

Television has always been an option – never a life requirement, but you wouldn’t know this from the following statistics:

* The average child spends nearly 4 hours per day watching TV
* If there is a TV in the child’s bedroom, add another 1.5 hours to that total

Numbers like these appear to put the need for television on par with the need for learning, socializing, or even sleeping. Having the TV on in the home looks like a must rather than a choice.

One of Maria Montessori’s pivotal discoveries and lifelong beliefs was that children have incredibly absorbent minds. The Montessori method evolved to ensure that the very best of materials, experiences and life lessons are what are provided for the child to soak up, helping her grow to be a confident learner, an independent problem solver and a positive contributor to society. But what is being absorbed by the growing mind of the child who spends nearly 1/3 of his waking hours in front of the television every day?

Violence and the Montessori Child

According to a report conducted by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, the average American child will witness 200,000 violent acts and 16,000 simulated murders on TV by the age of 18.

Hundreds of studies have been conducted over the past few decades which prove the link between watching violence and committing violence. These studies confirm what every Montessori teacher and parent already knows so well: repetition leads to mastery of a subject.

Though we normally would not need to have a child use a sandpaper letter 200,000 times to expect him to master it, we see how normal repetition of a concept results in a child who is thoroughly acquainted with a skill. A child who is given instructions 16,000 times, over 18 years of life, regarding how murders are enacted has, in effect, achieved a mastery of the subject of murder. This is something few parents would want for their children.

The Montessori method is grounded in a sense of peacefulness within the self and within the community. Grace in challenging situations and non-violent conflict resolution are essential skills for the child to learn in order to be a productive member of the classroom and a peaceful world citizen. The efforts of the Montessori instructor to inspire intelligent conflict resolution, no matter how often such lessons are repeated, certainly stand a strong chance of being undermined by television shows that demonstrate violent behavior 200,000 times as an appropriate way to resolve life’s conflicts.

Sexual Content and the Montessori Child

According to a survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the number of sex scenes on TV has doubled since 1998. 70% of the 20 most popular TV shows aimed at teens contain sexual content. These shows feature an average of 5 sexually-related scenes per hour.

The Montessori method begins with helping a child to view himself or herself with respect. This sense of self worth is what enables the child not only to become a problem solver, but also to recognize the worth and rights of others. In America today, 1 in 4 sexually active children have sexually transmitted diseases. The physical and psychological effects of living with such diseases are extreme and these numbers put a vital question to every American child: If sexual activity puts my valuable life and the valuable lives of other people at risk, might it be worth it to abstain from sex until marriage?

For parents, the answer to this is obvious if we want our children to enjoy health and long life, to be a benefit rather than a danger to society. But, the thousands of hours of sexual instruction given to our children by television programs leads our children not only to master the skills of life-endangering sexual behavior, but also to view such behavior as normal because of its constant repetition.

Marketers and the Montessori Child

In the Montessori environment, a child learns that she is valuable because of the gift of life and because of her potential for living a beautiful and useful life. The 20,000 TV commercials absorbed by the average child every year present a different message: that the child is valuable because of her ability to consume products and fund the existence of corporations. Numerous studies have determined that children under the age of eight are unable to understand the bias of advertising, and therefore simply view commercial messages as the ‘truth’.

Corporate marketers are paid to exploit this vulnerability, to find the most profitable way in which to instruct the child in his need for toys, fast food, video games or whatever the employer manufactures. Music, violence, sexuality and a variety of other elements are utilized to trigger desired, documented responses in the child’s mind. Consider this: the most successful people in children’s advertising are the ones who are best at manipulating children.

As Montessori parents and teachers, we are well aware that the learning and living environments we prepare are based upon our intent for a desired outcome for the children in our care. Marketers have a set of intentions for our children, too, and it is up to us to determine whether these intentions are appropriate. As creators of the environment our children live and learn in, it is up to us to determine which materials are available for absorption. TV is an option, not a requirement, and the only way the TV producers and marketers gain access to our children’s environment is after we have first given them permission to do so by the presence of a television in the home.

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

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

Television and the Montessori Child: Part 3
Suggestions for dealing with the effects of television at school and in the home.