The Plug-in Drug

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All parents, or soon to be parents, need to read The Plug-In Drug by Marie Winn. It is a book that explains how television is destroying our children and our families.

I have been a professional in the television and radio industry for over 30 years. I work for a company that makes nationally broadcasted programming here in Japan and we often work with the TV Tokyo network, NHK, and nationally broadcasted radio. I also have the experience of being one of the few people who has ever gone to drug rehabilitation and successfully recovered (96% of all drug addicts who enter rehab will return to drug rehab — I have never returned, nor have I needed to — thanks to my wife.)

The Plug-In Drug is a wonderfully insightful book with excellent ideas. The only problem I had with it was a small bit of a seeming compromise by the author on the issue of controlling TV watching time. I think the writer does this because she knows that a “No TV life” is a concept that is too alien in our society today and that the parents would be too adverse to the idea of throwing out the box. Unfortunately, it is the parents who need the TV more than the children. The parents use TV as a babysitter and that, in turn, gets the children hooked. I can tell you from experience that there is no practical solution to trying to control TV watching. The only practical and successful method for controlling TV is to throw the set out. Even though I work in TV, we do not have a TV set in our house.

Imagine a drug addict only doing heroin “just for a few hours a day.” It won’t work. They will backslide. The only realistic and practical solution is total abstinence and the only way to do this is by eliminating the device.

The TV is actually a drug. But its dangers are even worse than anyone suspects. Married couples think, “Without a TV, my husband and I would have nothing to talk about” (I’ve heard this many times) but these people have it backwards. Because they have a TV, the couples don’t talk about important things and make the effort at spiritual growth (no I’m not talking about religion). The Plug-In Drug should be an advocate for “The TV-Free Family.”

People always say that they love their children and that they will do anything for them. But, for the most part, and from what I’ve seen, it’s not true. There is one thing that they will not do for their children: They haven’t the courage to throw the TV out.

Five years ago I did. I made the conscious decision that I was going to raise my son without television. You see, I have four children now, in ranges from 4- to 24-years-old. I raised my first three with a television in the house. I love my kids, but the first two had serious problems with school. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again. I can’t really fire myself from the father role, but I could look at what I had done wrong and try to remedy it. My son was born to my third wife. My wife was raised in a house that had no television either so getting rid of the plague in our house met no resistance from her (she never watched anyway).

I decided that I was going to do things differently this time. I was going to be a part of my child’s education. I was going to teach him to read and write before school started. I was going to try to raise a genius kid. I figured that since I was just a few shoe laces short of genius myself that I was going to need professional help and advice. I looked up Linda Schrock Taylor and read all of her articles. I then contacted her and she was most gracious and kind and told me what books to buy and how to proceed — I was surprised that she was so helpful and that she made herself available — the sign of a truly dedicated professional — but help she did. Religiously, I followed her instructions to the letter and bought every book she mentioned. I consider this part a critical piece of the puzzle with how this has turned out so far.

My son turned four years old last month. He has seen TV, of course, but not at our house. I will soon tell you the results of my real life test with my son.

Usually, parents try to do their best. The problem is that, in most families, the children are roughly the same age, so it is difficult to pinpoint and to immediately rectify problems in time. I am one of the rare people who get the chance to do it all over again. There is a 21-year difference between my youngest and oldest.

Another big reason I decided to do away with the television is that it is just full of lies and liars. I know. I work in the mass media. I know that these people, not all but most, are vain, dishonest, and their God is money. The last straw was the Iraq War. I was incensed that these people would or could go on television and lie their butts off for money. And they keep on doing it even today. They even lie about things that no one really cares about. How do they sleep at night?

So since I have to eat, work with these people, and deal with them daily to survive then why would I voluntarily want to bring these criminals, liars, and thieves into my house — and pay for it no less? Think about it for a moment. People know that most of what they see on TV is dishonest and a lie, yet they pay for it to invade the sanctity of their home?

Everyone knows television lowers students test scores. Everyone knows television is too violent. Everyone knows that television is bad for kids. Yet everyone voluntarily brings this plague into their homes and pays for it to be there. Insanity.

There is one more part about television that is not spoken about so often but I’ve arrived at the conclusion that television also causes violence, not just among the children, but among parents too. I’d wager that there is a correlation between television watching and number of divorce.

Anyhow, parents can get rid of the television and kill many birds with one stone. I got rid of the television and found a way to replace that time with enjoyment; the enjoyment of learning that can only be shared with a parent and child. My child now loves books and has little interest in television (a big deal since you realize that the television will only, ultimately, lead to the kid wasting time playing hand-held computer games). I was able to spend the time with my child, just the two of us, time that most parents think they share with their kids, but actually never do (whoever wrote that nonsense about quality time over quantity time must have some really screwed up kids about now).

I’m not a “Rock Music is the devil’s music” type of nut. But I believe that removing the TV from the home is the only hope for us as a free society. People need to throw out the television. Television spouts lies constantly. It costs money (even without cable, you pay for electricity). The television set and stand is a magnet for junk and trash. What good does it do?

The Plug-In Drug mentions that it is not just the content of TV that is bad, but it is the act of watching TV that is bad. Watching TV is a displacement of time. One hour of TV viewing is one hour taken away from other more beneficial and healthy real-world activities. If you recognize this truth, then you’d also realize Children’s TV is harmful. TV is harmful regardless of content.

I reckon the part about television content that is most damaging to small children are the commercials. They are not natural. Think about nature: is there anything in nature that flashes in front of a child every half-second? No, this type of movement destroys a child’s ability to concentrate.

Everyone knows that television dulls the senses, ruins concentration, hinders curiosity, and is a passive way to spend time. But throw that in with it being full of liars and crooks and you’ve really got to wonder why people willingly place this in their house. When I point this out people will always say, “We have a television, but we don’t watch it.” I don’t believe that. If they don’t watch it, then they shouldn’t have a problem giving it away to the closest soup kitchen or homeless center where they’ll use it 24/7. If someone has a refrigerator they don’t use, they sell it or throw it away, right?

And now, I’d like to give you the results of my real life “No TV” test for my son:

A few weeks ago, I took my just-turned-four-years-old son to an admissions interview for Kindergarten into one of the top international schools in all of Japan. We were inquiring about admission for September 2008 or September of 2009. The admissions officers and principal were kind, to be sure, but I gathered that they spent most of their time rejecting applications. It seemed that I was there begging to get my son in. Which, I guess I honestly have to say, I felt I was.

I brought my son to see if he would be accepted into a second-tier school as we had already given up on the top school, which is the best International School in all of Japan; if not all of Asia — and is nearly impossible to gain admission into. Both schools are related and run by the Catholic Church here. If my son passed the interview, he would have been scheduled for a test. The teachers met with him for thirty minutes and announced to my surprise and glee that they believe we have a “gifted child” who “probably has a photographic memory.” They insisted that he start the following week.

The principal’s attitude changed radically. Here I was hoping to get my son into school late this year or next, but the principal was suddenly pushing us to start him now!

What happened? At the interview, the principal put out a book for my son to read called, Ten Little Monkeys. He read it. In fact, he zoomed right through it. The teacher didn’t seem too impressed and asked me if we had this book at home. I said “No!” I then told her that this book was far too easy for him. She smiled knowingly. Then I showed her how simple it was by asking my son to do a game we often do at home and read the book backwards. He did. The principal looked shocked. I then asked her to just grab any book out of the bookshelf and give it to him. She did. The book was Knuffle Bunny. He had no problem reading this book either and it has difficult words for children all through it. I was pleasantly surprised when my son could read words like “Laundromat” and “Plaaatt!” He was also able to read “Knuffle” with the “N” sound first and proceeded to read this book backwards too.

Not only did he floor the instructors and principal at the interview, they waived the entire test series and told us that he won’t need to take them at all. In fact, the principal was no longer talking about the second-tier; she was talking about the best school in the country. They then declined all further testing and immediately put him on an “escalator course” telling us that, “If you would put him in our school, then he will get into any university in the world that he wants to go to.” The shoe was on the other foot. All-of-a-sudden I wasn’t begging, they were begging me to put my son in school.

How did this happen?

What was different from my son and my other children?

We threw our television out when my wife became pregnant. We talked to our son and even read books to him before his birth. I make rock music TV and radio shows but absolutely do not allow him to listen to loud music. It is common sense that loud aggressive sounds cannot be good for small children. We only played Classical Music.

The television has ruined the United States and our people. We’ve had moron presidents and congress (as well as television announcers) come and go but the television remains. I couldn’t change my children’s father — just as you cannot suddenly change the American people — but we can change the future.

It will be a very competitive future, every man for himself. We must give our children the ability to at least have a chance.

Is my son gifted? I don’t know, in fact, I doubt it. But I do know that no one would even consider that notion today if he had been sitting in front of a television being desensitized and made into an unthinking zombie (like the rest of the children are). The fact of the matter is that I reckon that, because my son watches no TV, he is actually normal. He seems gifted if only because the other kids have been made dumb because of television; it’s easy to look great if everyone standing around you looks so bad. People need to stand up and look at the television. Everyone, deep down in their heart, knows what it is doing to themselves and their family.

As has been the case for a thousand years, the successful, educated, and wealthy read books. The future will be no different; the television-free people will read the books. The future belongs to the television-free people. Now people need to ask themselves, if they really love their child and would they really do anything for that child? Anything?

By the way, there is another child attending my son’s school that the teachers consider especially bright. This child’s father works at NHK, the big national TV network here. I introduced myself to the father and asked about TV at home, guess what? He told me that he had thrown out the TV when his son was born. He said the same thing as I did: Basically that everything on TV is a scam and a lie, so he didn’t want it in his home. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

I believe that there is a movement to throw away the TV that is starting. Yes, it is very small now, but it is dedicated and growing. It is not organized and I don’t believe that it needs to be. I promote the “No TV in the home” idea whenever I can. I’d love to see more people really caring for their children and giving them the tools that they’ll need to succeed: They’ll get those tools by real life experience, not by watching TV.

Heck, you know that there isn’t anything worth watching anyway. Do yourselves and your children a favor: throw out the TV. It’s easier to do than you think.

* A toast and a cheer to Linda Schrock Taylor, one of the best children’s educators in the United States today. Without Ms. Schrock Taylor’s help, this article would have never happened. Incredibly enough the State doesn’t want educated children so Linda Schrock Taylor has taken to the public speaking and private teaching route. You can contact her here.

Mike (in Tokyo) Rogers [send him mail] was born and raised in the USA and moved to Japan in 1984. He is the president of a mass-media production company and also runs a talent agency in Japan. He is now the Music Director of Gotcha Media. His book, Schizophrenic in Japan, went on sale in 2005.

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