Self-Esteem, the Industrial Revolution, & TV

Self-Esteem, the Industrial Revolution, and TV

If you were asked “What are the three top characteristic you hope to imbue in your child?” there’s a good chance that self-esteem would be one of your answers.

A healthy level of personal esteem will allow your child to seek achievement, solid relationships, and have the courage to be honest with himself and others.

In contrast, a person who is lacking self-esteem will generally not attempt to achieve more than the minimum and will often enter detrimental relationships because he does not feel deserving of better.

This feeling of value and esteem is enhanced by accomplishments. After all, how good can a person feel about himself if he shirked his responsibilities and spent his time doing nothing much?

There’s a good chance that there is somebody in your circle of influence that was dismissed from his job because a computer was able to take over his responsibilities. What a tremendous blow that must have been to his sense of self, to be relegated as irrelevant because a machine now has the capacity to do what he used to accomplish!

Imagine with me for a moment, how hundreds of cotton laborers must have felt with the invention of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin at the start of the Industrial Revolution. Wham! Their services and labor are now insignificant and useless.

The many blessings of the Industrial Revolution also brought about several negative impacts upon society. As people moved from farms to urban areas and machines took over many of the tasks humans had been busy with for centuries, children’s responsibilities lessened. Two centuries ago, the majority of children had to help out with the myriad of chores that had to be accomplished to keep a household running during that era.

While we are doubtless grateful for the ease of use of the many technological advantages we have today, the downside is that today’s children generally have few, if any, household responsibilities.

In the past, a six-year-old boy could gather the eggs of the chickens for which he cared and see tangible evidence of his toil. A young girl could sew an item of clothing and watch her creation develop into a useful and wearable dress.

Jump ahead to the present and contrast those scenarios with the activity that overtakes so much of our children’s time: Watching TV.

Can you imagine how you would feel if you had to sit at your front window for three hours a day and do nothing but watch your neighbors enjoying their lives? What if your neighbors were far wealthier, more beautiful, and had more exciting relationships than yours? And what if every single day you spent a significant amount of time at the window doing nothing but passively watching them go about their interesting activities?

What kind of feelings do you think would surface in your heart during those hours at the window? Emotions like jealousy, inferiority, and lack of self-esteem would likely be at the forefront of your feelings.

After spending an hour or two watching TV, how much personal esteem can be gained by our children from their couch-potato-activity? Television turns a naturally active child from a creator and accomplisher into a passive spectator of other people’s lives.

Other people’s lives that are not based on anything remotely related to reality, no matter how many reality shows are broadcast! TV characters lives are painted in vivid neon hues, far more colorful than the natural rainbow of colors that is real life.

When you look at the transition in children’s lives over the past centuries- from playing an integral, active role in a family’s household in a meaningful way, to becoming an inactive robot with eyes glued to a flashing screen for hours a day, is it any wonder that self-esteem levels have plummeted drastically?

Go ahead and turn of the TV and write down a family contract with a workable and realistic TV schedule that allows 60 minutes or less of viewing time on weeknights.

Then, together with your child, get creative.

Look for activities that entertain, build skills, and have tangible results. Help your child with a new craft project, and display the finished result prominently. Volunteer together at a children’s shelter and watch the disadvantaged children’s eyes light up with the gifts of your old games. Take up gardening together, and relish the farm-fresh taste of the fruits and vegetables of your joint handiwork.

Please share other ideas for activities that have real results and yield a true boost in self-esteem below!


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  1. Hi, my 7 and 10 old boys get 1 hour of tv tuesdays, wed, and thursdays. mondays are family nights and they wrestle with my husband or we catch up on reading. Fridays we try to go to temple. On the weekend they get some more tv time, but we still limit the number of shows and they have to pick either a show or a movie. We also do not have any playing devises (i don’t even know what they are called … box? nintendos?). They can use my laptop but they usually want to write stories. When we are more relaxed about it and they watch more than we intend, they start arguing the moment they leave the sofa. As if they realize they have not been physically or emotionally present for the past amount of time, or as if they loose social skills. thanks for the article.
    Jannet in Miami, FL.

  2. OH man did this hit home! You are absolutely right, my kids are into so much trouble at home and school. The teachers had mentioned the possibility of boredom and I thought to myself, of course they are bored all they do is watch tv. It is so easy to just turn it on to preoccupy them so that I can get some housework done, or get some much needed respite. Now, I see that some of the issues that are surfacing are due to the fact that they just watch too MUCH TV. I, for one, am going to make a conscious effort to start challenging my children and rewarding their endeavors. What an awesome chance to cultivate young minds! I didn’t realize just how important my role was. Thanks.

  3. Tnah Louise says:

    We have four sons ranging in age from 21 months to 11 years old. We decided when our eldest son was 4 that we would no longer continue to support cable or national TV. From that point we have just allowed our children to watch videos, that we can approve before viewing. Do not get me wrong, our children love TV like any others, but what has been great is the fact that they never have asked or demanded things that are often shown on commercials like ceareal, junk food, toys). We allow them a movie on weeknights if they have completed their homework. We use Friday night Movie night as incentive to do a really great job all week. When all has been met we pull out the projector, get a movie they all agree on have popcorn and make it really exciting.
    Our eldest son choses to use his free time playing his guitar, violin, and often times loves to read over watching TV. That saying out of site out of mind really goes a long way in our home! Our six year old was over a friend’s house when he got completely confused when a commercial disrupted the show, he thought that the TV broke and wanted the program they were watching back on!
    I know it seems like a really big contradiction but ourchildren and husband are all actors in the entertainment field, we utilize this business to practice our expression and to save up for college, but our feelings on watching Tv are completely different.

    Tnah in Studio Cit,y California

  4. My husband and I both agreed before we got married that we didn’t want the influence of television in our home. Our kids have grown up without it. We don’t have a video player, or ninetendo type games either. We do have a computer but the kids are limited in how many games they can play. We don’t go to movies in theaters either, because of the values (or lack thereof) that are portrayed. Reading is a big activity as well as building with lego, blocks, cars and trains, dolls, cooking, baking, etc.

  5. Thank you for publishing this! We only let our 3-year-old watch PBS and movies that are for kids, but sometimes it ends up being many hours of the day. I feel ashamed that I have made excuses to myself and rationalized it by only letting her watch what I have said is okay. Why is it okay? So that I can get some chores done (even though they never really get done), so I can have some free time (to use the computer and click around in meaningless circles), to plant my garden and have the neighbors compliment my endeavors (instead of our endeavors), to get my homework done so I can one day contribute more to our finances? It’s always something and yet nothing at the same time. I am making a vow right now, to literally let her watch no more than 1 hour in the morning and one in the evening from now on (I have to be realistic – I’m not going to be able to cut it out completely – I need to wean us both off of it).
    Tomorrow the movies are going to be removed from the TV room so as to be out of sight out of mind and we are going to get out the paints and have fun together!
    Thank you so much for sending me the link to this article – Our little one deserves more from me and I’ve always known it but now it’s right in front of me. What a clear picture you have painted!
    Thank you!!!

  6. Love this article. We have one working TV in our home. We have a lock on it, and the children earn television time by reading a classic, or doing chores. We really don’t watch much tv. I hope it’s okay to post where I got the tv lock from Family Safe Media they have locks and filters for your tv and dvds. I really have liked having them. You make some great points in this article. Keep them coming!


  7. Build Self-Esteem: call it- “Adventure Day”

    Buy one disposable camera per child. Take children to a nearby park, waterspot, etc.

    let them take pics of what they see. With pics- have kids make a poster of their Adventure day.

    They will be proud of what they did, have a reminder of their work for positive reinforcement. Also a great memory of family fun time.

  8. You’re preaching to the choir again Ellen. I love it! I’m a big Luddite myself. 🙂
    Have you read 4 Arguments for the Elimination of Television? Great stuff!

  9. This article is brilliant!! What a great comparison of children’s responsibilities then and now and the impact on self-esteem. We have 3 girls aged 4 to 10. Our children are allowed TV on the weekends and Friday night is family movie night. During the week, they do homework and play together. In fact, they complain that they don’t have enough play time together. They’re not big readers or game kids, just imaginative games like “school” or “Mommy” or building a “city” with their toys. I value their playtime because I want their sister relationships to be strongly rooted as they grow older and begin to navigate towards friends. I am trying to think of appropriate chores for them because I do think they should have some household responsibilities. So far, they make their beds, tidy their rooms, tidy the toyroom, put away their laundered clothes, set the table and clear the table. What else can I have them do?

  10. Joseph Abrams says:

    With your permission, I would like to reprint this in our school news letter. Of course, I will site credits to you and your web site. Rabbi Joseph Abrams

  11. So true! Our girls get into trouble when they are bored and it’s our responsibility as their parents to teach them that “zoning out” in front of the TV is not the best way to spend our time.

  12. valerie miller says:

    Wow! That cotton gin example is really horrible. The laborers affected by the invention of the cotton gin were enslaved! It really devalues the content of the article. I really appreciate your articles in general so I encourage you to remove that example. It is offensive.

  13. diane warstler says:

    I’ve got one better, get rid of the t.v. altogether!!! My children were raised without one. untill 2 years ago when we got one for my husband and its in our room. And people are constantly telling me what great imaginations my kids have. they are 15, 13, and 11. They all still like to dressup , putting on plays and thinking up fun things to do. When they say they are bored, I find work for them to be done. they do like movies, and even that can get out of hand. Even when you are careful, our children are bombarded from every direction with the worldly values. We have to stand up for our children and fight back. For their sakes. And people actually wonder where all the violence and sexuality is coming from today?? Wake up people. Your 18 month old does not need a television to teach him anything, do not listen to them. Our kids need us, not t.v.

  14. steve in wisconsin says:

    I agree with you 100%. However when my kids went to school the other kids played Star Wars and Power Rangers on the playground and my kids did not know what they were talking about. My kids (6 and 8) at the time begged us to watch these videos because they felt like outsiders at school. Also when my son was at someone’s house who was playing a violent video game he would have to come home. He would be sobbing that he had to leave the friend’s house. Soon the boys started laughing at and bullying my son for being such a wimp. It is not so easy to have your kid feel like a freak when friendships are so important. Our society makes it difficult to be a good parent.

  15. I have , for years, seen the negative effect television has had on my grandchildren. But I have never heard anyone make such an impressive description of the effects of television. Well done! We raised our own children without a TV in our home. Then my husband, who was raised himself in front of one, decided to bring TV back into our home. I asked him the other day if it bothered him to see people get their head blowed off and five people shot to death in less than five minutes. That’s just TV, he said. How long will it take for the soul to stop groaning over such scenes?

  16. Joseph Abrams says:

    I know you need sponsors, but isn’t it ironic that with such a good message against TV, that your sponsor is a cable company? RJA

  17. Pat McLoughlin says:

    The reality is that tv is a major component of our culture. To completely take away tv can make your child socially awkward and not be able to relate to his peers when it comes to pop culture. That may sound insignificant, but when it comes to children, especially teenagers, pop culture plays an important part of their lives. I’m all for limiting tv and keeping it age appropiate. But instead of completely turning off the tv, how about sitting with your child and watching with them. Ask how they felt about the story, what would they do in that situation? Also, I explain to my children that commercials are essentially lies. The advertiser wants you to buy their product. They don’t care about you, they only want your money.
    TV can be used for life lessons

  18. Kelly Ford says:

    Thank you for this article. Lack of TV in my children’s life has made my life much easier! When children learn to use their imagination they are able to entertain themselves anywhere, anytime. Studies show that the flashing lights and changing camera angles inhibit concentration, shortening attention span. This makes it hard for a child to stick to something and constantly makes the caregiver the focus (“what can I do now?”).

    I was raised in a TV watching family, but it was always my parents watching. Now, I can’t stand the background noise! My husband and I do watch two shows that we like during the week and an occasional movie, but always after the kids are sleeping. We enjoy reading, playing instruments and talking to each other.

    My family is lucky enough to be in a community school that discourages television watching. It is a stark difference from our last school where movies were part of the daily routine. I have watched as my 4 year old child’s play has changed. Play used to be acting out scenes in movies and TV pretending to be the charaters and now she makes up her own stories and acts them out using her imagination. There is also no more (OK, limited) asking for toys marketed by movies and TV. But a simple, “sorry, we don’t buy those” seems to work.

    Keep up the great articles – we really enjoy them!

  19. Dear Steve
    My daughter is 15 and is bullyed and has been since we moved here. We live in Arkansas. She is one of the few girls who is not in favor of having sex and allowing boys to grope her and so she is a “freak” in her school. But I think in the long run We have taught her more about self esteem and choosing wisely and resisting peer pressure. So she does not do drugs and thinks the kids who have to get drunk to have fun are immature. Even without TV the society places a lot of pressure to sexualize our young daughters.

  20. I agree that too much TV can be detrimental. We got my son involved into sporting activities, and as long as it is light out I play catch with a baseball or football nearly every single day. When he was little we got a trampoleen, which got him outside and physically doing something. His friends loved the trampoleen and prefered playing on it than watching TV. The TV he does watch are sports generally. He has a playstation but prefers to play outside and be physcially active. He also gains tons of self esteem through his accomplishments in sports. ie. making a catch, hitting the ball etc. By being invloved in sports it also, gets him involved with other kids that are into physical activities as uposed to watching TV or hanging out on the street corner.

    I truly believe that you have to get your children involved in an after school activity, wether it be sports or something else, and that will get them off the couch and doing things that build self esteem and positive relationships.

  21. We have always controlled what our kids can watch and how much media is consumed by our children and ourselves. I believe that because of the limits imposed, our family is more thoughtful about what we choose watch and we get a good deal of satisfaction from it as well.
    We have known children who are allowed to consume as many hours of tv, movies, and video games as they wish . Being with these kids drives my own family crazy. They have tv or movies on constantly but do not really watch. And my kids find endless video game playing to be so very boring.
    My kids are now 13, 10 and 6. Their sense of appropriateness is strong. They actually choose not to play or watch inappropriate games or tv shows when they are visiting friends. They just don’t enjoy spectating mindlessly when there is so much fun to be had in the real world!
    I have chosen to be very frank with my kids. I have told them that it is not just violence and sexual content and language but abilities that go into rating systems. I have explained that they will enjoy it so much more as an adult when they have the skills to succeed.
    Another comment heard around my house: My son says, “Mom, my friend is on level X (imagine a really high number here) on a video game.” My response, “Wow. That is a huge accomplishment. I wonder how many hours of sitting on the couch it took him to get to that level.” My son always giggles and heads outside smiling!

  22. great article. we dont have a tv but the computer can make pumkin out of our kids too.
    we have a large family so by default all the kids chip in and help. however your idea of giving the kids responsibility with something they can show for really is a great trick. i remember when my 20 yr old son was 16 i gave him the priveledge/opportunity/responsibility of building our kitchen. bought it at home depot he snapped it together , installed it, the tiles and all. it made him feel like a man and ..act like a man.
    i am going to buy some wood to give my 12 year old boy to make a nighttable for my 6 yr old girl.
    thanks for your great articles and ideas.and encouragement to keep doing the right thing in these difficult times.
    p.s can i have permission to reprint this for our kids school?

  23. I am always surprised that a family can fit even an hour of tv into a day! By the time we do afterschool snacks, violin practice, a walk outside and my 8-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son get time to do something they love to do like knit or build a road for their cars or dance to some music or ride their bikes or shoot some hoops, it’s time for reading and bed-time! We are virtually TV free, and the biggest benefit I’ve noticed is that our youngest two have learned to PLAY together. Outside, inside, not always peacefully of course, but I have a feeling they’re building a lifetime connection by being each other’s greatest source of entertainment.

  24. Wow, lots of words of wisdom you’ve posted here- thank you!

    Marcy- I love that “Adventure Day” with disposable cameras idea; we are going to do that soon!

    Cosseta- What else needs to be done in your household? Washing the car- inside and out, caring for the pets, baking, cooking (with an adult’s supervision, of course), painting the basement or old furniture, organizing last season’s clothing to be put away (Why does that take me about a month to do???), vacuuming, washing the counters (make sure you have non-toxic cleaning products!!), sewing on buttons, sewing labels onto items that will be taken to sports activities or camp, lawn and garden care, oh, there’s trillions of things to do over here!!

    TV producers, by the way, have NO INTEREST in providing quality programming to your family. Their ONLY interest is in GATHERING VIEWERS for their commercials. That’s it! Therefore, the more obscene, ridiculous, outrageous, sexually explicit their programs are, the more viewers they can generally gather, and thus more profit.

  25. I don’t buy the “my kids need TV to have a social life” argument. I was raised without TV. My friends could recite lines from old Brady Bunch episodes, Young Frankenstein and the like. I would laugh and then we would talk about something else, like books, boys or whatever else! If teens can only carry on conversation about TV, that is an argument for not watching it!