Thursday, March 29, 2007

Television Addiction and Children

There is an argument that watching television has some benefits. Like, it can be entertaining (hah!) or educational (bah!), open new horizons to children (pah!), help them know about cultural diversity (tcah!), and so on.

The truth is that television watching is not merely bad - it is downright dangerous. Today, there is content (TV channels, DVD, and so on) targeted at babies 2-years old and younger even when medical science is screaming that children up to 2 years of age must be shielded from this scourge.

It is important to know that television has become a huge part of the lives of children.

  • Children spend around 4 hours per day watching television.
  • In 65% of homes the television is on during meals.
  • In 50% of homes the television is perpetually on.
  • Some parents are actually foolish enough to encourage television viewing.
All this television is having some very obvious reactions that are not at all obvious to those who watch it. Here are some examples of what television is doing to children.
  • It is replacing normal childhood activities like playing with friends, physical activity, being out in fresh air, using their imagination, reading, doing chores and homework.
  • The time spent watching TV is time lost that should be spent in interacting with the family.
  • TV viewing leads to behavior problems, sleep problems, poor grades, and obesity.
  • TV programming for children focuses on stereotypes, violent solutions, bad behavior - not at all what parents ought to be teaching or children ought to be learning.
  • Advertisements for children specifically encourage snack foods and beverages that lead to health problems. This does not include exposure to alcohol and tobacco.
Television Addiction and Child Brain Development
As mentioned earlier, today we have content that is specifically targeted at infants (2 years old or younger). There is no unanimous opinion on what effect this has on the brain development of the child. Some studies show a clear connection to problems like ADHD but then some experts disagree. Another study discovered that cognitive development suffers because of television viewing before the age of 3.

This is what the American Academy of Pediatrics has to say about infant television viewing.

"Children of all ages are constantly learning new things. The first 2 years of life are especially important in the growth and development of your child's brain. During this time, children need good, positive interaction with other children and adults. Too much television can negatively affect early brain development. This is especially true at younger ages, when learning to talk and play with others is so important.

Until more research is done about the effects of TV on very young children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend television for children age 2 or younger."

In addition to the above it is also noted that television first discourages and eventually replaces reading. Reading requires a lot more brainpower that acts as an exercise regime for healthy brain development. When children are exposed to television they get dumber than they ought to be.

Television Addiction, Children, and Violence
This is another great controversy with no clear agreement on whether television actually causes violence. Considering that children learn from everything they see and experience, here are some damning statistics.
  • By the age of 18 an individual will have seen 18,000 murders and 200,000 acts of violence.
  • 66% of all television programming focuses on violence.
  • Programs that are designed for children have more violence than those designed for adults.
  • Violence on television is seldom punished; it is actually represented as being funny. The suffering that follows violence is never depicted.
  • Television glamorizes violence when showing it to children.
  • For children, even the act of good guys beating up bad guys is a clear lesson that violence is good. This is especially true below the age of 8 when children do not differentiate between fantasy and reality.
  • Television viewing effectively murders the human child's inhibition to violence and human suffering.
Television Addiction and Child Trauma
What children view on the television can easily lead to trauma (even extreme conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD).
  • Anxiety, nightmares, fear of being alone, not going to school are all examples of behavior problems because of television viewing.
  • Children between the ages of 2-7 are especially scared of grotesque shapes and monsters. It is no good explaining to the child that it is just television because the child's brain cannot grasp the difference.
  • Though it goes unnoticed, most children regret watching television when they experience "fright reactions".
  • Children become needlessly afraid that they might be the next victim of an act of violence or some natural disaster.
Television Addiction and School Performance
  • Television replaces activities like reading, homework, hobbies, sports, and causes sleep problems.
  • Television has a long term effect on academic achievement. According to one study the individual will be hampered up to the age of 26 after uncontrolled childhood television viewing.
  • Poor academic performance in school is directly linked to television viewing.
Television Addiction and Racial/Gender Attitudes
Television also affects a child's perspective and beliefs about race and gender.
  • Television stereotypes everything and children grow up believing in those stereotypes.
  • Television viewing encourages racism and intolerance.
  • In the western nations, television programs and movies seldom focus on the eastern side and even when it does it is either negatively or it is stereotyped. The same applies in reverse.
  • Television women are always thin. Fat women mostly have negative characters.
  • Fair people are always given prominence and darker skin tones are made to look inconsequential and undeserving of human empathy.
  • Commercials for kitchenware, cleaning products, and similar consumables always feature thin and beautiful female characters.
  • Even in G-rated content for children, which is allegedly safe for them, male characters outnumber females by 3:1. These men are never in healthy relationships and always solve problems with violence.
  • Dark skinned characters in G-rated content are always bad, comedians, or dumb sidekicks.
  • Music videos exaggerate the image of women as victims and darker skinned males as aggressors despite this being a complete lie.
Television Addiction and Child Health
The biggest health hazard in television is the commercials. Children that watch television automatically assume it to be a legitimate source of good information. Unfortunately, all advertisements tell them to eat foods that lead to obesity and cholesterol problems. Television also encourages children to engage in risky activities like performing stunts, doing drugs, and engaging in unprotected sex.
  • Weight and Obesity
    • Children between the ages of 3-4 who spend more than 2 hours watching television will be overweight.
    • This continues into adulthood with a high risk of obesity and associated diabetes.
    • Television is the biggest contributing factor that leads to weight problems. Diet, physical inactivity, and sedentary behavior are all negligible problems in comparison.
    • Television viewing cultivates the habit of snacking, which leads to weight problems.
    • 70% of all food products advertised on child television are bad for health.
    • Metabolism slows with age, causing middle-aged people to accumulate more fat as they get older. The metabolic rate of a child drops like a rock while watching television. Sitting idle staring into space will result in a better metabolism than watching television.
    • Children are specifically targeted by the food and beverage industry. All their products are high on calories, salt, sugar, fat, and extremely low in nutrients.
    • A recent study has showed that restricted television viewing among adolescents resulted in weight loss.

  • Childhood Television and Adult Health
  • A study of adults (age 26) who watched television as children resulted in the following data.
    • 17% were overweight.
    • 15% had high cholesterol.
    • 17% were smokers.
    • 15% were in poor health due to physical inactivity.

  • Physical Hazards
    • The biggest cause of childhood death is injury and television viewing encourages risky behavior.
    • Millions of children the world over suffer injuries every year trying to duplicate television stunts (these include stunts seen in movies).
    • A study of sports broadcasts revealed that 50% of all commercials include some unsafe activity or violence.

  • Insomnia
    • Children and adolescents suffer from maladjusted sleep patterns and other sleep disorders due to watching television.
    • Healthy (REM) sleep is crucial to staying in good health and it requires regular sleeping hours. Children who watch television suffer from irregular and unsatisfying sleep.
    • By early adulthood this problem can solidify into permanent and incurable insomnia.

  • Alcohol
    • Alcohol is nearly ubiquitous on television. Children are constantly exposed to alcohol use. Simply put, it is the most widely used beverage on television and it is always portrayed as "cool".
    • Alcohol consumers on television are mostly happy, sexy, and quite thoroughly successful despite the fact that they are drunk most of the time.
    • Most prime time programs targeted at teens will have subtle if not downright overt references to why alcohol consumption is right and proper.

  • Smoking
    • Though tobacco commercials are banned the programs continue showing healthy people enjoying smoking.
    • Tobacco advertisements are always covert and hence they can target anybody, even a 5 year old can recognize a popular cigarette brand.
    • Children who watch television begin smoking much earlier than others. Parental smoking, peer smoking, and gender bias are negligible to television induced smoking.

  • Sex and Safety
    • Parents, for some reason, avoid talking to their children about sexual intercourse, sexual relationships, sexually transmitted diseases (STD), birth control, and similar important issues. Children receive most of this information through television.
    • Though there is enough about sex on television to make the Kama sutra irrelevant there is hardly sufficient content on safe sex and birth control.
    • Sexual content on television has doubled in the last 10 years. 70% of all teenage programs have sexual content and 15% out of these show spontaneous sex - you meet someone and instead of saying "Hello" you have sex.
    • Television encourages teenagers to have sex at an unsafe age.

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