Saturday, April 7, 2007

Television Addiction and Children - Part 2

Children have varying attention spans at different ages and their way of watching and understanding television changes with age.

From birth to 18 months
Infants can only focus on the television for a short time but the "focusing" requires tremendous effort. The television basically forces them to focus even when their minds cannot cope. Infants have no conception of boredom or entertainment and they are happy with themselves. For infants, the television is a fragmented experience of strange light and sound alterations that sometimes includes recognizable shapes.

Though the precise nature of such viewing has not yet been researched it is known that even infants begin modeling their behavior based on what they see.

2- 2 1/2 years
This is the age around which a child becomes a "viewer". Toddlers are able to create and maintain focus longer on the television and television content becomes meaningful to them, though in a limited way. Behavior imitation starts to become a serious issue at this time.

The biggest concern here is that the viewing habits established at this age are going to heavily influence viewing habits for the rest of the child's life. They need protection from wrong content or they may never see what is "wrong" about it even if they suffer from it.

3-5 years
At this age the child begins to view in an exploratory way. This means that the child is actively seeking for meaning in television content though the primary attraction still remains with fast movement, colorful images, rapid scene changes, unexpected changes in light and sound - all of which are found in cartoons.

Most of the "violent" content in cartoons is not dangerous by adult standards but for children of this age it is a huge problem. The problem is not that the violence attracts children but that children do not have the capability of putting violence into the right context. Things like motivation behind any action or the consequences after it are completely missing in child television viewing. At this age children will become more aggressive after watching any exciting television content but more so after they see violence on television.

6-11 years
Aggression becomes a serious issue between these ages. The cognitive development is far enough for children to follow complex plots, understand motivations and consequences, and to pick up on implicit messages in content. The thing here is that there is no mental effort the way there is during infancy.

By now television viewing is a passive activity - it just happens without thinking. This lack of mental effort means that information taken in from the television is not processed. The child reacts to that information without bothering to think about it.

The child will begin to move away from cartoons, though they will still remain important, and move towards adult oriented television programming. For some reason children also develop a taste for horror movies. This is believed to be an attempt to deliberately scare themselves in order to get rid of unknown fears.

By 8, the desensitizing has begun and the child becomes increasingly aggressive if violent content is viewed frequently. At the same time the child will also expect, and deliver, more violence in the real world with no just cause. It is to be noted that some children will not become aggressive when they see violence portrayed as evil or if it leads to punishment.

12-17 years
During these years the abstract thinking capability of the child peaks out but sadly these abilities are never engaged when watching television. With increasing age the child thinks lesser and lesser of what is seen on the television. Television viewing will decrease in comparison to early years and they will prefer to watch television alone rather than with the family. Puberty gets them thinking of independence, romance, and sex. The result is that they start watching music videos, horror movies, pornography (especially boys) in their quest for a solution to puberty related problems.

And of course, the solutions on television and video are all wrong.

Since adolescents think and reason better than pre-school children and they have a tendency to challenge convention and authority it makes them psychologically vulnerable to violence, crime, and the way suicide is portrayed on television.

Parental Mediation
What should be remembered is that television is all-pervasive because it is all-persuasive. It is up to parents to control television viewing and act as sensors and guides. Children must never be allowed to choose what they watch and they certainly should not have independent television sets.

Toddlers especially need to be protected from certain types of content since they imitate more than any other age group and their behavior and beliefs, such as they are at this young age, might last for life. An important thing for parents is to evaluate their own viewing habits because children are often secondary viewers.

Aggression can also be reduced by watching television together and commenting on the content, comforting the child during moments of fright, and providing the right encouragement or discouragement when television behavior is imitated.

Restricting television only works up to adolescence. After that it is more important to explain and discuss television so that adolescent rebellion does not lead to television victory. It is crucial to make the child understand that absolutely nothing on television is real and should not be taken seriously or imitated. The child must be encouraged to think while viewing instead of relapsing into a zombie state.

Television defenders will point out that television does not lead to all these problems in children. What they should be saying is that it does not lead to these problems in all children. Not everyone that tastes alcohol becomes and alcoholic and it is the same with television. Children are affected to varying degrees and just because so many of them are not affected does not mean you should put your child at risk.