Should parents worry about what television is doing to their children? Is it making them fatter, stupider, more violent? After all, TV has changed since today's parents were children. It's bigger, brasher and on all the time. There used to be something called the "toddlers' truce" when TV went off air between six and seven o'clock so parents could put their children to bed; now kids' cable networks broadcast 24 hours a day. In the old days, too, there was a kids' slot called Watch with Mother; today there are fears that television is watched too much without mother, that the goggle box is being used disastrously as a virtual babysitter.
TV has moved on from the innocent world of Camberwick Green to become a fearful source of seemingly imponderable questions. Should parents be limiting the time children spend in front of the television? Does it matter what they watch? Parents' fears are fuelled by surveys purporting to demonstrate that TV viewing is harmful. Last week, a report in the Lancet warned parents of a link between children's excessive viewing habits and long-term health problems such as poor fitness and raised cholesterol. It also claimed that youthful TV addicts were more likely to smoke.
One study has linked television viewing to obesity and another to aggressiveness. Earlier this year, an American survey claimed to have found an association between TV viewing among toddlers and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at school age. On a positive note, you might think that the hyperactivity would help to cancel out the obesity, and that the consequences of aggressiveness might well be ameliorated by wandering attention (they might forget who to hit), but researchers at the Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Centre in Seattle don't seem to have considered these possibilities. They were concerned to show that the hard-wiring of toddlers' brains can be detrimentally affected by the unrealistic visual stimuli that television allegedly sends pinging all over toddlers' synapses. Not only are kids destined to become fat and thuggish, it seems, but early exposure to TV is going to make them prone to concentration problems at school.
"We all know that the brains of newborns continue to develop rapidly, that the final tuning is done, as it were, outside the womb. The rapid pace of TV may not help," Dr Dimitri Christakis, who led the research, tells the Guardian. "The idea came to me when I was at home with my three-month-old son. If he saw a television he was mesmerised by it. He had no idea of what the content was. I was curious what the effect of that degree of stimulation would be."
His hypothesis was that very early exposure to television during critical periods of synaptic development would be associated with subsequent attention problems. "In contrast to the pace with which real life unfolds and is experienced by young children, television can portray rapidly changing images, scenery, and events," says Christakis's paper. "It can be overstimulating and yet extremely interesting. This has led some to theorise that television may shorten children's attention spans."
We cannot deny a proliferation of programmes and videos aimed at pre-school children, and even at the under-twos including Teletubbies, Fimbles and Tweenies. The Disney corporation bought up a company called Baby Einstein which allegedly helps in the educational development of small children and is exploiting its new acquisition assiduously here and in the US. If Christakis's theory holds, all these programmes and videos are going to create not a generation of Baby Einsteins, but hordes of unprecedentedly dim children.
The content of the programmes and videos that children watch must be significant. After all, some programmes targeted at under-twos - Teletubbies, for instance - unfold in a very slow manner. Furthermore, great claims are made by some TV programmes and videos targeted at pre-school age children, claiming to assist small children's intellectual development rather than retard it. We also need to give consideration to the notion of "watching television", which might well be qualitatively very different for different children. Some might be gormlessly staring at nothing very much; others making important visual judgments about Tinky Winky's bottom, for example. "What is a one-year-old doing when it watches television, and how does this compare to how other ages watch television?" asks David Buckingham, professor of education at the University of London and a longtime critic of anti-TV polemicists. "These sorts of questions get lost and yet they are fundamental to any decent research."
The anti-TV groups' critique of the medium is not that the stuff children watch is rubbish, but that TV viewing itself is a catastrophic lifestyle option that parents have inflicted on their children. Jean Lotus of the anti-TV group White Dot, who is currently writing a book about raising her four children without a TV in her family home in Oak Park, Illinois, says: "Television is displacing learning activity during early years." But aren't some programmes designed to edu cate children? "Yeah, right. All those make-your-baby-smarter videos are doing is creating a docile drug addict in front of the screen. I have encouraged my children to climb and be physical. Surely that's better than letting them sit in front of the telly."
But are the two mutually exclusive in a child's early years? I recall watching Bill and Ben and falling out of trees on a regular basis before I went to school and I suspect the former was less harmful than the latter.
"We have found doctors very reluctant to say there is a link between TV viewing and attention deficit," says Lotus. "Doctors are keen to say it's genetic or behavioural. You should talk to teachers who are at the brunt of it. They will say that your mind works differently if you watch TV when you're very young."
In the US, especially, there has been a glut of books claiming that television is responsible for many ills. Such books include Neil Postman's The Disappearance of Childhood: How TV is changing Children's lives, The Plug-In Drug by Marie Winn and The Collapse of Literacy and the Rise of Violence in an Electronic Age by Barry Sanders. These books were joined on the shelves earlier this year by a volume with possibly the best subtitle ever, namely The Epidemic: The Rot of American Culture, Absentee and Permissive Parenting, and the Resultant Plague of Joyless, Selfish Children by Californian doctor Robert Shaw - a book that worries about the revolting consumerism, obesity, illiteracy, sleeplessness associated with watching television, and yet suggests, rather more modestly, that under-fives should be allowed to watch television in moderation but never unattended.
These polemics are all similar, argues David Buckingham, in that children are not seen as differentiated as TV viewers. In his book After the Death of Childhood, Buckingham writes: "Children, in particular, are implicitly seen to be passive and defenceless in the face of media manipulation ... Television, because of its inherently 'visual' nature (one wonders what happened to the soundtrack), is effectively seen to bypass cognition entirely. It requires no intellectual, emotional or imaginative investment, but simply imprints itself on the child's consciousness. Again, no empirical basis is offered for these assertions."
Buckingham adds that what makes all these polemics questionable is the one-dimensional analysis of the electronic media as causes of terrible tendencies among children. Excessive TV viewing could, for instance, be symptomatic of, rather than a cause of, sociopathic behaviour among children.
The crucial issue here, arguably, is the notion of "excessive". The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not make it clear: "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 Paediatrics does not recommend television for children age two or younger."
Buckingham also has a problem with the very notion of ADHD. "Ten years ago this label didn't exist. What used to be called 'bloody annoying children' has had a label put on it, and this has consequences. Drug companies are making big money out of making tranquillisers like Ritalin for children and there are whole industries in medical research working to construct this way of defining children's behaviour."
Buckingham adds that parents' fears about the possible deleterious consequences of children watching television is exploited by politicians. "When one thinks of how TV viewing is associated with violence among children, this is used by politicians as a way of displacing attention away from other causes of violence in society that are difficult to eradicate - such as racism, poverty, gun control. I'm by no means saying that there aren't associations, just that it is too easy to blame one thing for children's problems. We're dealing with really complicated matters here that readily get over-simplified."
So is watching TV a bad thing for under-twos? The research suggests no more than that it could be, while never really tackling the issue of how much TV viewing among toddlers would be regarded as excessive. Ten hours a day might be too much, but what about one hour of Teletubbies watched, in the traditional manner, with mother? Would that be a bad thing? As far as I could discover, there seems to be an inverse relationship between the anti-TV rhetoric and the plausibility of the data upon which it is based. What is also certain is that any such research is going to get a great deal of attention because so many people stand to make a lot of money out of children - programme-makers, soft-toy producers and Ritalin manufacturers among them. Not to mention all those people writing apocalyptic texts that pander to the panic of parents worried that they are raising goggle-eyed sociopaths, thanks to the chattering cyclops.
Robert Shaw, the hard-boiled critic of today's allegedly joyless kids, suggests that children ages five and under should not watch TV unattended at all and that, when you do watch TV with your very young child, you ought to talk to them about the programme and the issues it raises. "Explain the meaning and motivation behind commercials and programming," urges Shaw. "Help her to understand fantasy and reality, the difference between a sales pitch and an honest evaluation."
The main things, I would argue, are not to blame television for all the modern child's ills, nor to panic - after all, there are plenty of other people who will do those things for you.
Media Violence and Its Effect on Children Essay
1112 Words5 Pages
There is a strong agreement among American society that violence in the country is on the rise. It is easy to see why this is a strong argument among the American people, especially because of the rising popularity of violent video games and television programs. However, as these violent video games and television shows are creating their own place in our society, the reports of violence among children are escalating. This correlation has been studied extensively in the scientific community in an attempt to discover whether media violence does negatively impact children but there has yet to be a consensus. There is a split between those that believe that children are becoming more violent because they are exposed to violent media and…show more content…
Later, each child was left alone with the doll. The children that watched the aggressive interaction acted aggressively toward the doll while the children that observed the normal interactions with doll did not act aggressively. With these results, Bandura argued that children imitated behavior they witness, and that if they observed violent behavior in the media, they were likely to copy this behavior and act violently themselves (Bandura 575).
Many experiments followed Bandura’s footsteps, attempting to prove that there was a link between media violence and violence among the youth. These studies are still being conducted today, as there has yet to be a scientific consensus on the issue. However, despite there being evidence toward the contrary, many organizations have stated their position on the issue: they are against media violence because it causes violent behavior in children. One such organization is the National Association for the Education of Young Children (“Media Violence in Children’s Lives "). Influential organizations such as the NAEYC do not educate the public on all of the findings of studies intended to discover the relationship between media violence and violence among children. AS a result, the public continues to believe its original hypothesis that media violence is the root cause of increasing violent actions among the youth.
One such study, conducted