|The Effects of Television on your Children|
A newsletter by Angela Hutchison (Parenting Skills Coach) B.BusSc (UCT)
Distributed by PassionateParenting.nl with permission of author.
We parents want to justify why TV isn’t sooo bad, given that it plays such a great role with educational programmes from Barney [the stuffed dinosaur] to National Geographic and it is the best babysitter ever! And I know we all have our own relationship with TV, which does put us on the defensive about its pros and cons. And we live in this world, where TV exists, and we cannot overprotect our children either.
So I did some research and here’s the result:
With TV there are 3 things to consider:
1. The medium itself
2. What watching TV is replacing
3. The content
1) The medium itselfThe act of watching TV puts people into a trance-like alpha brain state. The experience is a sensory disorientation – with the watcher visually and auditorily stimulated while remaining physically passive – which confuses the mind and puts the user in a hypnotic trance. The inactive nature of TV creates a psychological paradox – the more people watch, the worse they feel and in turn the more they watch.
A movie called Evidence, which you can view on YouTube, is a film that focuses on the faces of small children as they watched television – their blank expressions, their comatose eyes. The reviewer found the best description for them was “the undead” Think of your own face next time you’re absorbed by TV – watch how your facial expression is transformed, how the jaw relaxes and hangs open slightly, how the tongue rests on the front teeth, how your eyes have a glazed vacuous look.
There is no real brainwork going on inside. We know this because we inevitably call watching TV “vegging in front of the television”
2) What watching TV is replacingThe theory states that active interaction with the environment is what shapes the physical foundations in the growing brain. As experiences are repeated over and over again, corresponding synaptic structures grow and are strengthened. Neural pathways are laid down. The question is: What skills are being developed watching TV.
Children respond to all the verbal and non-verbal cues and three-dimensional images of a real person. They learn to interact and socialise and communicate. All this is taken away when passively interacting with a two-dimensional image, often not human-like, with all subtle human cues often removed by big fabric!
Marie Winn, author of the Plug-in Drug says: TV is curtailing the role of free play as a formative activity of early childhood.
So we put them in front of the TV because we have other things to do and because the TV keeps them quiet and away from doing things that we might have to interact with – like climbing out a window, climbing a tree, hitting a brother, messing up the living room – all the things that give them opportunities to learn social skills like teamwork, conflict resolution, problem-solving and how to solve that big statement: “I’m bored”.
That statement alone is what drives parents to offer the TV as a solution. When in fact a bored child is perfect – an opportunity to be creative and discover life. TV is too easy a solution. And a short-lived one.
The television is the quickest, cheapest, easiest way to distract yourself from how you really feel that’s ever been invented. Unfortunately, TV lets people live vicariously through other people’s lives (actually not other people – fictional characters who are dressed and made-up by professionals off-set), and this vicarious living takes them away from their own experiences of life, their own emotions. Heavy TV watchers tend to be people who feel anxious or lonely and watching TV provides a break from negative thoughts. This is a pseudo-social experience which creates a virtual connection between the watcher and other people, but does nothing to help the real feelings of loneliness or boredom.
3) The actual contentOften content on TV, and this applies to kiddies TV too (you just have to watch the Tweenies – trying not to have a racial profile, but very definitely having two stereotypical bossy girls and two stereotypical dense boys!) perpetuates gender, racial, religious and other stereotypes. On TV they are trying to make a point – to do that, the stereotype is the easiest way of getting the point across. You have to ask yourself whether you want your children to inculcate the stereotype. Below 7 years of age, they cannot discriminate – they are still establishing their moral foundation and that foundation should be one you’re comfortable with them having.
A huge amount of TV is spin-doctored – generally messages that provide one side of a story or an overly positive (advertising) or overly negative (news) view. Young children take this as gospel until they are able to question and counteract.
Television shows masses of violence – and justifiable violence – well it’s the good guy killing the bad guy, that’s ok. Is it? Or violence and risky behaviour that has no consequence.
So what do we do as parents?It’s unlikely that we are going to put the TV off completely. And after all, this is the world we live in. We cannot protect our children from it. We simply need to manage it.
But because TV is a passive medium and a medium that we can easily use as an electronic babysitter, we tend not to engage actively in the management of it – the children are quiet (hypnotised?), there is peace in the home and we don’t interfere. Actually, it is a medium that we need to engage with more actively – a medium where we discuss what is on TV, how our children understand it and where we lay our own values down. If we are not prepared to engage with TV like this, maybe we should be turning it off. And if we engage, we keep them out of that passive alpha state. So talk to your kids about what they are watching – actively engage with the medium – it also keeps conversation alive in your home.
I would urge you not to use TV in your reward/punishment system, not least because it places too much value on something that needs to be seen for what it is – a medium that we can manage to our benefit.
Be cautious about eating in front of the television. People do tend to eat more food, and less healthy food, when watching TV, aided by advertising which makes us believe things like foods baked, not fried, in hydrogenated oil are good for you.
Also, TV keeps kids occupied while you get on with skills that children need to learn like cooking, washing, admin etc. Let your children be involved in family life, even though it is slower and more frustrating for you. And let them spend time with board games which involve other real people and negotiation skills.
With the holidays coming up next week and the amount of rain we’ve had, I hope you find this useful, although of course with summer hopefully, finally making a sunny appearance, maybe our children will be playing freely and happily outside.
Have a fabulous quick break!
PS I can’t resist putting Roald Dahl’s poem about TV in, although of course he has put a spin on this too – an author has a vested interest in selling books!
The most important thing we've learned,
So far as children are concerned,
Is never, NEVER, NEVER let
Them near your television set --
Or better still, just don't install
The idiotic thing at all.
In almost every house we've been,
We've watched them gaping at the screen.
They loll and slop and lounge about,
And stare until their eyes pop out.
(Last week in someone's place we saw
A dozen eyeballs on the floor.)
They sit and stare and stare and sit
Until they're hypnotised by it,
Until they're absolutely drunk
With all that shocking ghastly junk.
Oh yes, we know it keeps them still,
They don't climb out the window sill,
They never fight or kick or punch,
They leave you free to cook the lunch
And wash the dishes in the sink --
But did you ever stop to think,
To wonder just exactly what
This does to your beloved tot?
IT ROTS THE SENSE IN THE HEAD!
IT KILLS IMAGINATION DEAD!
IT CLOGS AND CLUTTERS UP THE MIND!
IT MAKES A CHILD SO DULL AND BLIND
HE CAN NO LONGER UNDERSTAND
A FANTASY, A FAIRYLAND!
HIS BRAIN BECOMES AS SOFT AS CHEESE!
HIS POWERS OF THINKING RUST AND FREEZE!
HE CANNOT THINK -- HE ONLY SEES!
'All right!' you'll cry. 'All right!' you'll say,
'But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertain
Our darling children? Please explain!'
We'll answer this by asking you,
'What used the darling ones to do?
'How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?'
Have you forgotten? Don't you know?
We'll say it very loud and slow:
THEY ... USED ... TO ... READ! They'd READ and READ,
AND READ and READ, and then proceed
To READ some more. Great Scott! Gadzooks!
One half their lives was reading books!
The nursery shelves held books galore!
Books cluttered up the nursery floor!
And in the bedroom, by the bed,
More books were waiting to be read!
Such wondrous, fine, fantastic tales
Of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales
And treasure isles, and distant shores
Where smugglers rowed with muffled oars,
And pirates wearing purple pants,
And sailing ships and elephants,
And cannibals crouching 'round the pot,
Stirring away at something hot.
(It smells so good, what can it be?
Good gracious, it's Penelope.)
The younger ones had Beatrix Potter
With Mr. Tod, the dirty rotter,
And Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland,
And Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and-
Just How The Camel Got His Hump,
And How the Monkey Lost His Rump,
And Mr. Toad, and bless my soul,
There's Mr. Rate and Mr. Mole-
Oh, books, what books they used to know,
Those children living long ago!
So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks-
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They'll now begin to feel the need
Of having something to read.
And once they start -- oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hearts. They'll grow so keen
They'll wonder what they'd ever seen
In that ridiculous machine,
That nauseating, foul, unclean,
Repulsive television screen!
And later, each and every kid
Will love you more for what you did.
- Roald Dahl
THIS ARTICLE ON TELEVISION WAS WRITTEN BY:
ANGELA HUTCHISON (Parenting Skills Coach) in South Africa