For Academic Achievement and Health: Take A Bold Step and Turn Off The Television

Now, at the onset of the school year and as our minds turn to thoughts of achievement and academic excellence, I feel it my duty to broach the unpopular, but important subject of our children’s television viewing habits.Those who know me are sick of my (what some view as extreme) opinion about television viewing by children. I am a long time Turn-Off-The-TV advocate, based on my distrust and discomfort with the omni-presence of the television in general, and the omni-power of the TV to manipulate and influence young minds, in particular.

I am keenly aware of the unpopularity of my stance with regard to turning the TV off and my all out ban on video games. No one really wants to talk about this, and even parents who know (or have an inkling) of the detrimental impact of TV often feel powerless to control its use in their households. The other media mediums (i.e. magazines, radio, the Internet) really don’t want to discuss TV either. I once wrote (what I felt was) an excellent article about responsible TV viewing. The article was based on my family’s experience with Turn-Off-The-TV Week. The Turn-Off-The-TV Campaign is a national effort that encourages families to turn off the TV for one week and, as their slogan goes, “turn on life!” My family takes part in this effort every year in April.

My article talked about why less TV is better and suggested ways to wean kids off of viewing. I submitted the article to several of the parenting magazines, something I have done successfully before with articles on other topics, but not one of them was interested. “We’ve covered this topic already” was the most common response. And yet when I researched back issues of four publications (I don’t take rejection well), I could only find one topic about the detrimental effects of TV in the three preceding years. It seems to me that TV overuse is worth the kind of repetition that so many other subjects seem to warrant, subjects these magazines cover over and over again like diet, discipline and the new fall school fashions.

Anyway, the point is no one wants to talk about cutting back on TV, but it is a topic of growing importance for families. Research continues to mount and the vast majority of the research findings point to this reality- – too much television is hazardous to your child’s health and development. And what constitutes “too much” may surprise you.

Researchers have known for years that television viewing creates passive, non-vigilant students. Too much TV can suppress mental activity, delay reading and the development of critical thinking skills. As Jane M. Healy points out in her book, Endangered Minds, even the shows that you think are teaching your children something (e.g. the beloved Sesame Street) are really developing poor listening skills, shorter attention spans, and the inability to stay on task. This is especially true in young children. In addition, the extended exposure to the messages of television discourages self-awareness and diminishes self-discernment, leaving viewers of all ages vulnerable to TV’s constant stream of advertising. According to Jerry Mander’s classic Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, the TV is a selling tool and we, as viewers, are bombarded with hours of consumer manipulation that tell us to buy, buy, buy.

More recently, according to the April 26, 2005 article, How TV Affects Your Child, at http://www.kidshealth.org/, researchers found that children who watch television for hours daily are more likely to be obese, and exposed to extremely high doses of violence and sexual activity that cause fear and anxiety in the young and beg for emulation in older kids. In addition, children who watch so much TV are inundated with a constant flow of commercials (about 40,000 per year). These commercials provide a relentless promise of happiness and fulfillment through toys, products and junk food. Most children (and many adults) are unable discern the difference between want and need. And so the seeds of over consumption are planted and watered.

Television has also been linked to ADD. Researchers found that for every hour of TV viewing the chances of developing ADD increases by 10%. This finding stopped me in my tracks!! The huge and ever-increasing number of children on medication for ADD and related conditions is staggering. Several years ago I went to our school nurse’s office to pick up one of my children who became sick. There I witnessed a long line of students waiting to receive their Ritalin. I was later informed that everyday at our school there is a near constant flow of children to the nurse for this. Are we not concerned that ADD is so prevalent??With these findings in mind, the recommendation is that children under two years old not watch TV at all, because it so significantly increases their chances of developing attention problems later. Beyond two years, two hours of television per day should be the maximum(see,www.thecelebritycafe.com/features/1250.html) Studies also connect TV viewing with sleep disturbance in children. The sleep disturbances documented were bedtime resistance, sleep onset delay, decreased sleep duration, night waking, and sleep anxiety. The result of these kinds of sleep disturbances is daytime sleepiness and reduced productivity in school. (see,http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/104/3/e27)

When I discuss TV watching with my friends, often I’m told that they know that too much TV is not good, but their kids are doing fine. One friend even said that she doesn’t restrict TV or video games because her children learn some of their biggest words from their viewing. My response to her is, in the face of all of these research findings, imagine how much better your children could do if they turned off the TV and engaged in more active and meaningful enterprise. Free play is an important activity for a growing and developing mind and body. Allowing TV to replace playtime is cheating your child of important opportunities to actively explore, gain physical experience and exercise. It also curtails the exploration and exercise of the creative mind. As convenient as it is, using the TV as babysitter is just not worth it in the long run.
So here are the recommendations for assessing and taking charge of your family’s TV viewing:
1. Put off television watching as long as possible for your babies, toddlers and young children.
2. Just say no. Don’t accept television as an inevitable or necessary evil. You really can take control of viewing in your household. You may want to start you limitations in small increments. Any reduction in viewing is an improvement. Consider reducing the number of TVs in your household, as a statement of your family’s priority.
3. Choose DVDs and videos over network and cable. This allows you to reduce commercials, control content and reduce what I call “non-specific viewing”, that occurs when you turn on the TV for a specific program, but the TV stays on indefinitely afterward. Also, taping your shows without commercials is best.
4. Limit your kids viewing to two hours. And try not to let them replace TV viewing with the computer, which is very similar and rife with potentially unwanted exposure to violence, sex and chat room predators. This leads me to the next suggestion…
5. Monitor your child’s watching. Ideally, you should watch every show with them. But since this is highly unlikely, at least be aware of the shows they are watching and how long the TV is on.
6. Take the TV out of your child’s bedroom. It’s just too hard to monitor and too likely to interfere with sleep.
Television is such an accepted part of our lifestyle. We rely on it to entertain, inform and relax us. But its powerful ability to draw us in and hold our attention for hours must be put in check for our children’s sake. Now that we know our children’s health and development are at stake, we have no excuse. The effort to cut-back is difficult, but well worth it.

© Gina Carroll

Comments
1 – I grew up in a house where there was literally a TV in every room. I couldn’t stand it, it was like living in an insane asylum. Every time my mother walked out of a room, I immediately turned the TV off. I vowed as I was growing up that I wouldn’t even have a TV in my house. Unfortunately, many years and four children later, I haven’t held to that promise. It’s just too tempting to pacify the children by popping on a cartoon, especially when you’re exhausted and overwhelmed like me and my wife usually are. What are your practical suggestions for developing alternatives to popping on the TV when we want to relax?
Written by: Malik at 2005/11/08 – 14:51:29

2 – Thought you might be interested in this for your Black Parenting Blog. We produce animated DVD’s for kids celebrating the lives of inspiring African Americans. Following is a bit more information on our first release;Have you heard the story of Henry Box Brown?When actress Karyn Parsons (best known for her role as Hilary Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air) first heard his amazing story, she decided to create Sweet Blackberry, a series of educational animated DVDs remembering the lives of forgotten American heroes: men and women of color whose adventures will live with our children for generations to come. Narrated by Emmy Award-Winning “Desperate Housewives” star Alfre Woodard, Sweet Blackberry’s debut DVD, The Journey of Henry Box Brown, tells the true story of slave Henry Box Brown, a man who mailed himself in a wooden box from a plantation in Richmond, Virginia to freedom in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. regards, Karyn Parsons
Written by: Karyn Parsons at 2005/11/30 – 18:23:25

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