David Earl Johnson, LICSW

5 minute read

Many of the boomer adults were raised with a lot of TV. It would appear things have gotten worse. We know a lot more about what TV does to children, but it doesn’t appear to have had much effect. Simple logic will tell us that the experience of TV will decrease a child’s ability to tolerate a delay in gratification of desires. Certainly, the TV ads are designed to create the desire for things we didn’t know we needed, a certain frustration that we can’t have it all, now. But it’s much worse than that.

Braun HF 1, Germany, 1959

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John M Grohol PsyD owner of PsychCentral.com is usually a man who politely understates things. But, he pulls no punches in a recent article.
“Most child psychologists and child development experts recommend no TV whatsoever for a child before the age of 2 or 3. None. Yet a whopping 43 percent of parents plop their toddler down in front of the television set, apparently blind to the consequence of their actions. [..]There are also the studies that show that teens who watch more sexual content on TV are twice as likely to be involved in a pregnancy over the next three years than their peers. [From the Boston Globe]
    Countless studies have documented the inverse link between devotion to the boob tube and achievement in school. Researchers at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons concluded in 2007, for example, that 14-year-olds who watched one or more hours of television daily “were at elevated risk for poor homework completion, negative attitudes toward school, poor grades, and long-term academic failure.” Those who watched three or more hours a day were at even greater risk for “subsequent attention and learning difficulties,” and were the least likely to go to college. In 2005, a study published in the American Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that the harm caused by TV watching shows up even after correcting the data to account for students’ intelligence, family conditions, and prior behavioral problems. The bottom line: “Increased time spent watching television during childhood and adolescence was associated with a lower level of educational attainment by early adulthood.” The baleful effects of TV aren’t limited to education. The University of Michigan Health System notes on its extensive website that kids who watch TV are more likely to smoke, to be overweight, to suffer from sleep difficulties, and to have high cholesterol.
From Research Digest Blog, here is an excerpt from an article commenting on the effects of TV on in the background while a young child plays.
“Schmidt’s team described the disruptive effects of the background TV as “real but small”. While the current study doesn’t say anything about the possible developmental consequences of TV-disrupted play, previous research has shown that shorter play episodes and less focused attention tend to be associated with poorer developmental outcomes. Moreover, a previous unpublished study by the present team of researchers showed that background TV reduces how often parents interact with their children. “Taken together,” the researchers said, the new and previous findings lead us to “hypothesise that background television, as a chronic influence, is by itself an environmental risk factor in children’s development.” “
According to these articles, Visual voodoo: the biological impact of watching TVandThe Psychologist, TV is a cause for attention deficits in children.
“Sigman’s review in fact only cites two published studies that show direct associations between TV viewing in this age group and negative consequences. The first, a 2004 longitudinal study by Dimitri Christakis and colleagues of 1200 children, found that for every extra hour of average daily TV viewing between birth and three years, the children were 10 per cent more likely to have attentional problems at age seven. The second, a cross-sectional study by Dimitri Christakis and Darcy Thomson, found that among 2068 infants aged between four months and three years, those who watched more television also tended to have less regular afternoon and nighttime sleeping schedules. The research base becomes more substantial when the focus is broadened to include TV viewing in older childhood and adolescence. For example, two studies by Robert Hancox and colleagues reported detrimental associations between TV viewing between the ages of five and 15, and educational attainment and several health measures at 26 years. Sigman’s review, which also discusses harmful associations between adult TV viewing and mental and physical health, concludes these ‘findings are set to re-cast the role of the television screen as the greatest unacknowledged public health issue of our time’. However, not all experts are sympathetic to Sigman’s view. Dr Brian Young at the University of Exeter told us children are active in the way they use TV – they don’t just sit on the receiving end of a stream of audiovisual input. ‘There certainly are benefits for children interacting with TV,’ he said. ‘They learn stuff – it’s as simple as that. But the best learning environment is where the mother or the family collectively consume television and discuss what’s being seen. In that sense it’s a ‘window on the world’. However, he added: ‘Any medium has a downside and unsupervised viewing by very young children – the “TV as a babysitter” – is not helpful.’ “
Now consider the effects of violence in TV and video games. Are we training our children to tolerate routine violence? I think so. It fact, it would appear that TV is an experiment on our children increasing obesity, tobacco and alcohol use, risky sexual behaviors, violence and social isolation.
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