This may be a touchy subject, but I'd like to share it with you anyway because it seems that many people are surprisingly unaware of the many ways television acts as a detriment to children and adults alike, including health problems, learning problems, moral problems, and a general sense of dulling our intelligence. It reduces our attention spans and creates a craving for constant stimulation to the point that reality is no longer sufficient to satisfy. Before you think that's a claim too bold to be true, do me the favor of reading this post.
"When the engaged lower brain sees the fast-paced flickering of the television set itself... adrenaline is released into your system, your heart rate accelerates, and your blood pressure rises. Since you remain physically passive as this happens, subsequent motor excess results. Motor excess as a direct result of watching television causes difficulty sleeping, diminished ability to concentrate, problems sitting still, and increased anxiety and stress."(10)
Television's irrefutable link to both high blood pressure and being overweight pose a serious health risk to viewers. “Given our national television habit, it is no surprise that we are raising the most sedentary and most overweight generation of youngsters in American history. As they grow, these children will run increased risks of heart disease, diabetes, and other health problems -- unless they turn off the tube and become physically active.” - US Surgeon General David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D.(1)One children’s study showed that “the more TV kids watched, the higher their blood pressure - and the effect held true regardless of whether a child was heavy or at a healthy weight.”(2)
TV also interferes with getting a good night’s sleep. Many children watch TV close to bedtime, which tends to keep their minds stimulated and interfere with quality sleep.(2)
Brain Function... or Lack Thereof! (10)
When you watch TV, your brain functions at a much lower capacity... in fact, it goes into something like an auto-pilot mode. When we're awake and focused, our brains emit one kind of waves (beta), and when we're asleep they emit another kind (delta waves). Researchers have found, by monitoring the brain, that while we watch TV the higher functioning of the brain shuts off and it very quickly goes into the sleep / delta wave mode. (By way of contrast, reading causes the brain to emit beta waves.)
Television viewing has been shown time and time again to impact children’s cognitive development. Infants experience delayed language development in association with increased screen time.5 Perhaps this is why, in part, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under the age of two.
Studies consistently link increased screen time with decreased cognitive ability and/or attention problems. While watching TV, the mind is as “close to sedentary as it gets.”(2) It hinders creativity and harms academic performance.(1) It competes with and compromises the healthy imagination.
It also serves as a “second curriculum, (and) undermines children’s ability to intelligently comprehend and cope with the real world… In short, television is an enormous childhood energy drain…”(4:58)
One reading specialist gives the following formula for producing children with reading disabilities:
"1. Make sure you, the parent, are very busy and have little time for your children.
2. Don't read very much yourself.
3. Read aloud to your children infrequently or not at all.
4. Maintain an entertainment-oriented home, with television, videos, and movies receiving top priority.
5. Provide your children with nonstop access to Nintendo Game Boys, computer games, and the internet..."(7)
She's convinced that poor reading skills are rarely due to a disability in the individual, but rather to a home environment similar to the above formula. For what it's worth, I will also mention that home school families watch significantly less TV than families watch on average nationwide.
I recently came across this quote from Valerie Bent: "The majority of children today spend more time watching TV and videos then they do absorbing good literature. They are generally held hostage by cookie cutter heros (pressed out of an inferior mold) formed by the latest TV or movie craze. One cannot walk down the aisles of a store without being bombarded by this mediocrity. I think that over-stimulation from the media has squelched our children's natural inquisitiveness so that they settle for the mundane and the mediocre. I will grant that some videos and TV programs have good things to offer and are not to be discounted entirely. However, we should not allow the good things to crowd out the best things."(3)
It’s no secret that we are exposed to plenty of garbage on TV. Violence, profanity, immodesty, ungodly and unhealthy lifestyles just to name a few. As the old saying goes, “garbage in- garbage out.” The more we’re exposed to something, the more it dulls our senses to it, and eventually finds its way out. This may take the form of cursing, bad attitudes, or general indifference- even humor towards those things we are (or should be) morally opposed to.
Children suffer many ill effects from TV viewing. They’re bombarded with commercials teaching them to “crave- and beg for- unhealthy foods… at an age when they are just establishing eating habits that can become ingrained and last a lifetime,”(2) The average American child sees about 10,000 food ads per year. One study even showed that the less TV children watched, the less likely they are to demand toys.(8)
Besides being subjected to commercial manipulation, children also form unrealistic and unhealthy concepts of the world around them. They’re exposed to ungodly, immoral lifestyles, rebellious attitudes, and general all-around filth that tarnishes their childhood innocence and mocks their values. “Researchers found that the younger children are exposed to content intended for adults in television and movies, the earlier they become sexually active during adolescence.”(6) They’re also more likely to act aggressively in real life if they view TV violence.
A Better Choice
People who enjoy using their minds aren't enslaved to the entertainment industry. They don't need to fill spare time with every kind of amusement, or get hooked on the TV. The problem is that “many parents are themselves regular TV viewers, if not addicts,” and likewise find it hard to regulate their children’s viewing habits. If this is the case, parents need to begin cutting back on television watching gradually along with their children. It’s best to selectively choose programs ahead of time (yay for tivo!), and stick to your decided amount of acceptable TV time. “If the children fuss, make them go outside and play, and remember that boredom can be good for them. It often leads to activities using their creativity. The TV Turnoff Network has a great website with articles that detail our TV habit as well as activities you can do to help both you and your children stop watching so much. You can visit them at www.tvturnoff.org.”(1)
Habits are powerful and take some work to change. (Once you commit to your new program and stick to your guns for one month… this is how long it takes to change a habit.) Be sure to take TV’s out of all bedrooms, don't use screen time as a punishment or reward, and most importantly find something positive to put in place of TV viewing. Find a new hobby or activity, spend quality (non-media) time with your family, explore the great outdoors, and pick up a good book. You’ll be surprised how much better “real life” is then “TV life” if you only give it a chance.
- The average American watches over 4 1/2 hours of TV per day.
- The average American home has more TVs than people!
- American children today will have spent more time watching TV than they have spent in school by the time they reach age 18. The only thing they do more is sleep. (10)
- There is a direct, negative correlation between number of TV hours watched as a three-year-old and reading ability at age seven. (10)
- For each hour of daily TV viewed by a child before age three, the risk of ADHD by age seven is increased by 10%. (10)
Are You Addicted?
According to Neilsen Media Research, Inc, Americans watch just over 4 ½ hours of TV per day. This is about 31 hours a week- almost another full time job… and (gulp) approximately 2 entire months per year!
"Some signs pointing to addiction include:
- If you know you watch too much but can’t seem to stop turning it on everyday
- If you watch more than 4 hours per day
- If you watch more out of habit than any real interest, changing the channel often
- If you use TV to fall asleep or wake up
- If you feel anxious when the TV is not on
- If you neglect social events in order watch television
Heavy watchers tend to use TV similar to a drug… putting thoughts and worries on hold, instantly relaxing them after a stressful day. Oddly enough, these heavy watchers “admit to enjoying TV far less then light viewers, or someone who watches only 1-2 hours per week.”(1)
Regardless if fit this category or not, chances are, you probably still watch too much TV!
Online Resources for kicking the TV habit: