Should Parents Worry About What Television is Doing to their Children?

Topics: Television, Television program, Anxiety Pages: 5 (1775 words) Published: August 20, 2013
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...
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