The Dangers of Excessive Television Viewing on Children
What is television? In Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, television was transcribed as the broadcasting of a still or moving image via radio waves to receivers that project a view of the image on a picture tube. Television episodes, news, scenes, context can be subjective or objective. It is a means through which a multiplicity of outside influence, ideas, pictures, electromagnetic fields and most things that parents would not have physically or knowingly in their homes can be introduced into the homes.
These days, children watch different types of programmes and advertisements on television, the most common electronic media in the general population. People watch television for entertainment, simulation and sales information on goods and services like food, toys, I pads, computers, games, among many other things. Some people even allow children to watch only educative programmes on television to keep them occupied and out of mischief.
Just like everything or activity indulged in excess has disadvantages, researchers have revealed that there is a catch to watching too much television. In a 2011 study published in a periodical journal of the American College of Cardiology, they discovered “that people who devoted four or more hours a day to screen-based entertainment – mainly watching the tube – had double risk of a major cardiac event resulting in hospitalization, death or both, compared to those who spent less than two hours daily on these activities.” In order words, researchers stated that watching television puts the brain in an unconscious state neurologically akin to staring at a blank wall. Too much television has also been linked to degenerative brain disorders like dementia and Alzheimers later in life because watching television has negative impact on neural pathways which wire synapses in the brain with each new experience learned.
Regardless of the risks posed for adults, the concern of this article is on the effects of exposing children to too much electromagnetic influence. Varying number of parents and people in the television business hype about the educative power of television, it can be anything but, and there is no research to support such claims. Rather, psycho physiologist, Thomas Mulholland explained ‘that after the first 30 seconds of watching television the brain begins to produce alpha waves, which indicates torpid (almost comatose) rates of activity.’
Indeed, television can be a distraction that allows children to replace academic content with its more stimulating content, inhibits their social life, restricts their acting on taking healthy risks within their immediate or larger world and it can facilitates the believe that most protagonist have the moral right to resort to some form of revenge mission through violence or use of diabolical means. Most importantly, watching television places the attention of the watcher in a make-believe world while compelling focus away from the present moment.
I am also at liberty to write about video games because they exert the same influence as television on our young ones. What are video games? Video games are said to be any of various games played using a microcomputer with a keyboard and often joysticks to manipulate changes or respond to the action or questions on the screen. Some video games are made to be interactive with the use of the joy stick, speakers and microphone, but it is also known to destabilize the duties of the left brain of the player or players like the television, thereby leaving the right brain to perform all cognitive onus.
Who should be exposed to television and, or video games?
Researchers and the American Academy of pediatrics recommend that children under the age of two should not be exposed to television viewing at all. This is because Young children develop language skills best through reading/ being read to, and during interactions with others in conversation, play, during which time they are able to ask questions, respond to sounds in their environment, make faces and return expressions or expressive gestures. Humans are created to spend most of their time with and or, respond to living things and nature rather than to robotic technology.
Researchers believe that young children can be predisposed to develop Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) by age seven if they are exposed to more than one hour of television daily. This is because ‘A young child’s brain and visual auditory sense cannot cope with dramatic shifts in contexts, scenes and time frames and loses focus every few seconds….Memory retention also declines as the brain is constantly shifting focus and remembers only those incidents which have had most impact from the pleasure point of view.’Relatively the impact of television viewing is in direct correlation with the time spent watching it.
Television generally showcases manipulated programmes, movies, news and ideas. Among these, Hollywood, Bollywood and Nollywood actors are shown living fantasy lives through their television characters, in a way to make children and people in general insensitive or unsatisfied with their real lives. Even with no known statistics, most children in upper middle class or middles class homes in Nigeria watch too much television or video games with their simulated torture, violence, murder, speed, sensationalism and entertainment. Most Nollywood and Hollywood movies depict about two hours or three hours of random violence, the vilest attributes of human characteristics and two seconds of retribution for immoral or unlawful actions enacted by actors in movies.
Some parents and bourgeoisie now see television and video games as new lifelines and baby sitters for their children. But most video games and television programmes are educative and keep children busy and away from mischief, some parents say. Really! The average child in America and Europe (the cultures that we and our children emulate) are said to be bombarded with about 8,000 murders on television by the time an average child finishes elementary school, 12,000 simulated murders in the form of television movies, advertisement and cartoons before the age of thirteen and 200,000 violent acts by the age of 18. Dr AricSigman has also shown that “There is some evidence that flickering television shows like cartoons and commercials can harm eyesight and potentially cause short-sightedness, particularly in children.” And that ‘Early television viewing may be an important trigger for autism, the incidence which appears to be increasing,’
Therefore, parents should encourage their children’s engagement in play instead of allowing or enabling television watching habits that does not nurture their creativity, or increase children’s ability to focus.
Children should be pushing to discover their limits, experimenting with things, discovering things and opportunities, learning a foreign language, marveling at things, doing homework without distraction, interacting through play, smelling things, manipulating things, moving things, exploring, touching and doing things repeatedly as they learn to understand more about their world and be co-creators in the world. Television on the other hand, showcases scenes and commercials capable of messing with children’s emotional development and foster fear among them because they have not developed the emotional experience or ego strength to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Children can adopt aggressive behaviour, develop fear of being bullied and be desensitized about death through watching violent episodes where people are killed or tortured.
However, in the rare instance that children watch television, parents should watch the same program with them, as some cartoons, advertisements, programmes show inappropriate content for children. They should teach them to question outcomes of episodes and decisions made by characters in the programmes watched. Children should be encouraged to question violent scenes on television in relation to their society and general world view.
Parents should also explain the purposes of advertisements, allow children to make predictions on outcome, encourage them to analyze positive attributes of characters and their impact on the events of the program. Most importantly, parents should help children understand that television is unreal, even the so called ‘reality television’.
Present day television is now more about sensationalism and pure entertainment. Dr Christakis posits that television’s rapidly changing scenes is unnaturally stimulating, and that children under age three were 10% likely to develop problems with attention for each added hour of television watched. As children’s best advocates, parents should help children minimize television time by converting previous television time into family time and for outdoor activities.
Side Effects of Excessive Television Viewing
- It is hypnotic.
- It is addictive and seductive because the rays of the television monitor is said to activate the release of endorphins (the feel good chemical in the brain which has been likened to have the same chemical properties as heroin, morphine).
- It is entertaining and impedes the thinking ability of the human left brain.
- It promotes primal tendencies in the lower brain.
Written by Aano for Vol. 2, Issue 2 of Nowchild Magazine.