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TV – THE ENEMY WITHIN – what it can do to children

By Linda Maher

When television was first introduced, people weren’t all that thrilled. After all, with the development of other technological advances this was just another in the series. But, it didn’t take long for people to change their minds. It was seen as a perfect way to relax and a cheaper alternative to dancing or dining out. Over the years, television has provided many hours of entertainment. People are now so happy with this situation that they demand televisions be constructed of epic proportion. Most people spend time every day watching; some are so enthralled they leave it switched on even whilst dining; and some never turn it off. Television has become so important that most people have at least one at home, with the current trend tending towards two or three.

While you may think this is perfectly normal and nothing could dissuade you from watching or limiting your child’s viewing time, you might like to keep in mind that the television has been labeled ‘the idiot box’ and there are seven really good reasons why this might be so.

1.   Television inhibits visual development

Television immobilizes and utilizes only two of the five senses: hearing and vision. If there is competition between the two, vision wins hands down. Normally when one uses body muscles they become much stronger; and because the eyes are used so much in watching television, one could be forgiven for thinking that television would be a wonderful activity to develop the eye muscles and so greatly enhance eyesight. 

Unfortunately, simply watching doesn’t do this. When television is viewed, the field of vision is remarkably reduced so the eyes do not have to track from side to side or backwards and forwards to see what is on the screen. The viewer typically ends up staring at the television. Because of this, eye muscles are only in limited use and this ensures the eye muscles remain weak. This makes focusing hard and tracking impossible. 

Much of schooling success relies upon reading especially as a child moves further into the schooling system; but to be able to read, a person must be able to move the eyes left to right in order to track along a line and focus upon words before identification can be made – skills television does not engender. Skills that do help in eye development such as reading a book, contemplating the distant horizon, finding objects in a treasure hunt and in catching small insects are typically pushed aside as television becomes the favoured activity.

2.   Television retards brain development

When a baby is born, billions of nerve cells (neurons) are fully developed and rearing to go. They are, however, not fully functioning, as these cells need to be connected so messages can be passed between them. Many of the brain’s neural connections such as vision, social attachment, basic vocabulary, body function and reflexes are complete in the first three years. Motor development, languages and music performance are fully formed by the age of ten.

At this time those neural connections that are not fully developed are destroyed by enzymatic action whilst those used regularly are maintained and enlarged. Timing is vital because those connections not maintained then are only made with difficulty in later years.

Neural connections are made when something is experienced through the senses. For proper brain development, this means that children need to be involved in lots of moving, touching, smelling, hearing, tasting and seeing; and it is this concept that has led associations such as the US National Institute for Health to suggest that children under the age of three should not watch television in any shape or form. 

3.   Television retards development of muscles

Development of gross muscles, such as those of the arms and legs, ensures control of big movements. Development of fine muscles ensures that a person can perform small movements such as buttoning a shirt, holding a pencil, self-feeding and tying shoelaces. Being able to do these things is important because they build self-esteem and ensure ability to function independently in the world. 

But, when watching television, the child doesn’t need to move. He doesn’t need to stretch muscles, test out strength or use fine motor skills. In terms of education, fine motor skills are needed in a variety of activities including drawing diagrams; picking up small objects such as pencils, ruler and paper; using scissors; counting beads; in the formation of letters and numbers; using the mouse and keyboard on the computer; and turning the pages of a book.

4.   Television encourages the production of alpha brain waves

Alertness indicates that beta brain waves are being generated but these are not the type of brain wave being produced when a person watches television. Instead, alpha waves are produced, and when alpha brain waves are being produced, this indicates that the viewer is in a type of trance. Because of this, techniques such as loud noises, bright colour, music, flashes of light, and rapidly changing screens have been developed to keep the viewer alert. These techniques are processed in the right brain, with many neural connections on this side of the brain being maintained and enlarged.

However, neural connections within the left-brain and those crossing from the right side to the left side of the brain are not encouraged. This is most unfortunate because the left-brain is used in analysing, comprehending, abstract thinking, inspiration, discernment, reason and logic. It is also where differences in sounds and meaning of language are differentiated, mathematical concepts are cultivated, and empathy and social awareness are developed.

Without these skills, information can be assimilated, but the ability to analyse or apply logic to the emotions being produced on the right side is very limited. This affects learning in all curriculum subjects and interaction with others because now, instead of using reason to direct action, emotions must be relied upon and this leads to outbursts of frustration and self-centred behaviour.

5. Television has been linked with childhood obesity

National guidelines for lifestyle encourage activity and a diet high in fruit and vegetables. In comparison, television encourages inactivity and fast food consumption – both identified as risk factors in the rise of obesity. To make things worse, obesity is linked with depression, poor self-esteem, skeletal problems, liver damage, cardiovascular problems and early puberty. It is also associated with the early development of type-2 diabetes, which until recently had been regarded as a medical problem that doesn’t generally develop until a person is aged sixty or over.

6.   Together with computers and videos, television encourages difficulty in adjusting to the routine and sructure of school life and the learning process.

The more that television is watched, the more likely it is that children will have difficulty at school. Studies show that such children display delays in language acquisition and expression, including the formation of mental visions of letters and number and writing them down. They are unable to focus for any length of time without outside stimulus.

These children also show there has been a decrease in quality of imaginative writing and play-acting, delays in acquisition of fine motor skills, increased behavioural problems coupled with extreme violence and aggression in the playground and towards the teacher, and a rise in autism and ADHD.

7.   Television can cause difficulties in interpersonal relationships, both within and outside the family.

Rented DVD’s outnumber books loaned by two to one, and with these and scheduled programming, people can watch television for at least 20 hours per week. In comparison, on average, parents spend less than one hour per week talking and interacting with their children.

Consequently, the standard for acceptable behaviour is set by television shows in which children back-chat adults and adults are seen engaging in sexual episodes, throwing violent tantrums, shooting or knifing one another, and shouting and using coarse language.

SUPERVISE CHILDREN OR TURN IT OFF

Television has become so common that TV sets can be found in dentist’s and doctor’s waiting rooms, pubs, shopping centres, hospitals, aeroplanes, aged care facilities, schools and cafes. Just look around – they are everywhere. With the ability to touch practically everyone, television could help build a knowledgeable and powerful population.

Instead, it has been found that rather than being a harmless source of pleasure and information, television can be a dangerous agent with the ability to negatively impact on the level of intelligence, retard full potential, determine the success of interpersonal relations, and contribute to health issues previously unheard of in childhood. 

Television is not good for anybody, and when children are involved, it needs to be carefully supervised and greatly outbalanced by activities that encourage personal interaction, stimulate the senses and encourage movement.

In fact, why not make a stand now and switch it off altogether? Instead, engage in activities that support the five senses of touching, smelling, listening, tasting and seeing.

For instance, you could:

  •  go to the zoo, museum or a river;

  • look at and touch living leaves and smell flowers;

  • go to the beach or the mountains;

  • listen to shells or taped books;

  • visit the city aquarium or the fish at the local pet shop; 

  • bake cookies, and smell and taste the results;

  • take a ride on a bus or train.

Then you’ll know that rather than promoting visual incompetence and muscular weakness, impeding brain potential, and encouraging health problems through watching the idiot box, you will be hard-wiring your child’s brain in such a way that it encourages successful interaction with others, promotes effective independent functioning in the world and practically guarantees educational triumph. And, who knows what could rub off on you? Try it – in the long run it will be worth every minute.

DISCLAIMER

The information in the above article does not constitute medical advice and does not substitute for it. No liability will be accepted for any occurrence resulting from the use or reliance upon the information supplied.

Linda Maher, BHS, ND, BEd, DipT, is a naturopath practising in the beautiful Tatong Valley of NE Victoria.

REFERENCES

www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories

www.learningbasket.homestead.com/brain development.html

www.mbbnet.umn.edu/doric/brainscape

www.media.family.org/facts/facts_tveffect.shtml

www.msnbc.msn.com

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/endex/query/fcqi

www.pediatrics.aapublications.org

www.theage.com.au

www.vctv.tv/series/index

www.whitedot.org

(Published Natural Health and Vegetarian Life, Winter 2008.)