Television, Computers and Children

Movie night around our house is a very big deal. It’s a big deal because it’s the only television that my stepdaughters, Serena (seven years old), and Ari (five years old), are allowed to watch. It becomes an event rather than an every day happening. Makes it even more special. My wife Jesseca is very adamant about this and I totally agree with her. Even we watch very little television, on average about two nights a week for an hour each.

So what’s the big deal about children watching television? After all, it’s a great babysitter, frees the parents up to do other things, and keeps the children pacified for a few hours. Parents and children can even share some programming. And after all, most of us were brought up watching a few hours of television every day, and look how we turned out. (Well, that last point may not be the strongest argument, but you get the picture).

The television has become so central to our way of life that for some it’s inconceivable to limit the amount of time spent in front of this electronic eye. There are so many choices as to what to watch and the computerization of television offers even greater choices as streaming video becomes more available.
TV isn’t inherently bad or evil. Like many things, it’s how we use it that determines its effects on us. One study of British school children concluded that more than two hours a day in front of a TV or computer was associated with more emotional and behavior difficulties. Other studies show that the average American watches nearly five hours of TV every day, which serves as a model for children and teenagers as well.

One of the more insidiously harmful effects is when a child or teenager has a television in their own room. Researchers are finding that when this is the case it can contribute to a number of health and educational problems. Children with TVs in their bedroom score lower on tests, are more likely to have sleep problems, to be overweight, and more likely to eat junk food.

Dr. Aric Sigman, a British psychologist, has discovered that watching TV changes your brain chemistry as well as other physiological changes. It has not as much to do with the content as the act itself of staring at a TV or computer. Your brain is forced to process information differently, and since it produces a hypnotic effect, it literally numbs areas that could be stimulated by other activities, such as reading. The more you watch, the more you become passive and receptive, which is of course what every advertiser counts on.

Dr. Sigman has identified a number of consequences associated with watching television, including but not limited to obesity, difficulty healing, heart trouble, decreased metabolism, damaged eyesight, decreased attention span, sleep difficulties, limited brain growth, and hormone disturbances. Let alone the assault of advertisers and violent and sexually explicit programming.

So please do limit your own and especially your children’s television viewing. If you agree you watch too much TV, turn it off and participate in other activities, the root word of which is “active.” It may take some time and effort to redirect everyone’s attention to other things, and children may fuss, but in the long run, both parents and children will benefit.

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