The Negatives of TV Viewing
stolen directly from p.125-129, Marie Sherlock's Living Simply with Children (Three Rivers Press, 2003)
1.TV Transforms Our Kids - And Us - Into "Consumer Units"
If there was ever any question about the relationship between TV viewing and kids wanting more "stuff," a study reported in the June 2001 issue of Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics concludes that, yes, indeed, kids who watch more TV bug their parents to buy more toys. The study involved a school-based effort to reduce television. By the end of the school year, those students who'd watched less TV were 70 percent less likely to have requested a toy during the previous week.
TV advertising works on adults too. A survey by economist Juliet Schor concluded that respondents spent an extra $208 annually for each hour of television they watched weekly. Betsy Taylor, Executive Director of the Center for a New American Dream, aptly calls the television a "direct I.V. of manufactured want."
2. TV Gives Us inferiority Complexes
The premise of most TV advertising is to make the viewers less-less cool, less attractive, less popular - if we don't buy whatever they're selling. The message is that, by buying these items, we'll be complete, we'll be part of an "in crowd."
And the "in crowd" has changed too. Television shows and movies aren't portraying the Cleaver family anymore but a very upscale Jones family. We essentially need to keep up with ever more affluent reference groups. Consequently, we need ot spend more and more to keep from feeling "out of it."
3.TV Promotes Violence And Other Negative Values
Remember the statistic quoted above about the 200,000 dramatized acts of violence and 40,000 dramatized murders that our children, on average, witness on television before they turn eighteen? According to a variety of sources, there is overwhelming evidence that violence on television - and at the movies and in video and computer games - is one of the causes of violent tendencies among young people.
Any doubt about the cause and effect of violent programming was put to rest by a joint statement in July 2000 by the Amercian Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. They said: "The conclusion of the public health community, based on over 30 years of research, is that viewing entertainment violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values, and behavior, particularly in children. Its effects are measurable and long-lasting. Moreover, prolonged viewing of media violence can lead to emotional desensitization toward violence in real life."
It isn't just the violence on TV that is harming our kids. Other negative "values" are reinforced on television, among them disrespect, greed, the notion that looking good and being cool is of paramount importance, and an attitude of entitlement and selfishness.
4. TV Induces An Addictive, Trancelike State
Another reason to be TV-free involves the psychological effects of television viewing. A number of studies conclude that the simple act of watching TV is harmful to children, whether it's "Sesame Street" or "NYPD Blue." Among the many negative effects that television viewing has on children is the trancelike state it produces, the sensory overkill, and its addictive qualities. The pernicious effects of viewing are amplified by the quantity of TV the average American kid watches. A twenty-year longitudinal study conducted at Yale University concluded that children who watch excessive amounts of television tend to be less imaginitive, more restless, more aggressive, and have poorer concentration.
Television's hypnotic, addictive effect is only getting worse. In his book Culture jam: The Uncooling of America, Kalle Lasn explains that television content contains "jolts" that he describes as "any 'technical event' that interrupts the flow of sound or thought or imagery - shift in camera angle, gunshot, cut to commercial." In 1978, television shows contained about ten jolts per minute; by 1998, the number of jolts had doubled. some channels and programs deliver many more of these "technical events," like MTV with sixty events per minute. Lasn and others contend that jolts release hormones that trigger the fight-or-flight response, and that the viewer's attention is riveted by upping the incidence of jolts, inducing essentially an addiction to that release of hormones.
The real world does not work this way, notes down-shifted mom Debbie Newman. She believes that this aspect of television programming may even be the cause of the "epidemic" of kids with ADD and ADHD. "If we were going to take, say, an alien from outer space and train him to have a short attention span, what would we do?" she asks. "Probably we would sit him in front of a screen and flash pictures in front of him that change every fraction of a second." Just park him in front of the tube - instant attention deficit.
5. TV Creates Couch Potatoes
Excessive TV viewing contributes to weight problems in children. According to the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the more children viewed TV, the heavier they were. Children who watched four or more hours of television a day were, on average, 17 percent heavier than those who watched less than two hours per day. A recent study at Tufts University revealed that kids who watch a lot of television end up eating more of the types of foods advertised -- that is, fast foods, convenience foods, candy, and soda - than children who don't watch as much television.
6.TV Inhibits Learning
Too much television also leads to poor academic performance. A number of studies conclude that the less TV a child watches, the better that child will score on achievement tests. Similarly, as TV viewing increases, reading ability decreases.
The negative effects of television on young children are so pronounced that, in 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement recommending that pediatricians "urge parents to avoid television viewing for children under the age of 2 years."
7.TV Is A Time Vampire
So far the negatives I've listed have, more or less, been related to the programming, advertising, or psychological impacts of viewing television. But there's another, more straightforward and potentially much more negative impact of television viewing: the simple amount of time it takes away from other activities. A 2000 study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that kids ages two through seventeen spend an average of 4-1/2 hours each day in front of screens - TV, computer, video game systems.
That it takes away from time spent on physical activity and reading is implied in the last two negatives discussed. But there are many other activities that are lessened and sometimes obliterated because we're zoned out in front of the tube.
Family time together is a huge one! A 2001 study by Professor Barbara Brock of Eastern Washington University revealed that TV-free families spent an average of 385 minutes each week in meaningful conversation with kids, ten times the national average. Families without televisions spend much more time playing, creating, and just "hanging out" together than their TV-immersed peers. TV-free families also have more time to spend getting to know neighbors, helping younger siblings, working around the house, learning to play an instrument, volunteering - in short, virtually any of those activities listed later in this chapter and in Chapter 12. This failure to spend time on pleasurable, relaxing activities could explain why, as a 1999 Kaiser Family Foundation study revealed, youngsters who watched more TV tended to be less content than their TV-free peers.
...And Yet We Watch
Marie Winn has written extensively on the effects of television on us and our kids. In 1974 she instigated what may have been the first "TV free" experiment in Denver, Colorado. Fifteen families turned their televisions off for a full month and kept diaries on the results. The improvements in family dynamics and happiness seen during that month were impressive. The families reported better communications between children and adults, a more peaceful atmosphere in the home, greater feelings of closeness as a family, more help around the house by the children, more leisurely meals with more interesting mealtime conversations, more reading by both parents and children, and more real play among children. The negatives says Winn, were minor. Some family members missed their favorite TV programs, some kids mentioned experiencing a "weird" feeling (coud it have been withdrawal?), and parents reported a few discipline problems without TV deprivation to use as a threat!
The positives of doing without television are noted over and over again by experts. Family therapist and author Mary Pipher notes that her standard suggestion for families in crisis is that they turn off the TV for a at least a couple of nights a week and, instead, watch the sun set or take a walk.
But here's the rub: Having experienced all of theses benefits - and with knowledge of the many negatives of TV viewing - all fifteen families in Winn's Denver experiment returned to watching TV to some extent after the experience!
With virtually no positives to recommend it and numerous negatives, television continues to hold the country in its viselike grip.
It doesn't have to. Simple living families almost universally have taken one of two actions with regard to television viewing: Either they have no TV in their home or they strict limit TV viewing. Here's a look at each of these alternatives.
...continues on in "Reclaiming Your Kids, Part II"
More on this topic written by others are here, here, and here.