Thoughts for parents about the effects of television watching on children – Current research highlights that it is not only what we watch on TV that has effect, but the watching of TV itself – regardless of program content.
Children’s Development Needs
Children learn to know the world through all of their senses which are at first interdependent. For example seeing something new means little until the object is held, weighed, manipulated and touched. This requires the will to move, to experience, and to do.
The first seven years is the time when sensory and motor skills mature and through play the child works to bring an integration of movement and sensory experiences. This is essential as a basis for concentration and thinking. The second seven years is especially important in the mature development of breathing, rhythm and the child’s life of feeling.
Television and Speaking
A child learns to speak through movement. At first sounds are accompanied by whole body movements. The child’s body moves in response to the speech of others. This continues in a less obvious way throughout life. Through television, language is heard by the movement and feeling expressed and direct human contact is not communicated. The TV set does not require any verbal response thus speech is discouraged.
Eye Movements Can Be Impaired
When we watch television our normally active eyes are reduced to focus on a single area. For a young child the necessary practice in moving, co-ordinating, focusing and strengthening the eyes is considerably reduced. Normal eye movements are rhythmic. To succeed in reading, rhythmic and well-controlled eye movements are essential. Children with learning problems often have impaired visual development.
Images created on the TV screen are composed of 625 lines, with 800 dots appearing 25 times per second. This puts a considerable strain on the brain and the eyes, especially of young children whose eye muscles are still maturing until 6-7 years of age. Programs on TV are consciously created with several cuts per minute. Rapid changes of content, new visual perspectives are commercial tricks designed to hold attention, but what do they do for our eyes and attention span.
Television Affects Brain Development
Television addresses only a limited area of cerebral functioning. Brain waves produced during TV viewing are primarily Alpha waves – those occurring otherwise in sleep. This leads to a trance like state, so that the brain receives information without any conscious analysis or selective association. TV viewing prolongs dependency on the right hemisphere. As the brain develops, children shift from a non-verbal ‘right’ hemisphere, dreaming consciousness, to a verbal logical ‘left’ hemisphere.
Many skills necessary for reading, eg analysis, auditory association, phonics, symbol recognition and handwriting, are associated with left hemisphere. Children who are slow to read are frequently one-sided in their development and TV viewing can increase this imbalance.
The sleep like state of Alpha brain waves produces poor concentration. Television Can Limit Sensory Perception To be able to make meaningful what is seen and heard sensory input from other areas is necessary – especially important are sensations of touch and movement, which are closely associated, for example, with the visual cortex. Without input to these areas real seeing or visual perception does not develop. Visual input or what is seen does not become meaningful without this wholeness of experience in the young child.
An integration of sensory experience is essential to learning.
TV stimulates only vision and hearing and therefore promotes a sensory disintegration. Has Television Any Educational Value? For many children television is a ‘look and forget’ medium; real learning is an active process. Children need to do as well as look in order to retain experiences. Impressions left by TV are often superficial.
Children watch passively, without engaging any inner effort or will – which active learning requires, (e.g. learning to read). TV can produce passive children, weak in motivation and will power. A 1975 survey has shown that “Sesame Street” was not as successful in language and concept development as expected. Light viewers showed more gains in learning than heavy viewers. A Danish report, which tested viewers directly after a new program, showed that most viewers could answer only 2.5 questions correctly out of 12.
1. Restrict firmly the number of programs watched, especially on school nights. If you are resolute enough and both parents agree, get rid of the set altogether. Or put it away and use it only for special occasions.
2. Offer alternative activities of a creative sort – crafts, puppetry, dressing up, drawing and painting, modelling, pets, hobbies, sports, music, dancing, nature study, gardening, etc.
3. Encourage reading. Read aloud to the little ones. 4. Aim at positive family integration – interesting meal times, bedtime stories, singing, nursery rhymes, etc. Plan festival activities at Christmas, Easter, and so on.
5. Try to find others in your neighbourhood who think the same way and help each other.
Written by: Robyn Ritchie, Paediatric Occupational Therapist Novalis House Medical, Therapy and Social Development Centre 275 Fifield Tce, Christchurch 2 NZ Reproduced with the kind permission of Dr David Ritchie, Novalis House.
Photo by: giovanni_giusti
This article was provided by Quolkids, thanks to SoulBirth