The Boob Tube Not the Be All and End All of Social Ills

It is not a new debate, what exactly is the effect of TV and video games on children; first there were the campaigns against violence on TV, the cases of how viewing TV violence caused real world violence. Then there was the decline in school performance due to TV watching, not to mention the cultural messages being sent via several hundred channels, supposedly linked to increases in teen sex, drug use and reckless behavior. So it isn’t any wonder there is now a generation of children being raised minus TV and video games in their lives; however, for those parents who are still a tad old school as well as advocates pushing less screen time, the arguments just get flimsier. According to the newest studies, an extra hour of TV at age 2 increases snacking by age 10; TV watching at age 2 can also increase aggression and antisocial behavior in a child age 4. This is seemingly due to the fact that TV is an isolating, non-social activity. Teachers report that the more TV and video games kids watch or play the more likely they are to have attention problems. Among adults television viewing increases obesity by as much as 24 percent, because of the trance like state it puts watchers into.

Funny thing is about all these new statistics they seem to point to television as the source of all of societies problems, and they seem to be getting more and more desperate in their claims, discounting all other possibilities. First of all what 2 year old is actively watching TV for more than the length of a commercial that caught their eye; most 2 year olds don’t sit still that long. TV’s are often on in the home, in the background of toddler’s lives and they are happily playing with a toy, running around, completely ignoring what’s on the screen. The TV makes children more aggressive by robbing them of socialization argument forgets about only children raised in rural areas or who did not attend preschool, daycare, likely babysat by a grandparent or other member of the parent’s support system while they work. Situations like these also can create children who are more aggressive and less social because of a lack of siblings or playmates, learning sharing at a later age and with the recession, people tightening their belts, it’s becoming more common. A fix for this can be as simple as a free preschool program like Head Start; maybe organizing a neighborhood pay group, sending your child to daycare part time, but the behavior has little to do with the TV.

Children learn by what they see and by mimicking what others around them do, so to say that television watching as a toddler causes more snacking several years later, leads to the inevitable question of what is going on at home, what behavior are they picking up from parents, others at home? Are the kids in this study seeing mom and dad sitting in front of the TV always with a snack in their hand; are those snacks consistently unhealthy, bags of chips, fattening foods? Is the family eating meals in front of the TV, in essence, training the child as well as the child’s brain that for television to be a pleasurable experience fatty, salty or sugary foods must accompany it? Here again there is a simple fix, several actually; parents need to monitor their own snacking habits to make sure that every time they sit down to watch something food isn’t in their hand. Placing healthy snacks in the home, fruits, vegetables, yogurt, so that if your child wants a snack anytime, but especially while watching TV, they can choose a healthy one. If you are worried about this or see your child’s snacking increase with the TV they watch, limit the snacking; also avoid eating a significant number of meals in front of the television.

Schools are some of the most worrisome places in this day and age; from the number of shady characters that may be lurking in the hallways moping floors and unclogging toilets, to the teachers with criminal backgrounds or who are previously unknown pedophiles, to the ludicrous policies enacted in the name of keeping kids safe, improving academic performance, it makes everything they come up with suspect. The same applies here, in the technology age, when we still have teachers lecturing in ways the make them sound like Charlie Browns first grade teacher, when art and music have been cut for budget reasons, along with field trips, even fun in class activities. Many have eliminated recess to improve grades, yet attention problems are blamed on TV, video games, and ADHD, another alleged side effect of screen time.

No one has pinned down the correlation between forcing children to sit still for 8 hours and the squirming or the wandering minds; likewise no one has noticed that schools who fully integrate technology increased attendance, grades and made violence nearly non existent, because they have actively engaged learners rather than kids who are bored stiff. Not to mention the teachers reporting, recording this data are, no doubt, the totalitarian, utilitarian types who demand kids sit at their desks and listen to them like robots, in grades k-through 5; who have class sizes that equal crowd control not learning. But instead of speaking out on the latter, or at least recognizing it, they are somehow finding out how much TV they watch, as if trying to find a convenient scapegoat aimed at making it the parents responsibility to take action rather than the school fixing any of its problems. Oh and one can assume the authors of this study missed the newly released study that strongly linked ADD and ADHD to years of pesticide exposure via the food they eat, and what have we been begging parents to do but feed their kids more fruits and vegetables, the very foods laced with more and more pesticides.

It is interesting that adult TV watching and obesity can be boiled down to a percentage considering all the other factors in an adult’s life, age hormones, pregnancy, medical history, family history; job satisfaction and financial stability can even have an impact in this area, because of how much stress it puts on the body. Said stress can translate into weight gain. As for the trance like state, apparently those conducting whatever research adding up to that 24 percent increase have never met people who yell and gyrate at the tel-evangelists preaching through the screen or those who yell and jump around their living room when their favorite sports team scores a goal. More likely, people who jump around and yell when their favorite sports game is going badly, their beloved team is performing poorly, even those who yell at the soap opera they love to hate. Granted it’s not as calorie burning as cardio or a walk around the block, and has implications for your blood pressure, but it is far from a trance. Furthermore it discounts individuals who put in the equivalent of the above-mentioned fat fighting activities in their manual labor job behind a jackhammer, putting up drywall and so on, who come home and sit in front of the TV to relax, ease the toll on taxed muscles

Researchers seem to forget that TV has been a mainstay in most American households since the 1960’s and for all that screen time back then every other kid in a classroom didn’t have attention problems; the Atari was the first video game, the NES came after, and yet, it wasn’t until the mid 90’s that kids were being dosed on Ritalin in droves. However, before video games were a staple toy in households across the country, they became as common as jukeboxes in a resultants, fast food hangouts, had their place in corner and convenience stores, where kids wiled away hours and allowance money playing Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Space Invaders. Clearly indicating something changed in the 3 decades between the 60’s and the 90’s, something bigger than improved pictures and graphics, improved research methods, increased time in front of the boob tube, as it has been so colorfully called for years.

As a child of the 80’s a teen of the 90’s and a writer in the 21st century I have to interject a touch of my own personal experiences here; TV was always on in the background of my life. I rarely watched it before age 4 because it was boring; there was nothing to catch my eye. So I would go and play with toys or pester the adults round me to play with me. As I grew older I watched TV a lot in my spare time, played Nintendo for hours, yet had none of the reported attention problems seen in today’s classrooms. TV became the fuel for my imagination not something that stunted it; fantastic parts of TV and movies making it into my own work, with a new spin, as early as elementary school, junior high. Part of what made me want to be a writer was doing it differently, better than the things I had seen in books, movies, TV, today those things are still a source of inspiration for all my writing, including the commentary you see before you. The basic news outlets are the cornerstones of my current work, but pop culture one-liners have spawned poetry, movies inspired short stories. I cringe when I hear statistics like this, when I hear about parents locking their child away from something that was so crucial to my development, I worry about the imagination of the younger generation and the doors that may never be opened to them, because of research that will fall out of favor in 5-10 years, like so much research of years gone by.

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About Natasha Sapp

Proclaiming an edgy voice of reason to America,while bringing back the common sense to social issues.

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