Tuesday, June 16, 2009

TV: a battleground

Family under the microscope: June 6 2009 | Life and style | The Guardian

For some time now our son has been asking to watch television with increasing frequency. Sometimes it seems he would happily sit and watch it all afternoon. OK, he generally will get bored and/or start playing with toys at some point, but might still come back and complain if he finds it turned off. In short, he has started to become rather anti-social when given the chance, which is a shame because he is generally a very sociable little guy.

A friend gave us the above article - actually cut from The Guardian, a sure sign of serious intent - and I'm glad she did too, because it has concentrated our already gathering thoughts on this growing TV habit and brought us to action.

At this point you might expect we have thrown away the TV. I hate to disappoint, but no. Perhaps I'll have become grumpy enough to do that in a few years time. Bah humbug.

Instead we have set down a clear rule about TV. Assuming the little guy is well-behaved, he can have one programme (of no more than 30 minutes, though most are more like 20) three times a day: one in the morning anytime after breakfast, one anytime after lunch and one any time after dinner (before we go upstairs for the bath/bedtime wind-down).

In reality he is out much of the time during the week, either at nursery or with Hayley, which eases the battle. Nonetheless, vigilance will be required.

This proposed maximum of three half-hour slots may still sound like a lot to some and it may be we reduce it more, depending on whether we detect any effect from this new regime. You see his mood and behaviour hasn't been the greatest at times recently and we think we detect a link between the increased TV watching and increased moodiness. Certainly our refusal to let him watch TV (even when he's had as much as an hour) has been the spark for some uncharacteristically confrontational behaviour.

It's easy to say from the comfort of an armchair "no TV", but when you wake exhausted from yet another night of broken sleep and your 3 year old climbs into bed in the morning asking for his favourite programme, it is hard to say "no" when you know that tears and the waking of little his sister will ensue. Nonetheless, the early morning TV has gone too. And to be fair he has adjusted to bringing in a book to read or asking to go downstairs where he'll play or have breakfast.

So it's early days, and it may be harder work (and more so for Hayley who is with him during the week), but I don't want to look back in years to come and wonder whether I took an easy option which did him no favours.

Family under the microscope: June 6 2009 | Life and style | The Guardian

The temptation to prop the nipper in front of Teletubbies and finally read Saturday's Family section on Wednesday is both understandable and, if the alternative is screaming at the little lovely out of exhaustion, probably preferable. But the truth is that few of us parents are aware of just how bad television is for their brain - too much is like feeding them mental uranium.

When boys are followed from birth until they are men, even after taking account of the other main causes of violence, like being beaten up or neglected, how much TV and how violent the content they watched as children remains an independent cause of how violent they are as adults.

Television makes us fat yet it also leads to self-starvation and throwing up food. Fiji did not have TV until 1995 and the women favoured a full figure. Not a single case of bulimia had ever been recorded there but within three years of the arrival of TV, 11% of young Fijian women were suffering. They were three times more likely to have developed the illness if they lived in a home with a TV.

Equally, TV causes obesity by increasing torpid inactivity, advertising fatty foods and increased eating while watching. Conclusive proof came from the introduction of TV in China, previously a thin population. Among 10,000 Chinese, the more they watched, the fatter they were. For every extra hour watched, the greater the likelihood of obesity.

It damages health in other ways. A 26-year study of 1,000 children showed that those who watched more than two hours a day between five and 15 were significantly unhealthier years later. Even after allowing for other factors, like social class and parents' habits, they were significantly more at risk of high cholesterol, smoking and unfitness as a direct result of their greater TV watching when young.

TV impairs children's concentration. For every extra hour a day watched, a child is 9% more likely to have attentional difficulties (the core problem in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). To maximise the impact, there are shorter scenes: a study of the pace and editing speed in Sesame Street showed that they had doubled over a 26-year period. The duration of a typical American public service broadcast scene is 70% longer than one in a commercial children's TV show.

By fast-forwarding life into a concentrated rush of exciting events, TV corrupts children's expectations. Key reward chemicals are secreted, such as dopamine, and when the off button is pushed and they go to a school lesson, it's happening too slowly to maintain their interest: they want more, bigger snacks - now.

Children who watch a lot of TV before the age of three learn to fail academically: subsequent scores on maths, reading and comprehension are worse and their exam results are worse when recorded at age 26.

Knowing all this should make you take serious heed of the advice that children should watch no more than one hour a day. Yet the terrifying fact is that the average six-year-old has already spent more than one full year of its life watching TV. Half of three-year-olds have a TV set in their room.

The Department of Health should be mounting massive public-health campaigns to persuade us to watch less but that is unlikely to occur. So even if you are unable stop watching TV yourself (it is nurturing dissatisfaction with your body, your possessions and your lifestyle), today needs to be the first one in which your child only gets to spend an hour watching - and it needs to stay that way.

Review of evidence: Sigman, A, 2007, Biologist, 54, 12-17. See also Sigman, A, 2005, Remotely Controlled, Vermilion. More Oliver James at selfishcapitalist.com


James (SeattleDad) said...

Lukas has been rather moody lately and he get no television. Maybe a happy medium would be the best way to go.

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