The human mind longs to be entertained, informed and educated and the mass media is basically the outlet through which these can be done. The mass media includes television, radio,internet, newspapers, magazines etcetera. However, the main focus of this article is on the impact of television viewing on children.
Television is a major source of entertainment for children apart from comic books. In terms of entertainment, television offers a lot to children. However, how do these different kinds of enterainment offered by television affect children?
The word ‘television’ is derived from mixed Latin and Greek roots, meaning “farsight” since it first became commercially available from the late 1930s , the television set has become a common household communications device in homes and institutions,as a major source of entertainment and news.
Most children plug into the world of television long before they enter school. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), two thirds of infants and toddlers watch a screen an average of 2 hours a day, children under the age of six (6) watch an average of 2 hours of television and videos or DVDs a day while teenagers between ages 8 to 18 years spend nearly 4 hours a day in front of a television screen and almost 2 additional hours on the computer outside of schoolwork and playing video games.
Researchers say that the first 2 years of life are a critical time for brain development. Television and other electronic media can get in the way of playing, exploring and interacting with parents and others and these are activities that encourage learning, healthy, mental, physical and socail development.
As children get older, too much time spent viewing television interface with physical activities such as doing home work, reading, spending time with their families and with friends.
Although television is good, it’s better when viewed in moderation preschoolers can learn more about the alphabet and more about numbers. Television is a good teaching aid; primary schoolers can learn more about wildlife on nature shows and parents can also keep up with current events on the evening news. It is a known fact that television is an exellent educator and entertainer. However, it could also be detrimental to children. According to research, children who consistently spend more than 4 hours per day watching television are more likely to be overweight.
CHILDREN AND VIOLENCE
Television can be a powerful influence in developing value systems and shaping behaviour. Unfortunately, much of today’s television programmes are violence-oriented. Hundreds of studies conducted on the effects of television violence on children and teenagers have found that children may become numb or “immune” to the horror of violence and gradually accept violence as a way to solve problems. Children are easily impressed by what they see- they learn much more through imitation and observation. As such, they imitate the violence they observe on television and begin to identify with certain characters, victims and or victimizers in such programmes.
Research also has it that extensive veiwing of television violence by children causes greater aggressiveness. Watching a single violence-oriented programme can increase aggressiveness. According to research, children who view violence- oriented shows or programmes in which violence is depicted as very realistic, frequently repeated and or unpunished, are more than likely to imitate what they see and inculcate violent behaviours.
Researchers also believe that children with emotional, behavioral, learning or impulse problems may be more easily influenced by television violence. The negative impact of television violence-oriented programme may immediately be evident in children’s behaviours or surface years later. Young people are also likely to be affected when the family atmosphere shows no tendency towards violence.
It is advised that parents protect their children from television violence-oriented shows and programmes by doing the following;
1. Paying attention to the programmes their children watch and are watching. Parents should watch some of these programmes and set limits on the amount of time they (children) spend watching television. Parents can point out and educate their children about the negativity of violence and the consequences of perpetrating violent acts.
2. Parents should refuse to let their children view shows or programmes known to be violent, change the channel or turn off the television set when offensive or violent materials are being shown. In the course of doing this, parents should endeavour to explain what is wrong with such prgrammes, disapprove of violent programmes in front of the children and emphasize the belief that violent behaviours are not the best way to resolve problems.
3. Parents should deal with peer pressure on their children by contacting other parents and agree to enforce similar rules about the length of time and type of programmes their children may watch.
TELEVISION, CHILDREN AND OBESITY
It is true that television viewing enhances cognitive development and conveys knowledge, skills and information to the children. However, investigators have hypothesized that television viewing causes obesity in on or more of three ways,
1. Displacement of physical activity.
2. Increased calorie consumption while watching or caused by the effects of advertising.
3. Reduced resting metabolism.
Researchers have examined the relationship between television viewing and obesity and it has been discovered that reducing television viewing may reduce the risk of obesity in children.
The rate at which fast food is advertised on television has been related to childhood obesity. The modern lifestyle of computer screens, television and video games has resulted in people doing little or no exercise at all and eating junk food. As such, the number of obese children, teenagers and adults have increased and frankly, is quite alarming.
Overweight means that a person possesses an excess of body fat. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 300,000 deaths per year are caused by obesity. Weight problems are also associated with depression, limited mobility and decreased physical endurance.
It is advised that parents should supervise their children’s television viewing time and encourage physical activities. Remember, parents should lead by example, that is, they should participate in such physical exercises.
Other negative effects of television viewing on children include;
1. Television provides no educational benefits for children under age 2. instead, it steals time for activities that actually develop their brains, such as interacting with other people and playing. Children learn more efficiently from real interaction, that is, with people and things rather than things they see on a television screen.
2. Television viewing takes away the time children need to develop important skills like language, creativity, motor and social skills. These skills are developed in a child’s first 2 years and these should be done through play, exploration and by passively listening to the television. They are developed by interacting with people when talking and listening.
3. Television viewing numbs children’s minds as it prevents them from exercising initiative, being intellectually challenged, thinking analytically and using their imagination.
4. Television viewing takes away time from reading and improving reading skills through practice (Comstock, 1991). Children who watch entertainment television and cartoons, according to Macbeth (1996), during preschool years have poorer prereading skills at age 5. Wright and Houston (1995) also posit that children who watch entertainment television are less likely to read books and other print media.
5. Dr. Sally Ward, a speech and language expert, during 20 years of research, says that kids who are bombarded by background television noise in their homes have trouble paying attention to vices when there is also background noise.
6. Children with extensive television viewership have trouble paying attention to their teachers because they are accustomed to the fast- paced visual stimulation on television. According to researchers, children who watch television more than they talk to their families have a difficult time adjusting from being visual learners (learning by listening). Such children have also been found to have short attention spans.
7. Children who lose sleep because of television viewing become less alert during the day thereby leading to poor academic performance.
Television exposes children to negative influences and is liable to promote negative behaviors. Television programmes and commercials exhibit alcohol, premarital sex, drug use etcetera in a positive light.
The minds of children are like clay- whatever they first see form early impressions and determine how they will see and view the world at large. Parents are therefore advised to select the kinds of programmes their children view and help them grow better. Studies show that children who watch educational and non- violent children’s shows perform better academically.
Television viewing is good as long as it is moderated.