Saturday, January 24, 2009

Don't Touch That Dial . . . Literally.

How sweet! Little Timmy is watching his favorite cartoons. My, but he is mesmerized. He hardly ever looks away from the set, and although I called him three times to dinner, he is glued to the TV, eyes wide open, mouth slightly agape, a small bit of drool creeping down his chin. . . .

There’s no getting around it. Televisions, computers, video games, and electronic devices of every make and kind are part of our lives. Knowledge of these devices, both in terms of operation and content, is almost mandatory if one wants to successfully interact and function in today’s world. But, everything in moderation! There are serious, documented problems experienced by those who overdo the electronic stuff. In fact, the American Academy of
Pediatrics (“AAP”) recommends that television (and similar activities) be avoided entirely by children under the age of two and that total television time for older children be limited to one to two hours per day. Citing to the fact that “research on early brain development shows that babies and toddlers have a critical need for direct interactions with parents and other significant care givers . . . for healthy brain growth and the development of appropriate social, emotional, and cognitive skills,” the AAP states that exposure of such young children to television should be avoided.

Increased daily television viewing has been associated with poor sleep habits, behavior problems, obesity, poor eating habits, decreased physical activity and fitness, and poor school performance.

Even more alarming is the link between aggressive behavior and a child’s exposure to violent television images. On average, a young viewer is exposed to more than 14,000 sexual references each year, and by the time a child has finished elementary school, he has seen approximately 8,000 murders!

Physically, television and computer over use can lead to dizziness, nausea, seizures, and negatively impact visual processing and cognitive development. Televisions and computer monitors are two dimensional, stationary devises that literally lock the eye in one place, do not offer the eyes different points of convergence, and cause tremendous eyestrain. In addition, television viewing and computer use takes time from other forms of play that develop a child’s three-dimensional skills, depth perception and focusing abilities. It can even distort eye growth and cause muscle and nerve injury.

Television/video/computers also may be responsible for “miswiring” the brain’s visual attention system. A baby’s eyes will instinctively lock onto the rapidly changing television images – images that change every five or six seconds. Known as the “orienting response,” it is a human’s natural and instinctive response to any sudden or novel stimulus. Thus, these ever changing images demand the child’s constant attention on a biological level. Even babies at six to eight weeks attend to television. If a child gets used to viewing an ever-changing panorama of images, when the child is not watching television, the child will start moving his head and eyes around in an attempt to recreate the flow of rapid-fire images!
Indeed, some experts believe television may even be addictive.

Perhaps this is why ADHD children can watch television for hours but not be able to maintain eye contact for ten seconds! A biologically based addiction, television may be wiring children’s brains to seek out ever changing images all the time. However, in real life, images don’t change that rapidly. But, if that is what the brain has come to demand, then the child will replicate the sensation by moving his head and eyes and attention constantly.

While there is no doubt that a discriminating viewer can find a great deal of educational content via television and computers, how much a child actually learns from educational television and educational software is debatable. Moreover, the instant gratification/blur of images makes it even more difficult to teach students using “old-fashioned” techniques like reading.

So, do your children a favor. Turn off the electronic devices, and re-introduce them to sunshine, exercise and a good book.

American Academy of Pediatrics, Media Education, Pediatrics, Vol. 104, No. 2 (Aug. 1999).

AAP Discourages Television for Very Young Children, Press Release (Aug. 2, 1999).

AAP Addresses TV Programming for Children Under Age 2, Press Release (Undated).

Beam, Cris, Babes in TV Land, american baby (Apr. 2000).

Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds and What We Can Do About It, by Jane Healy, Ph.D., Simon & Schuster (1998).

Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser, Perennial (2002).

Kubey, Robert, Csikszentmihalyi, “Television Addiction is no mere metaphor,” Scientific American (Feb. 2002).

Owens, Judith MD, MPH, Maxim, Rolanda, MD, et al., Television-viewing Habits and Sleep Disturbance in School Children, Pediatrics, Vol. 104, No. 3 (Sept. 1999).

What’s Going on in there? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life, by Dr. Lise Eliot, Ph.D., Bantam (1999).

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