Thursday, 1 August 2013

Television - A Good Influence Or A Negative One When It Comes To Child Development?

Laughing pigs, a little Hispanic girl exploring the globe along with her red boot wearing monkey and a little knight who goes on adventures with his dragon; these all seem miles way from catchphrases such as Thundercats Hoooo or Bionic On.  Writing this piece has brought back so many fond memories of running around the school play-yard with my friends pretending we were Airwolf's pilot, Streethawk's rider or even MacGyver - breaking out of the school-grounds with nothing but a blunt spoon and a spaghetti noodle is quite a challenge I might add!  Television can create such fond memories. 

In modern day Western society, television seems to play a great part in our most of our lives, whether we realise it or not - why then is there so much debating over whether TV is good for our children or not?  How many hours a day should they be allowed to watch?  As far as the latter goes, I have very little to offer here, all I can comment on is the vast amount of research which has been carried out on this very topic.  The major issue with the research out there is that it is contradictory - early studies show that violence in children increased with the arrival of television.  The most prominent of these studies is the work done by research psychologist Williams in 1985.  He found that two years after the arrival of Television in a town in British Columbia (Canada), children were both verbally and physically more aggressive.  Interestingly, the exact opposite was found by Charlton and his team of researchers 13 years later.  His study was conducted on the island of St Helena and the findings were in direct contrast to Williams; there was no rise in aggression after the introduction of TV.  Mmmm, so the research is inconclusive.

Research aside, if I were to offer my own spin on this, I would highlight one important factor; when watching TV, children are passive receptors.  Television watching does not require them to listen (they can get away with merely hearing the sounds coming out of the box as they do not have to respond to it in any way), it is void of social interaction (unless you are able to wow your friends with 100 uses of a spaghetti noodle according to MacGyver the next day at school) and it requires very little cognitive thought or interaction.  

My main fear, and I see it time and again, is that TV has become the new parent.  It is an easy option to place a child in front of a screen to distract them for two or three hours.  Whilst this may be necessary from time to time, it has, in my opinion, become a little too excessive.  Do I as a parent limit my little ones time in front of the TV?  Yes!  Are we a household which views TV as having a negative impact on our daughter?  Absolutely not.  My girl has learnt so many words, phrases, imaginative things thanks to the likes of Peppa, Dora and Mike, but she has learnt even more from interacting with my wife and I.

I do not feel that it is my place to judge whether television is harming our children or not, but I do think that it is our responsibility as parents to limit the amount of time spent in front of the TV and more importantly, what our children are watching.  We were not born to be passive receptors.  I believe that we should not stunt our children's cognitive or social development by plonking them in front of the screen.

If I am going to be like Marshall Brave Starr who skillfully developed eyes of the hawk, ears of the wolf, strength of the bear and speed of the puma, I will need to get outside at some stage and get my body moving; merely sitting on the couch won't aid my development much.



  1. It would be impossible for us to stop all screen time with our two-year-old. What I try to do is to watch TV with our son, to help him interact with Peppa, point things out on the screen with Thomas or congratulate him when he spots the next destination with Dora.

    I think this helps make it less passive and it means that we aren't (usually) using the TV as a babysitter.

    1. That seems like the perfect way to combat passive viewing. I've never tried that strategy but will be sure implement it. This way, both parties win - your little one gets to learn whilst watching their favourite programmes and we get to spend some quality time with them. Many thanks for the read and the comment.


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