Impact of Television on Children

It is apparent that television plays a significant role in our society. On its own, television is neither good nor bad. It offers numerous benefits to the children-development of their cognitive skills, exposure to different worlds and development of their reading skills.

Television can also negatively impact on the life of children in a number of ways. These include inculcating violent behavior in the children, reduce their study time, encourage lifestyle diseases, reduce the time available for them to engage in play and finally trigger negative stereotypes in them. It widely known that children have difficulties of distinguishing facts from fantasy and this makes them susceptible to TV influences. By the time they are eight or nine, children have actually developed skills to interpret TV content.

What is the impact of TV viewing on children? Studies have shown that excessive TV viewing can have very grave impacts on children. This paper is intended to provide a review of the impacts that the TV has on children. The presentation will provide grounds upon which to anchor strategies that control the amount and type of content children are allowed to view. It will guide the stakeholders in evaluating the impact of TV on young children’s behavior in the context of development appropriateness.

The Middle East stands out as one of the most culturally complicated parts of the world. Owing to its rich and diverse cultural background, the Middle East grapples with the challenge of striking a balance between western culture and modernization. Partly, because of this challenge, the media, particularly television, impacts on the people. The media has an extremely profound influence on the people of all walks of life (Zill et al 1994). One major part of the population that these occurrences seem to heavily affect is children. For this reason, this paper seeks to explore the impacts of television on children’s behavior, thinking and habits. Specifically, it will seek to shed light on both the negative and the positive influences that television has on the lives of children.

First, television inculcates violent behavior in children. For more than fifty years now researches have revealed that there is a significant correlation between television viewing by children and their violent behavior. An estimated two hundred thousand acts of violence have been watched by an average teenager.  A research conducted in the Middle East countries under the title ‘The educational impact of Rechov Sumsum/Shara’aSimsim: A Sesame Street television series to promote respect and understanding among children living in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza’ sought to explore children’s opinion in the context of the middle east conflict. The first goal of this research was to examine the state of children’s stereotypes of others, as well as their knowledge of the lives of people from other cultures and their application of moral judgments of conflicts between groups. Secondly, this research aimed at exploring the impact of the various series children watched on TV. The research revealed that children who happened to be as young as four years of age held a negative view about people from other cultures.

Secondly, television watching consumes a large amount of their free time, as well as time available for children to do their school work. With the technological development, more and more time, which should ideally be consumed in attending to their school work, is being drained in watching television. From a medical point of view, watching television just like abusing drugs is addictive especially to children in their developmental stage (0-5 years). This threat is though not confined to the Middle East, but it is actually a global threat. For example, a nine-year old Arabian Darian Sund is not worried that he spends few time doing outdoor activities or attending to his school assignments. Fighting monsters and defeating Nintendo’s “Legend of Zelda” fantasy action video game is definitely more pleasing to him according to the Arabian newspaper. Darian is more comfortable watching television than doing his homework. His experience is a proof of the increasing impact television has on the lives of children. Understandably, the effect television has on children is mostly felt in the developed world.

Another negative impact of television on the lives of children is that increased TV watching results in a raise of lifestyle diseases, which only a decade ago were unthinkable. Majority of the studies in America and the Middle East have shown that there exist a very strong correlation between television viewing and cases of obesity among children under the age of eight years. Notwithstanding the fact that the reason why acute television viewing is resulting to cases of obesity is equivocal (Killen &  Stangor, 2001), one plausible explanation of this is food marketing. It is claimed that children see 4400 to 7600 adverts for junk foods, as well as fast food on television alone. Controlled experiments have shown that prolonged exposure to junk food advertising has an effect on children’s food beliefs and tastes.  Another health concern, which researches have linked to sedentary lifestyles, which children lead resulting from the amount of time they spend watching television, is the heart disease and other cardiovascular ailments. Exploring the health effect of different sedentary tendencies, scientists discovered that high levels of television viewing were linked to increased risk of heart diseases in comparison to other activities like computer use. A research by Hebrew university of Jerusalem looked at the correlation between the type of activity and health-linked outcomes based on three thousand people aged between five and ten years from the National Health and Examination Surveys (NHANES) 2003-2006. A cardio-metabolic risk core (CRS) calculated on waist circumference, age, blood pressure levels, as well as the type of sedentary behavior matched against   cholesterol levels   showed watching television as the unhealthiest pastime. Children who spent many hours watching television showed a higher waist circumference, as well as cholesterol levels, which can induce a spectrum of disorders like coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and metabolic syndrome. The findings published in the public health journal, revealed that television viewing can be damaging because, in most cases, it requires little energy and can promote snacking in between meals. These researches have served to demonstrate that watching television for substantially long periods is unhealthy, and parents are obligated to limit the duration of time their children spend in front of the TV.

Television viewing reduces time available for children to engage in physical activities. This issue is particularly relevant for children in preparatory schools since all the activities children engage in during their waking fall squarely into the category of play. Clearly children aged two, three or four years  who spend two or three hours on a daily basis viewing TV spend significantly less time playing as opposed to if they did not watch television at all. TV watching does not only reduce time available for children to engage in physical activities but there is enough evidence to support that it has the nature of children’s play, especially indoor play ( Abelman, 1995).

The media also fundamentally manipulate the minds of children by triggering negative stereotypes and body images as being normal. Stereotypes are inevitable in video games, movies and the entertainment industry (Paulson, 1974). Characters that are stereotyped may negatively affect the way in which children view themselves and people in the society. Media appear to stereotype gender and racial groups in an unsavory manner. For instance, cases of racism can be identified in the in Disney movies including the Jungle Book, which shows apes and orangutans that sound like African-Americans. The negative stereotype is what children tend to remember most when they see people who speak in a similar accent. The total impact of this is a generation that hardly tolerates other people who appear different from them.

Be that as it may, television viewing is not after all a completely negative phenomenon and can carry a number of positive impacts on the lives of children. One of the essential aspects of television viewing by children is the fact that it develops their cognitive skills. Studies have shown that children, as opposed to adults perceive television differently and as such develop televisual skills gradually as they do their cognitive development. Age and learning maturity determine the response of a child to a television.  In Piaget’s view, children experience four levels of cognitive development, which can be related to television (Piaget, 1969). Kids under the age of two experience what he calls ‘sensory motor stage’ so that their senses show them objects on television that are different from those they see in real life. Between the age of two and seven, during a stage referred to as the ‘preoccupation stage’ children develop representational skills, which enable them to speak about the things they see on television. Between seven and twelve there goes a stage referred to as ‘concrete occupational stage’ they begin to engage in abstract thinking, which enables them to sufficiently follow storylines. They develop perceptions (televisual literacy), which help them to interpret television programs and how they are related. Beyond the age of twelve, children understand television in no different way from adults. Televisual literacy adjusts the focus of the study from the impacts the television has on children to what they can do with television, as well as other media. Televisual literacy comprises the potential to use a wide range of material on TV to fathom the information received, the ability to critically analyze the television content, the ability to create video content and the ability to filter bad from good television content. Controlled exposure to television content aids children to develop their thinking.

The second positive effect of television on children is the exposure that it offers them in trying to understand the different worlds. For every minute children view television, they are exposed to three more minutes of background television. For an ordinary day, this translates to four hours. According to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Journal on Pediatrics, the total is more likely to be high if children have TVs in their rooms. Children today are a little more informed than the generation of the previous decades. The world today is said to be a village due to technological advancement and by extension of the television network. Statistics shows that the world today is a 600- channel universe. Children are able to watch what is happening on the global scene from the comfort of their homes.  For instance, children as far away as the Middle East were able to view the collapse of the world trade centre building or tsunamis in South America (Tidhar & Schacter, 2007). Children do not just watch negative or worrying scenes, but they also are exposed to the entertainment programs developed by people who actually have different cultural heritage. Therefore, this can significantly enlarge their point of view. Another aspect is various academic educative programs transmitted through television, which help children to compare different cultural, environmental, economic and social backgrounds. In a nutshell, through exposure to such programs children get an opportunity to literally live in two or more different worlds without necessarily having to go there.

A very strong positive correlation has been found to exist between TV and children’s development of reading skills. (Fink et al, 1996) argues that well designed and regularly reviewed materials can motivate children and help them learn basic learning skills. In addition, TV helps the children to become interested in a wide variety of books and can as well stimulate interest in reading via acting. Findings by Sesame Street and The electric company    goes on to suggest that young viewer are better able to name figures, recognize letters and words, as well as discuss themselves and their surroundings than their counterparts who have never had experience with these programs. In spite of the fact that child development theory has identified specific ages at which children develop these skills, there is sufficient evidence that practices such as memorizing letters and sounds and matching identical pictures can greatly improve them. Many preschool programs can provide this practice (Fink et al, 1996).

The foregoing case actually projects television as a vital tool of communication that helps children interact with the other regions. In the same vein, if not properly controlled television watching can have extremely harmful effects on the lives of children. In conclusion, parents or the guardians should at all time ensure that the content their children watch on television helps in the development of all aspects of children’s lives - cultural, social and intellectual. Governments of the various countries of the Middle East are under obligation to ensure that reliable legal and structural frameworks for censorship are in place. Existence of such frameworks will guarantee that even those parents who are probably not able to control what their children watch have their children protected from unsavory materials. The total effect of this is that violent materials that are often shown on television are eliminated. Another way to ensure that this form of technology benefits our children and the entire society is by seeking and upholding medical expert views on such matters as implications of watching television for extended periods. Strict observance of their views will help the society to avoid diseases that result from staying in front of a TV for longer hours.

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