August 03, 2004

Television is Evil

Does anyone really doubt that television is evil and will suck the soul right out of your body, feed on it, and discard what remains, leaving you only an empty husk of a shell? It is totally soul destroying, imagination killing, attention span reducing, devil spawn. Unless, of course, it's showing something good, like baseball, or opera, or ballet, or, football, or the Olympics, or some of the really nasty HBO programming that I like so much. But for kids, it sucks.

This cannot be a shock to anyone. Let's review basic television economics, shall we? TV exists as a medium to sell stuff. TV, public broadcasting and viewer supported broadcasting aside, is supported by the sale of advertising. If the shows are not pulling the viewers, then the advertisers pull the plug on the show and that's that. The writers may tell you different, they may tell you that they are creating art or cutting edge programming, or some other nonsense. Don't believe them. Content is paid for and driven by money spent to advertise. Children's TV is the worst, of course because they are selling directly to minds incapable of making critical distinctions between competing claims.

So, we don't let our children watch television, except with us and generally just some sports or dance programs. The girl child gets to watch one Disney video a week and that's usually that. No TV at all for the boy child because, at 1.5, he's simply too young. We took this decision a long time ago and certainly before reading this article today in the NY Times entitled: "TV's Toll on Young Minds and Bodies".

This article was frightening to me. I will pull out some of the scarier findings for your consideration. Just bear in mind that I've not looked at any of the studies referenced herein and can't vouch for their rigor.

*The average young child in this country watches about four hours of television a day and each year sees tens of thousands of commercials, often for high-fat, high-sugar or high-salt snacks and foods; thousands of episodes of violence; and countless instances of alcohol use and inappropriate sexual activity. By the time American children finish high school, they have spent nearly twice as many hours in front of the television set as in the classroom.

*Nearly 60 percent of children aged 8 to 16 have a TV in their bedroom.

*A child glued to the tube is sitting still, using the fewest calories of any activity except sleeping. Such children get less exercise than those who watch less television, and they see many more commercials for unhealthful foods and beverages. They also have more opportunity to consume such foods than do children who are out playing. It is no surprise, then, that the percentage of American children who are seriously overweight has risen to more than 15 percent today, from 5 percent in 1964.

*Studies have found that children who watch 10 or more hours of TV a week have lower reading scores and perform less well academically than comparable youngsters who spend less time watching television. Long-term studies suggest several reasons.

*One study of 2,500 children conducted at Children's Hospital in Seattle and published in April in the journal Pediatrics found that the more TV watched by toddlers aged 1 to 3, the greater their risk of attention problems at age 7. For each hour watched a day, the risk of developing attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder increased by nearly 10 percent. Children with this problem find it hard to concentrate, have difficulty organizing and exhibit impulsive behavior.

*Studies of brain function show evidence of direct harm to the brains of young children who watch television for two or more hours a day. Watching television fosters development of brain circuits, or "habits of mind," that result in increased aggressiveness, lower tolerance levels and decreased attention span, in lieu of developing language circuits in the brain's left hemisphere.

*Other problems associated with excessive television viewing are poor sleep quality and a greater likelihood of taking up smoking. A study two years ago by the Center for Child Health Outcomes in San Diego found that children aged 10 to 15 who watched five or more hours of television a day were six times as likely to start smoking as those who watched less than two hours a day.

To borrow from Animal House, fat, hopped up on sugar, and stupid is no way to go through life.

The article gives a website for appropriate child videos and I'm going to check it out later. What are some classic videos any of you recall watching as a child?

Posted by Random Penseur at August 3, 2004 09:02 AM

Those are scary facts.

In truth, besides Captain Kangaroo and Sesame Street, I don't recall many other things we watched on TV. Oh sure, cartoons like Speedracer and Scooby Doo, and shows like Fat Albert. But classic TV? No.

For my daughter's collection, I've purchased all the available Disney animated classics, The Wizard of Oz and Willy Wonka.

I have to confess I'm a sucker for the newer Pixar films too. Like Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo. They're quite extraordinary.

I agree with the notion that the most damage caused by TV is through advertising. But a good film can be wonderful entertainment.

Posted by: Mick at August 3, 2004 11:22 AM

Pingu, a recent discovery, is quite funny for all ages. (The Morph Files is another example of inspired clay animation.)

The great thing about the Wiggles is their music actually is quite good, in a peppy pop sort of way -- even if you're an adult listening to it for the 82nd time. They're also funny, and seem pretty good guys.

I favor the pre-1960s Disney canon -- Snow White, Pinocchio, Cinderella &c. The new Pixar stuff is indeed quite good (much better than recent Disney.) Of course Bugs and Daffy are always fun. But you may not be as familiar with the old Fleischer Studios cartoons of the early 1930s which are great fun -- and often backed by wonderful jazz.

This version of Steadfast Tin Soldier is quite moving, as is this one of the Velveteen Rabbit.

Posted by: Mark C N Sullivan at August 3, 2004 01:27 PM

Videos I watched as a child? Oh, how I wish!

There was no video when I was a child. I grew up with Captain Kangaroo, Soupy Sales and WB cartoons. Not bad, considering the crap kids have to deal with today.

I was very strict about the TV when my kids were small. I remember when the Michael Jackson "Thriller" video came out. I can't remember what age they were, but my daughter wanted to see it very badly. All her friends had seen it and she thought she should get to see it too, but I refused to let her. All my kids ever watched was Sesame Street, Mister Rogers and the Disney channel. And appropriate children's movies at appropriate times. They didn't see network TV at all until their pre-teens. And then it was sparingly and what we decided we'd watch as a family, like "Doogie Howser".

Lucy still holds it against me (teasingly) that I never let her watch shows like The Smurfs or Scooby Doo. I thought Scooby Doo was stupid and I thought the Smurfs was sexist (only ONE female Smurf and her name was her species followed by "ette"? NO way would I let the kids watch that!) Not to mention the relentless commercials. No TV in their bedroom when they got older either.

Her dad and I didn't have a TV in our bedroom either. We tried to diminish the impact of TV whenever possible.

We always knew what they were watching. I told them if they wanted to watch whatever they wanted, they could move out and buy their own TV if they liked. Yeah, I was a TV Nazi!

The payoff? Neither one of them is very much into TV now as adults. There are a million other things they'd rather do. And they are not easily swayed by advertisements either.

You are being a good dad, Random.

Posted by: Amber at August 3, 2004 05:06 PM

Thanks for all the recommendations, y'all. Mark, I appreciate you going to the trouble of adding the links, that was very helpful.

Amber, thank you for the positive reinforcement. We are battling against what her friends' parents do and what her nursery school tells us, that tv is an important part of the socialization process and the kids talk about it. I'm very resistant, I must say.

Posted by: RP at August 4, 2004 08:16 AM
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