Tuesday, August 8, 2006

TV and Attention Disorder

Make TV children-friendly

From The Statesman
By ND Batra

What happens in the cradle is much more important than what is happening in the killing fields of Iraq and Lebanon.

Children’s brain undergoes rapid development in the early years and exposure to violent and sexually explicit television might interfere in the neural wiring of the brain. Research shows that apart from triggering violent behaviour in children, television may be responsible for obesity in children, because instead of playing outside and doing physical activities children become couch potatoes.

A study published in the journal of the American Academy of Paediatrics showed that early exposure to television by children increases the risk of attention disorder. The research done at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center at the University of Washington, Seattle, led by Dr Dimitri Christakis concluded that for every hour of television viewing by children in the one to three age group, the risk of attention disorder increased by nine per cent.

The study did not mention what kind of content caused attention disorder. Would slow repetitive programmes such as Sesame Street, Mr Roger’s Neighborhood, for example, have the same effect as fast moving programmes such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Bugs Bunny? It is important to keep in mind that a child having attention disorder does not necessarily suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. ADHD children (and adults) suffer from some chemical imbalance in the brain. They can’t stay still, chatter incessantly, get bored easily, forget things and can’t finish the work they are doing.

To some extent all children show such tendencies, therefore, parents should not jump to hasty conclusions. Attention disorder is a matter of degree. At some point it becomes a serious illness. The question is whether rapid-fire television programmes cause or aggravate the condition.

Or could some programme reverse attention disorder?
While the University of Washington study concluded that an early exposure to bad television programmes might skew brain development, another study showed the tremendous learning potential of television for toddlers. The researchers found that toddlers as young as 10 months have the potential to learn when they watch television. The right kind of television programmes promote intellectual development and could help children to learn language skills, such as matching names to the objects they represent, and do things by watching them being done on television. For example, a toddler could take apart a toy and also put it together after seeing it being done on television, researchers had found. Psychologist Dr Mabel Rice of the University of Kansas concluded from her research on language acquisition that children at a very early age have the potential to learn from television if the programmes were specially made for them, such as Sesame Street.

Infants’ television programmes that create sharp focus on an attractive object, and a friendly person who repeatedly talks about the object stimulates infants’ brain to learn. Music plays a big role in learning. To be sure, fast-paced, slam-dunk children’s cartoon programmes, which are nothing but infomercials for action toys and sugared cereals, are not going to help children anyway except to turn them into passive-aggressive consumers of the multibillion-dollar toy marketplace. What goes into the programme content is important.

Television is not the enemy of children.
Children’s programme makers driven by commercial lust are children’s enemies.

A few years ago, The American Psychological Association suggested four steps that could be taken “to mitigate, moderate and minimise” the toxic impact of violence on children: (1) Watch at least one episode of a programme the child watches to know how violent it is. (2) When viewing together, discuss the violence with the child; why the violence happened and how painful it is. Ask the child how the conflict could have been solved without violence. (3) Explain to the child how violence in entertainment is “faked” and not real. (4) Encourage children to watch programmes with characters that cooperate, help, and care for each other. APA said these programmes have been shown to influence children in a positive way and suggested making “TV violence part of the public health agenda (as with smoking and drunk driving) publicising ~ through a vigorous public information campaign in all information media ~ its perils and effects.”

Television violence in children’s programming has not gone down for the simple reason that Hollywood has passed on the responsibility to parents, expecting them to use the V (violence)-chip to block out objectionable programming. Since each television programme in the USA is rated for violence and sex and all sets have programme or channel-blocking mechanisms, it is left to the parents to protect children from bad television. But the survey shows that parents are not pro-active, partly because of the pressures of daily life. Besides, there is little choice on television.

The First Amendment freedoms have been cornered by Hollywood greed, which has left little incentive for creativity. In this war-torn world, children have become a forgotten constituency. On the minds of most American parents, there are weightier issues: job security, retirement, healthcare, and the seemingly endless Iraq, Afghanistan and now Lebanon.

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