By: Leslie Bedell, D.C.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average child in this country watches four hours of television every day. Families are spending increasingly less time together and gravitating more to computer and TV screens for individual entertainment.
The television is on in most American homes during meal times and frequently is a background noise during the day.
Recent studies show that children are receiving more life-shaping information from television and the Internet than they are from their parents and teachers. Much of this information revolves around sex, violence and pleasure-seeking fantasies. The US Surgeon General David Satcher has stated that the high exposure of children to violence on TV and in video games has become a public health hazard. A report on Violence on Television done by the American Psychological Association shows that children are more likely to act out aggressively with hitting, yelling and arguing after watching violent programs. They also show a greater incidence of leaving tasks unfinished, and impatience with increased screen viewing time, whether television or computer. Many parents use the television as a “babysitter”, literally programming their child's brains with countless hours of negative images and messages. Children may not even understand the difference between violence on television and in real life since they cannot “feel” the painful consequences of violent images they see on a screen.
The human brain continues to grow for the three years after birth with the most rapid time of development being the first two years of life. The child's brain is like a sponge, literally absorbing the world around them and creating life-long neuronal connections as the right and left hemispheres begin to differentiate. This phenomenon is called “neural plasticity”. A form of “non-verbal” thinking develops in the infant brain, which is primarily a sensory receptor in which emotional and visual experiences are taken in without the filter of reasoning that the left-brain allows. In fact, the powerful neurotransmitters such as Serotonin and Dopamine don't even get produced until the child is between eight and nine years old. Without these mediating nerve chemicals, the child literally takes in everything it is exposed to and accepts it as reality. Considering how complex and fragile this neural plasticity is, and the long-lasting effect the process can have on moods and memory, many neurologists and brain scientists feel that children under three should not watch any moving images on television, computers, or video.
Studies also show that language skills decrease as children watch more and more television. Young children stare at screens, appearing dazed and transfixed, often becoming passive and non-communicative. The fast moving images become like a “drug”, soothing them into passivity and a trance-like state.
Other children's brains get so “programmed” by the fast moving images and stimulating violent action that it becomes addictive and they are bored without it. When the parent and teacher talk in a normal tone and speed, the child's brain is moving too fast to pay attention. Boredom comes easily for these children and they frequently act out and misbehave just to create some sort of excitement. Frequently these kids are labeled Attention-Deficit and placed on psychotropic drugs like Ritalin. Their brains have never learned to sit still and create visual images in their own right hemispheres but have instead been programmed by outside stimuli that the real world of school and learning cannot keep up with. These kids look for increasingly rapid and stimulating activities to keep their brains happy, gravitating towards reckless, dangerous, and self-stimulating friends, sports, and drugs. The more stimulation they receive, the more they want and need to keep their neurochemistry satisfied Add to this the fact that most children in schools have been fed sugar and starch foods for breakfast which lead to blood sugar crashes later in the day and it's no wonder that their brain chemistry is altered.
Fortunately, more and more parents are open to finding answers for their children's emotional, social, and mental challenges. A recent study shows an alarming increase in doctors writing prescriptions for not only Ritalin and Clonidine but also Prozac and Paxil for children under the age of five. To label these behavioral disorders all “chemical imbalances”, depression or ADD/ADHD without a thorough evaluation of the many and varied causes, is a grave injustice.
It is imperative that parents and teachers become more involved in finding solutions for this epidemic of learning disorders and increasing tendency towards violent behavior in our children. Re-evaluating how much time is spent in front of television and computer screens can be the first step. Helping a child to learn from story-telling and creative outlets where they use their active imaginations and fantasy world is a healthy alternative.
A recent article in Mothering magazine stated that The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of two not watch any TV or videos, and that older children watch only one to two hours per day of non-violent educational TV. The television and computer would not be such an issue if adults spent more time with their children. Perhaps parents and teachers need to become better role models themselves
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