It’s All About Moderation
Moderation is considered “the key” to many aspects of life, including the amount of time spent watching television. After many decades of thoroughly researching the effects that television watching has on children, scientists have discovered that time spent in front of the tube can both positively and negatively influence a child’s mind and body. Although watching too much television can lead to decreased attention span, violent behavior, and the ostracism of oneself; watching no television at all has just as many negative outcomes, if not more; including: overly-sheltered children, lower academic performance, and less confidence in interacting with peers. Experts and children advocates have been torn for years between whether or not children should be allowed to watch TV. Obviously neither extreme of television watching – too much TV or none at all – is healthy. When TV is viewed in moderation; however, it has been proven to stimulate a child’s education and creativity.
Television watching has become as routine in American households as washing the dishes or making the bed. Considered a great form of entertainment in society today, “the TV is on ‘most’ of the time in 51% of households; and in 63% of households, the TV is ‘usually’ on during meals” (“Television”). Outrageous statistics such as these validate the opinions of many Americans: that as a society, America does in fact, watch too much TV. It is vital that a middle ground is found regarding the amount of time spent in front of the television; and it is detrimental that children are taught healthy TV habits. Dennis Wharton of the National Association of Broadcasters believes, "there are many superb television programs for children, yet I would acknowledge that it is important for parents to supervise the media consumption habits of young children” (USA Today).
Because television has become such a necessity in the lives of Americans, it needs to be viewed in moderation in order to fulfill its greatest potential – not only entertaining children, but also educating them. The TV can open up new worlds for kids; giving them a chance to travel the globe, explore different cultures, and gain exposure to the diverse areas and types of wildlife on this planet. Monitoring the amount of time a child spends watching TV, as well as the shows that he or she is watching, is critical to a child’s development. Van Evra from The Research Center for Families and Children declares: “moderate television watching with discretion in program viewing can be somewhat beneficial for school age children” (Graham). It has been proven that children who watch a moderate amount of television perform better academically than those children who excessively watch television or those who do not watch television at all (Vandewater et al.). According to Karen Jaffe from the Family Education Network, some contemporary shows such as “Blue’s Clues,” “Bear in the Big Blue House,” “Big Bag,” and “Dora the Explorer” can be educational and promote pro-social behavior. TV watching does not have to just be a passive experience; but it can also be an active experience when children are presented with healthy, educational programs to watch. By repeating words or phrases heard during a show, and encouraging one’s child to sing and dance along with the characters, these shows become interactive.
Although educational TV shows can be beneficial and positive, too much of a good thing can quickly turn into a not-so-good thing. According to Dr. Dimitri Christakis, the head of a research study based on the effects of television watching on the developing minds of children: “Every hour per day that kids under 3 watched violent child-oriented entertainment their risk doubled for attention problems five years later, the study found. Even non-violent kids' shows like Rugrats and The Flintstones carried a still substantial risk for attention problems, though slightly lower” (USA Today). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under two years of age should not watch any television; and that older children should only be allowed limited time in front of the TV (“Children and Media”). Although television may seem like an inevitable part of young children’s lives today, parents are still capable of minimizing their child’s exposure to it.
Along with television time limitations, children also need certain restrictions on which television programs are appropriate to watch. Unfortunately, not all TV shows are educational or exude positive messages, so plopping a child down in front of a TV set with full reign of the remote control will most likely end poorly. Negative and aggressive behavior is the most common result of “free-reign” over the television set because of all of the violent shows that are currently being aired. Due to the abundance of television shows that contain violent or negative messages, the government has actually implemented a rating system for television programming in order to promote healthy TV watching. This system is aimed to help guide parents and assist them in establishing rules and guidelines for their child’s TV watching. Television shows with the TV-Y rating are suitable for all children, while shows with the TV-7 rating contain mild fantasy violence or comedic violence that may scare younger kids, so are best recommended for children over the age of seven (Singer). Although the parental rating system is very effective, not all shows have ratings, so parents need to be familiar with the television programs that their child is watching in order to protect what their children are being exposed to.
Not only is screening what children watch on TV very important, but setting limits on how much television is appropriate is also key to TV in moderation. According to Dorothy Singer with the American Psychological Association, “It is imperative that children realize that watching television or videos is a treat, not a right”. For the majority of children today, TV watching has become a habit that is hard to break. American children spend 22 – 28 hours per week viewing television – that’s three to four hours a day! (Huston et al.). The amount of time spent in front of television sets today is absurd and needs to be significantly decreased. Eliminating television all together is unreasonable and practically impossible in America today, but there are other, healthier solutions to the television issue. Some tips that the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests to help develop positive TV viewing habits in children include: setting time limits, planning what programs to watch, setting good examples as an adult television viewer, and expressing personal opinions about what occurs on TV. Limiting a child’s television time is key to developing healthy TV habits. Instead of allowing children unlimited time in front of the TV each day, limit television watching to one to two hours per day (Steyer). It is also a good idea to only permit television watching after homework and chores have been completed. This will emphasize that TV is a privilege that must be gained as opposed to a habitual pastime. By planning what to watch and expressing personal views on television programs, adults can have a positive influence on the types of shows their children watch.
When children have no rules or limitations on their TV watching, they are left with full reign over the television, watching whatever they want to, for however long they want to. When this is the case, there will only be one outcome – negative behavior. Research has indicated that the typical American child will be exposed to 12,000 violent acts on television per year! (Graham). It has also been proven that children are imitators, and those who watch violent shows are more likely to display aggressive behavior. Even in certain children’s programs violence not only occurs, but it is viewed as a positive solution to a problem. While parents are busy teaching their child that violence is wrong, many television shows are encouraging children to emulate the “good guys,” and perform violent acts on the “bad guys”; making violence seem like a positive response to a situation. Violence is never a positive solution, and children need to fully understand that. Even shows such as Power Rangers, Scooby-Doo, and The Lion King are considered to exude violence because they involve fighting, hitting people, or threats and cruelty that are central to the plot or main character (USA Today). Although these television shows do not seem like they could be harmful or have a negative influence on a child, it has been proven that these shows not only send flawed messages, but may also hamper a child’s ability to focus their attention. Dr. Dimitri Christakis believes that even with basic cartoons, children are presented with the wrong message: "if someone gets bonked on the head with a rolling pin, it just makes a funny sound and someone gets dizzy for a minute and then everything is back to normal” (USA Today). Typical cartoon incidences, such as the one previously mentioned, do not necessarily seem harmful but reiterate the fact that parents need to watch television with their child and discuss what may be wrongly presented in a certain television program.
If children have no restrictions or parental guidance on what type of television programs they are allowed to watch, they will be exposed to more and more violence and negative behavior. The frequent recurrence of cruelty on television will cause children to loose their ability to differentiate between right and wrong, thus increasing the amount of aggressive and violent acts committed – by children – and aimed at other children (Valkenburg). Dr. David Walsh, the president of the National Institute on Media
and the Family, recommends that families set up a television schedule to display which programs are OK to watch, and when they are allowed to be watched. The schedule does not have to just be a means of rule enforcement and television filtering, but it can also encourage family TV time and promote family togetherness. It is very important for parents to watch television with their child and answer any question that he or she may have regarding something that they see on TV. Instead of completely avoiding controversial topics, parents need to discuss these topics with their child. By explaining confusing situations and addressing difficult issues, children are able to take away positive messages from a not-so-positive TV program.
Television can be considered a wonderful and positive contribution to the world; yet it can also be thought of as a brainwashing device that will ultimately lead to the downfall of society. Both of these opinions are extreme descriptions regarding the invention of the television, and can be argued either way. Similarly, in regards to television viewing, extreme and contrasting beliefs are disputed about how much TV is appropriate for children to watch. Because life is all about moderation, it is typically necessary to find balance, or a common ground, between two extremes in a situation. The time spent watching TV is no exception; and there is only one positive and healthy solution to the over-abundance of television that is being watched by children today. It is not reasonable or beneficial to completely cut television out of a child’s life, but it is important for parents and American citizens to stress the importance of the “television medium”. Television in moderation encourages television time limits and program restrictions. According to The American Behavioral Scientist Journal, children need to be allowed access to the television – but with certain guidelines and parental consent. According to the Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the average child in the United States spends 900 hours in school and nearly 1,023 hours in front of a TV! (Vandewater et al.). Theses statistics can be greatly improved with the enforcement of rules for television watching, along with the development and implication of television schedules. Finding the middle ground is “key” with TV viewing, and it is crucial that parents stay “tuned in” to their children’s television watching habits, and overly-stress the importance of healthy TV watching.
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