Children in the developed world watch an average of 4 hours of TV a day. Should parents be concerned about how this may be affecting their children’s brains and behaviour?
The big question amongst brain researchers is whether TV provides the right kind of stimulation for young developing brains. A child’s ability to pay attention and use his or her brain effectively is largely a learned process. The brain, with the right kind of stimulation, develops strong neural pathways and connections. Just like new highways and flyovers improve the flow of traffic, so these brain pathways lead to quicker and more efficient information processing. The net result is a child learns more quickly and performs different mental tasks more effectively.
However, these pathways only develop and produce results with active practice. Look at how difficult it is to learn something new, like playing a musical instrument. Practice is the only way to improve performance because new neural highways and connections need to be established and reinforced, before benefits begin to show.
Many educators and parents are concerned about how much harder it is to get children to pay attention and concentrate. Research suggests that too much TV watching may be one of the contributing factors.
Television watching is a passive activity that mainly uses visual skills with little need for problem solving or imagination, and is therefore an extremely limited kind of stimulation. Rapidly flickering images have also been shown to fragment concentration, and children who watch TV or play video games for more than two hours a day show an increased incidence of hyperactivity, reduced behavioural control and inability to concentrate.
All children should spend the majority of their leisure time using their imaginations, not passively watching other people do things on TV. This is the only way they will learn new skills and develop their full brain potential.
- Develop good TV habits early in life with no more than one hour a day.
- Choose programmes closer to real life experiences such as nature and family films versus cartoons and sci-fi. Limit violent content as movie violence may frighten or desensitise children and has been linked to anti-social and destructive behaviour.
- Whenever possible, watch TV with your children and talk about what they are seeing. Help them make the distinction between make believe and reality.
- Help your children develop a healthy scepticism about advertising, especially for junk food and toys. Explain what the adverts are for and how they work. Make a game out of guessing what is being advertised.
- Turn the TV off when it is not being watched, otherwise it disrupts attention from more creative activities such as reading and family discussions.
- Try placing the TV in a separate room, away from the main room where the family gathers. This makes it easier to structure and enforce viewing times.
- Use story tapes or CDs, which develop imagination and concentration, instead of TV as a convenient and effective as a ‘substitute babysitter’
Computer and video games.
Apply the same guidance with regard to computer and video games. While these games are more interactive, and develop thinking skills and hand-to-eye coordination, they do not develop creativity or imagination. Avoid introducing these games to very young children.
“Children who watch TV or play video games for more than two hours a day show an increased incidence of hyperactivity, reduced behavioural control and inability to concentrate.”