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Mind that TV remote

Children who spend more than four hours per day watching TV are likely to be overweight, writes Abha Adams.

india Updated: Jan 29, 2007 16:17 IST
Abha Adams
Abha Adams

In a month when we have experienced the consequences of Mr Das Munshi's sexual mores, and seen Shilpa Shetty being abused, it seems appropriate too look at the harmful effects that TV has on children.

Nowadays most children begin watching television long before they enter school and it is their biggest time consumer. In a year, the average American child spends 900 hours in school and nearly 1,023 hours in front of a TV!

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children in US watch about 4 hours of TV a day, and similar figures are recorded for children in European countries. In India the time children spend in front of the TV is well on the way to catching up with the rest of the world.

Experts everywhere are highly concerned about the harmful effects of TV on children and have issued guidelines to parents. According to the AAP, children under age 2 should have no "screen time" (TV, DVDs or videotapes, computers, or video games) at all. They point out that the first 2 years, are critical time for brain development, and TV can get in the way of young children developing the skills they need to grow cognitively, physically, socially, and emotionally. AAP guidelines for children older than 2 insist that they should watch no more than 1 to 2 hours of quality programming a day.

The harmful effects of TV on children are well documented. Children who consistently spend more than 4 hours per day watching TV are more likely to be overweight.Children (and adults) who view violence are more likely to believe that the world is much more scary and violent than it actually is. Research has also shown children aged 8 to 12 to be more timid because of the threat of violence, natural disasters, and the victimization of children, whether those images appear on fictional shows, the news, or reality-based shows.

Other research has shown that TV saturated children are more likely to be violent to others. TV is also harmful to children because it is full of programs and commercials that depict risky behaviors such as casual sex and substance abuse as cool, fun, and exciting. Not surprisingly studies show that teens who watch lots of sexual content on TV are more likely to initiate intercourse or participate in other sexual activities earlier than peers who don't watch sexually explicit shows. Also product placement ensures that, children and teens can still see plenty of people smoking on programs and movies airing on TV. It has been found that children who watch 5 or more hours of TV per day are far more likely to begin smoking cigarettes than those who watch less than the recommended 2 hours a day.

Of course, television, in moderation, can be a good thing: TV can be an excellent educator and entertainer. Preschoolers can get help learning the alphabet and schoolchildren can learn about wildlife on nature shows. However despite its advantages, television can be highly detrimental. Parents can do lots of things to ensure that their children are spared the negative effects of TV.

Banning TV for the under twos, and limiting viewing to one hour of selected non-violent programmes a day for older children is a start. Parents need to watch what theirolder children watch and discuss the appropriateness and inappropriateness of the behaviours that are shown — and not just those on so-called "reality" shows, but news, advertisements and entertainment shows. If parents took more responsibility for their children AXN need not be banned and Big Brother would not be watched.

(Abha Adams is an education consultant for international organisations and Indian schools)

First Published: Jan 29, 2007 16:17 IST