Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Turn off the Tube

T.V. Turnoff Weeks this year are April 25-May 1 and September 25-October 1. In anticipation, I offered a cake to anyone who would turn off the television for a month and didn't end up happier as a result. No takers thus far.

I used to watch television avidly. I share, with others of my generation, various cartoon references to Smurfs, Thundercats, etc. I watched Star Trek: Next Gen with my family as it aired, as well as DS9 and some episodes of Voyager. I've seen a whole corpus of old films through Turner Classic Movies. And for a time in my late teens, I was obsessed with the Weather Channel.

When I moved out of my parents' home, I took a television with me. I didn't hook it up. Suddenly a whole world of other things became available. As I went through therapy for panic disorder, depression, and agoraphobia, I began to articulate my life goals. I realized how incompatible they were with television-watching.

When we got married, I convinced Sparrow to avoid hooking up the television, keeping it for games and DVDs. When our first child was born, we were faced with tiny bit of precious time in which to be alone together. It wasn't going to be spent in front of the tube! This past year, I can count the movies we've watched at home on one hand, mostly done in a group with the D&D guys. Our living room is filled with books, and the television is hidden in the office.

Our son never sees television at home. Grandparents have their own rules, however, and my respect for them is such that I wouldn't snap off the set as soon as walk in the room. I'd like to, especially with eventual dementia concerns, but it's a different generation, and they are adults who make their own choices. I hope, perhaps, that viewing this blog may help them understand why I am so adamantly against television.

In a policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children under the age of two should NOT watch television. I have repeated this to other parents, to grandparents, at the doctor's office, and at my church nursery. Few people take it seriously. After all, most people watch television, and few of us are really harmed, right? One woman even stated, as she flipped on a screen for the "benefit" of two-year-olds, that I shouldn't believe everything I see reported television.

Heads up, lady: I don't watch television. And here's a list of reasons why:

Regarding Adults

1. Multiple studies have linked television-watching with depression, either in developing it or lengthening it in those already depressed. Unhappy people watch an average of 20% more television. If you or an immediate family member has a history of depression or depressive tendencies, it's best for everyone if the tube is gone.

2. Watching something interesting on a screen lowers a person's blink rate. A lower blink rate late at night can lead to episodes of insomnia.

3. You burn more calories doing anything other than television-watching except sleeping. A study limiting the amount of time a group of adults watched television found they were passively burning more calories than the unrestricted group. And I need not cite the endless studies linking television-watching with obesity, not only from lack of exercise, but from food product marketing.

4. Like your news programs on television? Research has shown that periodical readers are significantly more informed than television viewers. (With stations like FOX and MSNBC, are you surprised?) Moreover, less television-viewing is associated with more community involvement. Translation: You want your neighbor to turn off the tube, too!

5. Marital intimacy can be maintained better through virtually any other medium. Discovering and participating in mutually enjoyable events, from exercising to writing together to cooperating in a game, have the benefit of interaction. Even writing a letter to an absent spouse is better for intimacy than sitting side by side watching the tube. Some couples say they speak when they watch television. Afterward, yes, but during? All I've been witness to are shallow one-liners. That isn't intimacy. You could be commenting to a wall. It's also multi-tasking. No one can argue that texting while driving is as alert as driving alone, nor that talking to one person face-to-face and another on a cell is going to be as in-depth.

6. On the subject of marital intimacy, adult television is frequently full of sexist stereotypes reinforcing discursive power about what makes a "man" or a "woman." The more you watch, the more you are likely to agree.

7. More television means less reading. While society emphasizes teaching children to read, it is just as crucial to keep mental alertness into adulthood. Television watching is associated with various forms of dementia in the elderly.

8. Not watching television frees you from a bulk portion of materialist societal pressure. Now I know what you'll say: what about billboards, shirt logos, magazine ads, etc.? My answer: turn off the tube. A month later, have a fashion talk with a friend. You'll see what I mean.

Regarding Children

1. Research has shown that even in the presence of television as "background noise" for children ages 1-3, parent-child interactions were less frequent and child attention spans were shorter. This would translate, as reported in the American Behavioral Scientist in children ages 1-6, to less verbal skills, reading skills, and greater propensity to watch television than read.

2. Television shows and commercials lead to distorted thinking and behavior in children and adolescents. Research reported by the AAP cites television as having negative effects on sexuality, self-image, nutrition, substance abuse, and aggression, among other things. Children as young as two have shown brand preference based on commercial viewing, or will avoid objects others portray as negative on-screen. There is a correlation between television-watching, substance abuse, and early sexuality in adolescence. Metabolic rates for children watching television are lower than for children at rest.

3. Watching television teaches children to be passive absorbers of information, not analytical thinkers. There is no interaction: a child cannot ask a question of a program or challenge what he or she is seeing. Young children have virtually no life experience to tell them that what they're seeing isn't how things are in the real world. This requires parental interaction, and in households were television is on most, parental involvement is least. Many parents admit to putting children in front of the television so they can have personal time.

4. Television-watching can lead to poor sleep quality in children, not only from the low blink rate issue, but from nightmares. Over a quarter of parents report their children upset or losing sleep over an upsetting event on television.

5. Children's shows have more violence than any other form of programming. Much of this violence is made "cute," with few consequences shown for a violent choice over a non-violent one. According to the AAP, children's shows average twenty acts of violence in an hour. I know many people who despise equating television violence with real violence. Frankly, there are now too many studies in desensitization to avoid the connection. The AAP goes so far as to state that, " as much as 10% to 20% of real-life violence may be attributable to media violence."

6. Watching television marketed for young children can actually lead to developmental delays. In an article published in the Journal of Pediatrics in 2007, babies aged 8-16 months who watched Baby Einstein videos were harmed, not benefitted, by the supposedly educational tool. For each hour spent watching the videos, there were 6-8 fewer words in the children's vocabularies.

7. In one study regarding language development, children learned better from a real adult than from a video of the same adult demonstrating the same thing.

8. Television is an excellent way for children to pick up sexist attitudes about gender relations.

9. Areas of the brain which activate through creative, imaginative thought are under-used in children who watch too much television. (Too much being defined as ANY viewing under the age of two, and over two hours in older children.)

10. More television means less reading, for you and your family. The television-viewing habits of parents and siblings most greatly influence a child's eventual viewing habits. If you want your children to read more and watch less, model the behavior. Reading for yourself where your child can see you for only fifteen minutes a day can have positive repercussions on that child's view on the importance of reading.

There you have it, or at least as much "it" as I can write in an hour. There will need to be more studies done regarding passive media in other formats, which is increasingly popular in the younger generations. Many friends of mine do not watch television on a T.V. set, but on the computer or phone. Passive watching on the Internet is increasing.

Reading about television usage over the last decade has convinced me that turning off the tube is a good first step to intellectual, emotional, and societal health. But why take my word for it? Do some research for yourself.

Sparrow's ADDENDUM: This from TEDxRainier on how babies learn language.

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