The Damaging Effects of Digital Media
One of the simplest things you can do to make your child smarter is to get them off the couch. Studies show that children who put down their video games and get some exercise test higher in school, solve problems more effectively, and are less prone to depression and anxiety.
Getting your children off the couch sounds simple enough, but it’s not so easy.
They are watching television, texting, playing on their computers, and getting caught up in kids video games more than ever before. And this trend is dumbing down our students. The Nielsen Company recently revealed that kids spend almost 28 hours per week watching television. And that doesn’t count time spent on video games, cell phones, or computers, which bumps that number up to an astonishing 55 hours per week.
Do your children flop onto the couch after school and stay there until dinnertime? They are not just turning off their own brains, they may actually be doing themselves harm. Children who view as little as three hours of television per day could be at risk of behavioral problems, depression and increased aggression, according to a report published by the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
The impact on children of all the drama and violence on television and in video games is tremendously disturbing. Study after study show that children naturally imitate what they see and hear, and when exposed to media aggression, they become desensitized to violence, fearful, and more aggressive themselves. Adding to the problem, violent characters in television and video games are often glamorized and portrayed as role models, and do not always suffer proper consequences for their violent behavior.
Since the 1950s, more than 1,000 studies have been done on the effects of violence in television and movies. The majority of these studies conclude that children who watch significant amounts of television and movie violence are more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior, attitudes and values (Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 1999).
When young children are exposed to something frightening in the media it can be traumatic for them. Telling young children what they see is not real may not help to console them as young children are not able to distinguish between reality and fantasy.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reports that American children watch an average of four hours of television daily, and that “television can be a powerful influence in developing value systems and shaping behavior.”
AllPsych Journal reports that “Research has also shown heavy television viewers, watching four or more hours per day, put in less effort at school, have poorer reading skills, play less friendly with friends, have fewer hobbies and activities, and are more likely to be overweight.”
Interestly, building children’s language and reading skills can help them cope with what they view, and put it in its proper perspective.
“A well-developed language system gives the brain a well-developed mental function,” say Dave Grossman and Gloria DeGaetano, in their report, Stop Teaching Our Kids To Kill. “When a child is able to verbalize and think on higher levels the easier it will be to teach children about consequences of violence. A rich vocabulary enables a higher level of articulation of feelings, opinions, and ideas about media violence that a less literate child cannot [fully express].”
Experts encourage parents to limit the amount of time their children have access to television and video games. Setting rules and boundaries helps, such as requiring children to finish their homework and chores before watching television or playing video games. And when did we get to the point in our culture where there needs to be a television in every room? At the very least, take the TV out of your child’s bedroom.
Children are society’s most vulnerable and precious population. Every minute they spend in front of the television, computer, or video console, is an opportunity missed to be doing healthy things, such as playing outdoors, exercising, reading, or engaging with their family and friends.
Resources for Parents
• The National Institutes of Health website offers advice, news, and other resources
• 12 Tips to Control the Television, The Children’s Trust
• Violence and Aging, Los Angeles Times
• Understanding Violent Behavior in Children, American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
• Children & TV Violence, American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
• The Psychological Effects of Violent Media on Children, AllPsych Online
• Your Kids & the Media, The Children’s Trust
• “Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill,” Dave Grossman and Gloria DeGaetano
Stay tuned for Part 2 of “The New Roadmap for Smarter, Happier, Healthier Kids,” where we’ll discuss the healing properties of the great outdoors.