What are the major influences on American youngsters? The home, school, and church would have been correct answers years ago. But now the influence of television and the internet must be added high on the list, in many cases second only to the parents. Indeed, many young parents today, who are themselves products of the TV and internet generation, are permitting their children to become TV and internet addicts.
Polls have shown that 50 percent of a preschooler’s waking time is spent watching TV. In many homes, it is used as an almost permanently switched-on baby-sitter. By the time a typical teen-ager is ready to graduate from high school, he will have spent an average of 15,000 hours in his formal learning and 23,000 hours watching TV.
Observant parents do not need statistics and studies to know what an effect this excessive amount of TV and internet has upon children. It is disturbing to see children passively sit in front of TV, watch and listen for prolonged periods, and resemble statues unable to hear your comments or to answer a question. Then, when they are away from TV, they are sure to imitate the ‘pow’ ‘wham’ of the fast-action thrillers and cartoons.
Children often become demanding consumers after viewing the flashy, hard-sell commercials. Probably the most obvious outcome is the lost time for the normal growing up experiences – family activities, playmates, self-expression, and times for inquiry and quiet learning.
Research is beginning to substantiate these negative effects on children and also to reveal some of TV’s subtler influences. Reports have uncovered some startling facts about the impact of TV on children.
“The overwhelming body of evidence – drawn from more than 2,300 studies and reports – is decidedly negative,” Newsweek reported. These results run the gamut from children learning that “the rich, powerful, and conniving are the most powerful” to finding that children are developing a tolerance to violence.
It only takes brief examination to realize that many of the lessons – outright and hidden – are contrary to most children’s home instruction. Promotion of sugar-coated food is contrary to the trend toward nutritious, junk-free diets; the tendency to reinforce sex-role stereotypes is opposed to the movement to eliminate such labels. Passive spectators are not apt to develop the communication skills and sense of involvement sorely needed today.
Even though groups such as Parent-Teacher Associations, and many businesses have contributed to better programming, a parent still cannot assume prolonged daily TV viewing is beneficial. Even if every program were of an educational nature, the child is still a passive viewer, not only unable to ask questions or carry on a dialogue but not encouraged to do so. On the other hand, parents might ask questions themselves such as, how well are we providing alternatives to TV watching? Are we planning interesting choices of activities or does TV win by default? Developing a few alternatives may even mean sacrificing some of the freedom the electronic baby-sitter provides, but the results will benefit the entire family.