Tuesday, June 13, 2006



From blunting children's cognitive skills, to hastening the onset of puberty in girls —TV-viewing impacts kids in more insidious ways than we know.
At a time when India is grappling with providing sex education for teenagers, television poses the threat of setting children on an unchartered path, with images being replete with sexual innuendoes instead of forthright dissemination of information.
The choices of quality entertainment available to children are also very few. There are the customary cartoon channels —but the presence of holistic education and entertainment content is sorely missed.

How many hours of television do your children watch each day? Do you monitor their viewing? Or do you use television as a babysitter and leave your child unattended in front of the TV set for hours?
It has been said that next to the family, television has the greatest social impact on the child. In the United States, the average child between the ages of two and eleven watches 25 hours of television a week, or about 3.5 hours a day - about 20 % of the child's waking time! In India also, children spend long hours in front of the family television set, especially in the last few years with the launch of a half dozen or more children's channels.
Some television programming for children is educationally sound. But parents must be aware that too much television viewing can have a negative impact on young children and requires parental oversight and monitoring.

Advertising: warping minds
In 2000, an American Psycho-logical Association Task Force on Advertising and Children found that children younger than eight years lacked the cognitive development to understand that the true purpose of ads is to sell a product. Furthermore, those under age six could not even distinguish programme content from advertisements. Yet that same year, advertisers spent more than $12 billion on messages aimed at and exploiting this young market, with the average child being exposed to more than 40,000 television commercials, many pushing unhealthy foods laden with too much sugar, salt, and carbohydrates or creating the need for "must
have" toys and clothing.

A second negative impact is the exposure to violence, aggression, and sexual content on TV. A 1999 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that children who watched three hours of television a day were exposed to more than 14,000 sexual references in a year, with risky behaviors such as sex or substance abuse often being depicted as "cool" and "exciting" without any mention of the negative consequences. In addition, by age eighteen, these children had witnessed more than 2,00,000 acts of violence on TV.

Media exposure and aggression
Exposure to media violence and overt sexuality on television does not necessarily increase the risk of aggressive or risky behavior in children, although it does in some. But such exposure can desensitise children to violence; leave those ages 2-7 feeling scared and vulnerable; and also cause unnecessary fears in children ages 8-12. Children are most likely to attempt aggressive or risky behaviours when their television viewing is unmediated by family discussions about the cognitive, moral, and emotional content of the programmes.

Teach your child good TV habits
· Limit the number of hours per week your child can watch TV and have plenty of other worthwhile activities available such as books, kids' magazines, puzzles, toys, and board games to fill non-television hours.
· Consider recording favourite shows to view on weekends after chores and homework are completed. Then the family can spend more time together during the week.
· Include your children in the task of reviewing and selecting appropriate programmes to watch. Look for shows that will build on your child's hobbies and educational interests.
· When you can, preview programmes before your child watches them so you are sure the programme’s content accords with your family's values.
· Watch at least some TV programmes with your children, and discuss what they have seen with them to make them more perceptive viewers.

TV and childhood obesity
A third negative impact of watching too much television derives from the sedentary nature of the activity. When children sit for hours in near hypnotic states before the television screen while consuming unhealthy snacks, weight gain is inevitable. In fact, there has been an alarming rise of childhood obesity in the United States in the last three decades, with about 25% of all U.S. children either overweight or obese. Since there is a direct correlation between childhood obesity and type II adult onset diabetes, allowing children to be "glued to the tube" has both personal and public health consequences.

Speeding up puberty
Another public health issue was highlighted in a flurry of articles in 2004 about how watching TV may speed up puberty. Researchers at the University of Florence in Italy found that when a controlled group of children were deprived of their TV sets and other sources of artificial light such as computers and video games, their melatonin production rose by an average of 30 percent a week. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the body's waking and sleeping cycles. Too much television, apparently, suppresses the body's production of this hormone, in the process hastening puberty in girls.

No TV for pre-schoolers
Other studies by the American Academy of Pediatrics show that too much television, particularly for children under the age of two, can have a negative effect on early brain development (they recommend that children this young watch no television at all). For those over age two, they recommend no more than one or two hours of educational television a day to avoid the over-stimulation of the brain that leads to heightened and unnatural states of arousal caused by the body's "fight or flight" mechanism.
Finally, young children who watch a lot of TV, especially cartoons, are less likely to become good readers than those who watch an hour or two of educational television a day. Children distanced from reality by heavy doses of TV are also less likely to be successful in school.

Desi TV for children
In India, where there are an estimated hundred million children under the age of ten, there has long been a lack of good television programming for children. Indian children in the past spent only about 10% of their time watching kid's channels, and too many of the children's programmes were reruns from the United States and other countries.
In the past four years, however, competition in children's programming has become intense and offerings more diverse. First was the Cartoon Network. Then Hungama, a new children's channel, was launched in 2004. Other competitors for young Indian audiences are Splash, Nickelodeon, Pogo, and Animex.

Cultural slants
A number of these new children's channels are consciously focusing on programming with an Indian cultural slant. Walt Disney's Television International, through linkage with the Star TV Network, is launching two children's channels available in English and Hindi in the north and Tamil and Telugu in the South. Managing Director Rajat Jain says that the programming will cater to local tastes and incorporate Indian concepts. Splash, to appeal to local audiences, also plans to raise its Indian content to the 70% level, while Pogo has set up an Indian production unit.

Sesame India is following suit with a television series that will incorporate curriculum developed by Indian educators with a focus on India's multiculturalism. The channel will also teach basic cognitive skills such as literacy.

With all these new choices in children's programming in India, what is the best way to utilize television in the home not only as an entertainment vehicle, but also as an educational one?

Guide for parents
A good resource is the "Guide for Parents: Television and Your Child" available at http://www.vh.org/pediatric/patient/pediatrics/tvchildren/ and produced by the Children's Hospital of Iowa Department of Pediatrics. Although written for parents in the United States, the discussions of positive and negative aspects of TV and of what parents can do to take control of their children's television viewing time are universally useful and thoughtful.

Television, like all other forms of media, hinges upon a viable partnership between producer and user. As a parent and a consumer, you have a right to insist on high-quality television programming for your children. You also have the responsibility to help your children to become discerning viewers of what is currently available.
Judith H. Livingston, Ph.D.
University of Maryland University College

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*******The link should be connected to the boxed information i.e. “ Teach your child good TV habits”.