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Children and Television

by Vijay Garg
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Television is an electronic device that receives television signals and displays them on a screen. Since its invention during the 1920’s Television Technology has gone under a drastic and constant change. There was a time when Televisions were Exclusive items affordable by the elite only; these were Black and White then. Soon Colour Televisions were launched, they had a further appeal as they brought colours in a picture. Then came the large screen sized T.V.’s, Digital Television (DTV) and High-Definition Television (HDTV). Television channels also expanded with the onset of Cable vices. Other equipment related with television-like Video Cassettes, Laser Discs, DVD’s and now Blu-Ray Discs have resulted in the television being extensively utilized for various purposes in homes, businesses, and institutions. As more and more people purchased these, the more they got addicted and or dependent on it for various reasons. With adults getting influenced by the television, kids were not far behind.
The influence of Television in modern times is much more widespread as compared to the time when Television was in its initial stages. Earlier Television had less content and was predictive; nowadays the variety of programmes is far more than ever before. Internet television is another medium which affects a kid’s behaviour –  good or bad. Attachable Video Game Consoles like Nintendo, Sega, Playstation etc. took a leap from conventional T.V. viewing to a new level. With adults getting glued to their favourite Soaps or Sports programmes, kids found their own spots in Cartoon Shows and many times watching what their family was viewing. As a result, a bond developed between Children and Television and the outcome of that bond could be good or bad or both.
Effects of Television on Children
TV affects kids in various ways, more than which can be imagined. Researchers have studied how TV affects kids’ sleep, weight, grades, behaviour and more. 2009 findings from The Nielsen Company show that on average, children aged 2-5 spend 32 hours a week in front of a TV-watching television, DVDs, DVR and videos, and using a game console. Kids aged 6-11 spend about 28 hours a week in front of the TV. The vast majority of this viewing (97%) is of Live TV. These are old figures and by the time you would be reading this article, these figures would have Tripled or Quadrupled and so will the Effect of Television on Children. Effects of Television on Youth are almost the similar in nature with certain exceptions. To assess the Television Influence on Children one can see both sides of the coin and analyze the topic at hand.
Positive Effects of Television
Education at an Early Age: Television is and can be a very powerful and effective learning tool for children if used wisely. Various educational CD/DVD’s are available in the shops which teach maths, English and various other subjects in a very simple and interesting manner. These have poems, stories, alphabets, counting which stimulates the young mind into faster and better understanding of communication and relationships. Televised educational programs for pre-schoolers tend to produce kids with high grades, high achievement, and creativity. Studies suggest that those exposed to negative role models suffered while those who were exposed to positive models behaved better. TV also has the potential to educate teens and foster discussion with parents about sex. Television can be used very effectively in the much debated ‘Sex Education’. Sexual content on TV can be used as an excuse to talk with young ones about sex, responsible behaviour and safety. In this way, T.V. can be an excellent educator in all aspects of life.
Provides Entertainment: Entertainment is one thing which all ages of kids love. It provides them with a variety in their life and provides a wider outlook towards life. Various entertainment programmes teach them that it is O.K. ‘To let your hair down every now and then’. It also encourages cheer and glee and breaks the monotony of everyday life.
General Knowledge: Television is one medium which not only increases general knowledge of adults but it also opens the minds of kids as well. Televised programmes open up a new world for kids, providing them with a chance to travel the globe, learn about different cultures, wildlife, history etc. which they would otherwise never be able to do. Apart from T.V. programmes, the medium of knowledge is also available in other easy to access formats like CD/DVD. 
Induces Positivity: Television provides a variety of channels which not only provide education, entertainment and General Knowledge they also acquaint kids with positivity. Health and sports channel display a positive attitude towards life through various programmes. Similarly, there are channels that have a schedule for spiritualistic and holistic broadcasts which inculcate positivity amongst the teens.
Teaches Etiquettes: Manners and attitude are also influenced by watching television. Often shows or movies depict dining scenes where the correct usage of eating and related etiquettes can have a positive effect on kids’ behaviour. Programs with positive role models can influence kids into doing things which their parents had been asking to do. 
Exposure of Talent: Reality-based Talent Shows have become quite a rage. And amongst the major beneficiaries are gifted children who have a Talent which has not been discovered or polished. Such T.V. shows provide a platform for them to show the world their talent and get the acknowledgement for what is rightfully theirs.
Income Generation:  Certain kids have the look, the attitude or just happen to be lucky when they are chosen for a certain commercial campaign or a contest etc. The concerned companies may offer income to such prodigies. Similar is the case of young athletes and other achievers for whom television becomes a source of income generation. In this way, television is good for children.
Reduces Tension:  There is no doubt that today’s world is far more filled with worries and tensions as it was before. Apart from tension generated by their immediate kin, they have to study more and perform par excellence in this competitive world. To break the monotony of this regime and get a diversion, television serves this purpose no better than other. So be it Tom and Jerry or Mr Bean it gives them the comic relief which they require on daily basis. 
Negative Effects of Television
Makes Kids Lazy: It is a well known and the most serious outcome of Television. Today’s kids have developed a tendency to give more priority to their favourite programmes than conventional activities like playing outdoor games. The time and energy spent on watching T.V. drain them of energy and they will shrug off any extra work like throwing the garbage or going to a shop etc. Lack of physical activity also leads to other health problems as discussed in the below passage.
Health Problems: Excessive Television viewing has a major negative effect on a child’s health, both physical and mental. This is largely attributed to not only laziness but also to Advertisers who target kids. It is estimated that on average, children see thousands of TV commercials each year which promote unhealthy snack foods and drinks. Few of the Major Health Problems:
Obesity: The number one problem that results as a result of watching T.V. is Obesity. Kids tend to munch on snacks and are more likely to be inactive while watching TV. This viewing time tends to reduce the metabolic rate to even lower rate than during rest. This by default means that very few calories are being used for watching as compared to when just sitting quietly, doing nothing.
Anaemia:  Excessive and addictive T.V. viewing alters eating habits. Many kids will skip or eat less in anticipation of watching their favourite show. Busy parents get the excuse that they are not hungry or stomach is full. Eating later or sooner than routine causes a child to eat less food as the food routine has been disturbed, this may lead to anaemia.
Vision Impairment:  In the absence of parents children have the habit of watching T.V. at close quarters or while lying on the bed. Such viewing exposes eyes to radiation which leads to various eye problems – like dryness, redness, itchiness etc. Some may develop serious eye problems leading to vision improvement operations or high numbered spectacles.
Reduces Brain Development:  TV can and does discourage reading. It may replace reading altogether. T.V. doesn’t cause as much brain activity as compared to reading.  Reading is universally accepted as a Healthy Brain Developer. It is a commonly observed phenomenon that kids from families which spend a lot of time on TV spend less time reading and being read to, and are thus less likely to be able to read.
Lack of Concentration:  Television sucks up all the attention of teens and when the same is needed for studies, there is a lack or total absence of it. Thought watching TV for children is less calorie burner it doesn’t reduce the burden on the brain. The concentration required to study has already been consumed whilst watching T.V. so there is not much left for one to study. Moreover, the thought process while studying is still absorbed in the thoughts related to it, not to mention tiredness of the eyes.
Development of Fear and or Phobia: Often families watch together all the programs irrespective of age and if such a show happens to be fear-based, it may result in the development of certain fears and phobias amongst the young ones. Sometimes kids may unwillingly happen to watch horror movies or shows which are full of blood and gore, this can have a long-term effect on the young viewer. He/she may develop certain fear and phobias and non-disclosure of such can hamper a child’s intellect and unwanted/irrational behaviour. Children may start to view the world as a scary and dangerous place. They may see bad dreams, develop anxious feelings, being afraid of being alone, withdrawing from friends, and missing school. Fears caused by TV can also cause sleep problems in children. Children of 8-12 years may not be convinced even if they are told the difference between fantasy and reality by their parents.
Sleeping Disorders: Though horror programmes do induce sleeplessness, it is also caused otherwise and it may not become apparent immediately. This is because regular sleep schedules are an important part of healthy sleep. Studies have shown that Teens who watched 3 or more hours of TV per day had a higher risk of sleep problems by early adulthood. Watching Television especially when the show slot has been changed it causes altered sleep patterns and sleep disorders among children and adolescents.
Substance Addiction: Television is full of smoking, drinking, and consumption of illegal substances. And it goes without saying that if the adults cannot escape their influence, how come teens wouldn’t be. TV ads are the number contributors in establishing the norm that it is normal to consume alcohol in the minds of children, adolescents, and college students. These advertisements portray people as being happier, sexier, and more successful when they drink. Movies show the Hero having alcohol or cigarette to ease himself and it sends a wrong message to the teenagers. Various sports shows and other events have sponsors who deal in beer and cigarettes’, consistent appearances also establish the norm to be normal. Lobbying by such companies ensure that they remain in limelight and they might not be shown in a negative light. Consuming marijuana and other illegal substances in various movies and shows also lead to immediate or later addiction.
Reduced Socialisation: Watching Television with and without parents and siblings present also contributes towards less time interacting with family members. As per a research – watching more TV in childhood increased chances of dropping out of school and decreased chances of getting a college degree, even after controlling for confounding factors. Spending time watching TV takes time away from socializing activities like playing outside with friends, eating dinner together; participation in extracurricular activities likes music, art or other activities that require practice to become skilful.
Poor Academic Results: Spending excessive time watching TV largely contributes to poor grades. The time spent on watching time cuts down the time to study. While some students may cope up with less time on study, most of the students are not able to. The tiredness accompanying excessive T.V. viewing also hampers quality study time. The span of attention also decreases as the mind is still engaged in thoughts of the show which has been just viewed. TV viewing may replace activities which are helpful in school performance, such as reading, doing homework, pursuing hobbies etc. As per one research study TV’s effects on education are long term.
Violence on Television: A big issue that needs to be dealt with is children and TV violence. Media violence and Violent Behaviour is normal even in the mildest of shows even if they are shown in a lighter vein. Violence is also prevalent in music videos and news channel which makes violence glamorized. It is not difficult to assess that media violence can and has contributed to aggressive behaviour, desensitization towards violence, the occurrence of nightmares and fear of being harmed. Watching violent shows is also linked with having less empathy toward others. Aggressive behaviour can be seen in the form of bullying amongst teens and ragging amongst collegiate. Children under age eight do not have the intellect to differentiate between reality and fantasy and they end up imitating the violence they see on TV.
Wrong Notions: There are certainly acceptable and unacceptable norms in the society, these norms keep us disciplined. Television becomes a disruptor of these norms when kids indulge in socially unacceptable behaviour. Television provides a narrow view of society; it shows what is popular and that which will generate more revenue. Because of the narrow outlook of TV, children establish some wrong notions. Every household has a different environment and it may not conform to similar environment portrayed on TV. This may result in a development of a notion amongst kids that either their household is inferior or demented. Certain communities like Islamic and Blacks are shown in poor light again and again; shows are filled with stereotypes. Thus a notion that all Islamic people are evil and blacks are thugs, develops. Certain communities or personalities are always mocked and this mockery gets implanted in the innocent minds as well. Sex is another major issue about which teenagers form opinions. Since education by adults is missing the television becomes their guide to love. Most of the programmes have a lot of sexual content and most of them tell nothing about sex education. Most of the advertisements, music videos, prime-time shows, soap operas are not depicting real-life sexual behaviour, this leads to misconceptions about sexual activity. Teenagers are not fully aware of premature sex, safe sex, pregnancy, contraceptives, sexually transmitted diseases and host of related issues. Sex scenes in TV show promiscuity and infidelity and teenagers develop wrong ideas. What the kids see and how they perceive it is more important than what is being shown. Young minds are fragile and innocent, any misconception which develops in these years tend to linger on till adulthood or the rest of the life.
Virtual World: Most of the parents have hectic schedules and children are often given less attention or no attention at all. Such conditions are suitable for children to develop a virtual world where they see and perceive behaviour patterns. TV may become their foster parents, partners, friends or guide. They may develop a faux or parasocial relationship with characters from their favourite television shows and movies as a means to counter or fill the void of loneliness and social deprivation. Humans are social in nature and they need to have relationships to live and progress. Thus TV characters become their imaginary mates, lovers, fathers, mother etc. with whom they can share their feelings, opinions, and thoughts just like they would do in real life. 
Injurious Imitations: Superheroes or even ordinary heroes perform extraordinary stunts which seem very reasonable even to the youth. In real life, stunts are coordinated and performed by professionals but the youth ignores or doesn’t conform to injuries, for them it is all about the adrenaline rush. Famous among the imitation of heroes has been witnessed in ‘Shaktiman’ case wherein the kids tried to perform the circular motion of the superhero Shaktiman and ended up getting seriously injured. Another example is that of ‘Ninja Turtles’ where the kids started to live in underground sewage. Certain reality-based shows show the performance of weird and dangerous acts performed by novices which stir the imagination of the kids. Teens and kids have been injured trying to repeat dangerous stunts they have seen on television shows and they continue to do so.
Unimaginable Consequences: While there are imaginable outcomes of the television mania, certain unimaginable consequences are still to be realized, the reason being lack of research and lack of possible evidence. When a child is in the womb of the mother who knows what type of effect does it have on the baby when a mother is watching her favourite programme. There are also videos and DVDs especially created for babies and toddlers and not to mention cable channel for babies. It is insufficient or no data available as to how will TV-viewing affect babies.
What can and should be done?
It is easy to come to a conclusion from the above passage that the Negative Aspects overwhelm the Positive effects of Television. Different researchers and different people will have different opinions but one thing is certain that the issue is relevant and cannot be ignored. While some may say TV is good, some may say it is not and some may have a mixed opinion. However, whatever the reasons are for Pros and Cons, there is always a better approach or less harmful approach, if not any at all.
Moderation: Moderation is the key just like it is in all facets of our lives. A total ban is no solution as it will instil more curiosity and rebellion. Considering today’s technological gadgetry kids will find a way to see what they want. Instead, let them watch TV for a limited period of time, this way they will be able to watch TV and perform other tasks as well efficiently.
Spend more Time with Children: If parents were to provide a substantial amount of time on a regular basis, children shouldn’t rely on TV for imaginative relations. Socialising with children decreases the dependence on TV for entertainment. Parents also remain in constant touch with their kid’s activities and can guide them as well.
Rules for Viewing: Parents or Kins should know the type of shows kids are watching. Advice them not to watch certain channels and programs as they are not appropriate for their age. Post Rules for Viewing besides the TV where it is mentioned that they are not supposed to watch a certain TV program and Channel and prompt them that they should stick to their rules or face a mild punishment in a reformative manner.
Discussion: Often kids ask about some uneasy scenes appearing on TV and parents lie or pass the query for later on. This norm is not advisable as a kids curiosity has not been fulfilled. One should accompany their children while watching TV and explain them as to what is happening and other areas of curiosity. This way the kids will always seek their parent’s advice and will always be pre-informed about what’s happening on TV.
Watch and Observe: One can install surveillance cameras to observe what types of shows are being watched by the teens; especially for those who are very busy. One can also observe from far or close, the reactions of their siblings while watching certain shows. This observation can be used to decide what is needed to be done.
Diffuse Peer Pressure: Teenagers might be persuaded by their equivalents in the school or neighbour for watching certain shows. Watching certain shows makes teens be familiar with each other because there is a common ground for interaction. Not watching a show makes them a non-member in discussions etc. Here parent’s intervention is required, indirect or direct to diffuse peer pressure. Talking to the peers and their parents on this issue can resolve the situation. 
Parental Association: A neighbourhood association or a formal parental association can enforce certain laws and regulation regarding the viewing of T.V. Parents can keep a tab on each other’s child and find, consensual advice can be reached upon for the proper course of action.
Locking or Censoring the Channels: Though not a major or the most efficient method to prevent excessive TV viewing but still effective to a certain degree. Not all kids know the technical aspects of a TV. Certain channels can be removed by the cable operator himself.
Support and Promote Social and Physical Activities: Kids need to get out of the house and have some fun. Parents can play with them or accompany them. They should encourage and support their participation in school games, debates, flower decoration, arts and crafts, exhibitions etc. This way kids will remain healthy both physically and mentally.
Set an Example: Sometimes you have to follow the rules yourself in certain situations. Kids may question – “Why are you watching this when we cannot watch it?” Kids might not understand what you are trying to tell them because of their intellect. So you have to set an example by not watching TV and show them the path. One can record his/her show and watch it later.

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