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A Destructive Influence

I am a father of three precious children, two strong-willed girls and one very rambunctious boy. I love my children dearly and would do anything to support their progress in life. In fact, it is my belief that it is my calling as a parent to provide the guidance and encouragement to help my children flourish. I have devoted lots of time and effort into the shaping of my children’s future through influence and guidance, either through personal interaction or scrutinizing what they are being exposed to. The world is full of wonderful experiences and influences that my young children are waiting to discover; however, not all experiences and influences are suitable for a child to endure and can be quite harmful to their mental state, physical health, and cognitive development as they mature. These destructive experiences and influences target them because of their innocent and trusting nature. The possibility of my children falling victim to these harmful experiences and influences is almost certain without any intervention; that is why as a parent I try continually to keep my children guarded from villainous forms of society such as television. It is my opinion that too much television meets the criteria of being harmful to children.


Nowadays, children are constantly being bombarded with various underlying messages through many forms of media. Television offers countless types of programing, not all of which are healthy for viewing; the problem is that these programs are influencing children’s behaviour and their mind-sets. A parent may be their child’s primary influence; however, competition is mounting in the form of movies and television. When parents are in need of time to cook supper, or clean the house, or when they are just looking for a slight break from parenting responsibilities, they often utilize television and videos to occupy their children’s attention. The issue with utilizing a television show to babysit your children is that television can have a harmful effect on children, especially when it is not monitored appropriately.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines harm as: physical or mental damage (Merriam-Webster, 2016). Television is harmful and is capable of causing damage or harm through its very existence. Prolonged exposure to television can negatively modify behaviour, create health issues and impair growth and development in children.


Researchers have determined that unsatisfactory grades in school and poor sleeping habits have been associated with children being overexposed to television (Boyse, 2010); these are just a few examples of how television is negatively affecting our children’s well-being. In this paper, I have only chosen to highlight some of the main issues related to children’s excessive exposure to television that are prevalent in research circles, including child development, childhood obesity, and the violent content that is linked to aggressive behaviour.


Exposing children under the age of two years old to television has no educational benefit (The good and bad effects of TV on children, 2012). The time in front of the video screen actually robs the infant of valuable activities that aid in developing their cognitive process such as intermingling with others. The development of children’s language, creativity, motor, and social skills excel when they are playing, exploring and conversing with others. This type of interaction is especially important in the child’s first two years as it is a critical period for the infant’s brain maturation. Children benefit far more through person to person interactions than they do from sitting in front of a television watching Barney prancing around and singing. Knowing that placing your child in front of the television before the age of two impairs his or her development should definitely be enough motivation for parents to turn off the television; nevertheless, there are still more damaging effects that children suffer as a result of overexposure to television.


Childhood obesity has been rising steadily in Canada in recent decades as a result of many factors, including excessive exposure to television (Childhood Obesity Foundation, 2015). Studies indicate that children who view more than three hours of television a day are fifty percent more likely to be obese than children that view less than two hours. An additional study found that a child’s risk of being overweight increased by six percent for every hour of television that they view per day. It also stated that if the child had a television in their bedroom, the probabilities of being overweight soared an additional thirty-one percent for each hour viewed (Peterka, n.d.). Children often accompany their television viewing with junk food consumption. Chocolate bars and soft drinks add calories to children’s physique as they remain sedentary watching their favourite television program; this gives credence to the fact that childhood obesity is linked to excessive television exposure. Due to the inactive nature of television viewing, toddlers aren’t outside getting exercise that is necessary to burn calories and increase metabolism. By merely allowing our children to watch an excess amount of television, we are causing them to become unhealthy and unfit for life’s daily challenges.


Another related harmful effect of children being overexposed to television is the influence of violence on them. I can remember sitting on my parents’ living room floor watching the 1966 Batman television series with my older brother, Jason. We both loved the choreographed fight scenes between Batman and the various villains he would encounter in his daily adventures. In fact, Jason and I would often act out the battles alongside our hero as he clashed with the antiheros; however, our reality usually ended up with one of us kicking or punching the other in the head or some other vital body part. During one of our Batman induced skirmishes, I recall my father intervening, after only a little bloodshed, and stating we were forbidden to ever watch our favorite heroes again, as he blamed Batman for our bout of fighting. We were devastated by my father’s decision because we couldn’t see the correlation between our aggressive outburst and our television hero. Father knows best!


A study conducted by Brandon Centerwall from the University of Washington reports that heavy duty television watching in the pre-adolescent years, increases violent and aggressive tendencies in young people and has also contributed to the plague of violence in the United States (The Washington Post, 1993). Further support for Centerwall’s research comes from stories like the 2010 killing of Conner Conley. On September 2010, Andrew Conley told Indiana State Police investigators that “Dexter”, a fictional television character, made him strangle his ten-year-old brother. Andrew admitted to murdering his brother and claimed that he had an uncontrollable urge to murder and desired to model himself after the popular television serial killer Dexter (Thompson, 2010). Centerwall asserts that desensitization occurs as the child sees more and more violence on television; they become acclimatized to violence and begin to find it more acceptable in their lives. Additionally, television programs have the propensity to glorify violence causing young, causing impressionable young minds to believe that reality is like these television productions. This illusion creates fear in the minds of children causing them to experience “scary world syndrome”, a term used to describe a phenomenon whereby violence-related content of mass media makes viewers believe that the world is more dangerous than it actually is. Children that have seen significant amounts of violence on television are more likely believe that the world is a frightening place and be plagued by fear and anxiety as they develop.


Everyone is not of the belief that television is harmful to children, though. There are studies that indicate children who view educational and non-violent youth programing do better on reading and math tests than those who do not watch these types of programs. Educational programs such as Sesame Street, Sid the Science Kid and the Wild Kratts are shows dedicated to teaching children about language, science and the animal kingdom and are quite effective in passing-on knowledge to their dedicated viewers. Children who have a hard time with school might become motivated by educational shows enhancing their disposition towards learning.


Supporters of children’s television programing also believe that the entertainment of television can provide stress relief, relaxation and quality time for families to spend together. Family movie nights provide a great time for interaction within the family, especially when you set aside some time to talk about the movie afterwards. A discussion regarding the plot, characters and the values that the movie is endorsing can provide great subject matter for families to converse about within the home. This type of interaction opens communication between family members and aids members in addressing important issues that they might not ever broach otherwise. The television becomes an integral part of the mechanism that keeps the family together.


Advocates of children’s television believe that programs geared towards youth can be stimulating and inspiring for kids. Programs like Noodle and Doodle, Mister Maker, and Artzooka are all aimed at creative kids, inspiring children to try new things, like papier-mâché, mosaic art or clay sculpting. Documentaries about historical people, musicians, and athletes can also motivate the children to push their limits and show them that dreams can become reality.


Children’s educational television may improve reading and arithmetic scores; however, these shows aren’t scoring high in the viewership category. Entertainment shows such as My Little Pony, Phineas and Ferb, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, The Power Puff Girls, and the Ultimate Spiderman all hold high rankings on Netflix streaming popularity (Houston, 2015). These popular shows are attractive to young impressionable minds, not the educational shows that appeal to the attention of a select audience. Superheroes and princesses are littered throughout popular culture. If a children’s television show is doing well, you can count on the production company to get the merchandise flowing. This type of advertising is geared to target young and impressionable audiences; T-shirts, lunch boxes, and toys with images of your child’s favorite television characters inundate grocery stores and department stores, giving entertainment television programs a huge influencing advantage over educational television shows. Due to the marketing tactics of these production companies, educational show seems less attractive to children and as a result they only reach a small audience.


The notion that television is a great way for families to spend quality time together is farcical. While the television is on, the family is engaged in viewing the scheduled show. The discussion afterwards is where the quality time is derived; the television show is only the catalyst for the conversations. Quality family time could be better accomplished through the introduction of a game night, where the family could interact playing board games. This type of interface would produce an enriched atmosphere for families to interact and engage each other during and after the game, and would provide the household with a positive environment to create discussions that may be significant to family values.


Educational art shows are guilty of suppressing children’s creativity; rather than inspire, these shows quash children’s imagination. Art shows guide children through lessons on how to build a creation that the production company feels is appropriate for their viewers; the child is influenced to craft what the host is making and not to create using their own imagination. Dr. Jane Healy, author of Endangered Minds: Why Children Don't Think -- and What We Can Do About It believes that children who watch too much television lack creativity. When groups of children get together and play make-believe games, they tend to emulate things that they have viewed on television; they don’t use their imagination to create ideas for play (Kelly, 2015).


Stunting child development, childhood obesity, and aggressive behaviour all are harmful effects of children being exposed to excessive amounts of television broadcasting. Television outlets are in the business of entertainment; they are indifferent about what your child is being exposed to, and the bottom line is that they are fixated on creating viewership for monetary gains. As parents, we have to be cautious of what our children are exposed to; we need to shield them from the destructive forms of television and guided them to less damaging influences. Their trusting nature and impressionable minds need to be steered in the right direction; our parental duty is to make sure that happens. Allowing our child to sit in front of the television set without screening programing content is negligence on the part of the parents. There is too much at stake, your child’s development, physical health, and state of mind are at risk.


References

Boyse, K. (2010, August). Television and children. University of Michigan Health System. Retrieved from http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/tv.htm

Statistics - Childhood Obesity Foundation. (2015). Retrieved from http://childhoodobesityfoundation.ca/what-is-childhood-obesity/statistics/

Houston, S. (2015, April 15). The 30 best kids shows on Netflix. Paste Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2015/04/the-30-best-kids-shows-on-netflix-streaming.html?p=2

Kelly, K. (2015). The great TV debate. Parents. Retrieved from http://www.parents.com/fun/entertainment/television/the-great-tv-debate/

Harmful. (2016, October 3). In Merriam-Webster's on-line dictionary. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/harmful

Peterka, N. (n.d.). Children and Techonolgy. Retrieved from http://www.district196.org/ec/TeacherCurriculum/NancyPeterkaTechnology.cfm

The good and bad effects of TV on children. (2012). Raise smart kids. Retrieved from http://www.raisesmartkid.com/all-ages/1-articles/13-the-good-and-bad-effects-of-tv-on-your-kid

Televiolence. (1993). The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/1993/04/17/televiolence/e4b97beb-c560-4b55-8353-cf1232a98861/?utm_term=.ea6f448c815c

Thompson, P. (2010). Dexter made me do it: Teenager who murdered brother, 10, claims he was inspired by hit TV show. Daily Mail. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1312182/Teenager-inspired-TV-Dexter-murder-brother.html



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