Research on Television (before internet addiction)


I collected the following articles a long time ago. These days much of it holds true about internet and especially wireless technology which is extremely harmful -- see

"I watched TV - it's such a bad idea - it brings you down". Angela Jaggi

TV and Our Children's Minds

Susan R. Johnson, M.D.

TV rots the senses in the head!

It kills the imagination dead!

It clogs and clutters up the mind!

It makes a child so dull and blind.

He can no longer understand a fantasy,

A fairyland!

His brain becomes as soft as cheese!

His powers of thinking rust and freeze!

An excerpt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,

By Roald Dahl, 1964

As a mother and a pediatrician who completed both a three-year residency in Pediatrics and a three-year subspecialty fellowship in Behavioral and Developmental Pediatrics, I started to wonder: "What are we doing to our children's growth and learning potential by allowing them to watch television and videos as well as spend endless hours playing computer games?"

I practiced seven years as the Physician Consultant at the School Health Center in San Francisco, performing comprehensive assessments on children, ages 4-12, who were having learning and behavioral difficulties in school. I saw hundreds of children who were having difficulties paying attention, focusing on their work, and performing fine and gross motor tasks. Many of these children had a poor self-image and problems relating to adults and peers. As a pediatrician, I had always discouraged television viewing, because of the often violent nature of its content (especially cartoons) and because of all the commercials aimed at children. However, it wasn't until the birth of my own child, 6 years ago, that I came face to face with the real impact of television. It wasn't just the content, for I had carefully screened the programs my child watched. It was the change in my child's behavior (his mood, his motor movements, his play) before, during and after watching TV that truly frightened me.

Before watching TV, he would be outside in nature, content to look at bugs, make things with sticks and rocks, and play in the water and sand. He seemed at peace with himself, his body, and his environment. When watching TV, he was so unresponsive to me and to what was happening around him, that he seemed glued to the television set. When I turned off the TV he became anxious, nervous, and irritable and usually cried (or screamed) for the TV to be turned back on. His play was erratic, his movements impulsive and uncoordinated. His play lacked his own imaginative input. Instead of creating his own play themes, he was simply re-enacting what he had just seen on TV in a very repetitive, uncreative and stilted way.

At age 3 1/2 years, our son went on a plane trip to visit his cousins near Boston, and on the plane, was shown the movie "Mission Impossible." The movie was right above our son's head making it difficult to block out. Earphones had not been purchased, so the impact was only visual, but what an impact it had on our son. He had nightmares and fears about fires, explosions, and bloody hands for the next 6 months, and his play was profoundly changed. One of my colleagues told me I just had an overly sensitive child, and because I had not taken him to see a movie or let him watch much TV, he was not "used to it" and that was why he was so disturbed by the pictures he saw. All I could think was thank heaven he was not "used to it".

Later that year, I assessed six different children from ages 8 - 11 years at the School Health Center who all had similar difficulties with reading. They couldn't make a mental picture of letters or words. If I showed them a series of letters and asked them to identify one particular letter, they could do it. If I gave them no visual input and just asked them to write a particular letter by memory, they couldn't do it. All of these children watched a lot of television and videos and played computer games. I wondered what happens to a developing child placed in front of a TV set if they are presented with visual and auditory stimuli at the same time. What is left for the brain to do? At least with reading a story or having a story read to them, the mind can create its own imaginative pictures.

A question arose and I immediately called up my colleague and asked: "Could television itself be causing attention problems and learning difficulties in children?" My colleague laughed and said just about everyone watches TV - even my child does - and she doesn't have Attention Deficit Disorder or a learning disability. I thought to myself: "Are we spending enough time with our children and looking deeply enough into their development and soul to notice the often subtle changes that occur from spending hours in front of the TV set"? Maybe some children are more vulnerable to the effects of television because of a genetic predisposition or poor nutrition or a more chaotic home environment. I wondered about the loss of potential in all our children, because they are exposed to so much television and so many videos and computers games. What are the capacities we are losing or not even developing because of this TV habit? I then started to read, attend lectures, and ask a lot more questions.

Television has been in existence for the past 80 years, though the broadcasting of entertainment shows didn't begin until the 1940's. In 1950, 10% of American households owned a TV set. By 1954, this percentage had increased to 50%, and by 1960, 80% of American households owned a television. Since 1970, more than 98% of American households own a TV and currently 66% of households own three or more TVs. Television is on almost 7 hours per day in an average American home. Children of all ages, from preschool through adolescence, watch an average of 4 hours of TV per day (excluding time spent watching videos or playing computer games). A child spends more time watching TV than any other activity except sleeping, and by age 18 a child has spent more time in front of a TV than at school.

There have been numerous articles looking at the content of television and how commercials influence children's (and adults') desires for certain foods or material goods (e.g., toys), and how violence seen on television (even in cartoons) leads to more aggressive behavior in children (Fischer et. al. 1991, Singer 1989, Zuckerman 1985). Concerns have been raised about who is teaching our children and the developmental appropriateness of what is presented on TV to toddlers, children, and even adolescents. Miles Everett, Ph.D., in his book, How Television Poisons Children's Minds, points out that we don't allow our child to talk to strangers, yet through television we allow strangers into the minds and souls of our children everyday. These "strangers" (advertising agencies), whose motivations are often monetary, are creating the standards for what is "good" or developmentally appropriate for the developing brains of our children.

More importantly, several investigators (Healy 1990, Pearce 1992, Buzzell 1998, Winn 1985) have drawn attention to the actual act of viewing television as even more insidious and potentially damaging to the brain of the developing child than the actual content of what's on TV. So what are we doing to our children's potential by allowing them to watch television?

Question: How does a child's brain develop and how does a child learn?

Joseph Chilton Pearce in his book, Evolution's End, sees a child's potential as a seed that needs to be nurtured and nourished in order to grow properly. If the environment doesn't provide the necessary nurturing (and protections from over-stimulation), then certain potentials and abilities cannot be realized. The infant is born with 10 billion nerve cells or neurons and spends the first three years of life adding billions of glial cells to support and nourish these neurons (Everett 1992). These neurons are then capable of forming thousands of interconnections with each other via spider-like projections called dendrites and longer projections called axons that extend to other regions of the brain.

It is important to realize that a six-year-old's brain is 2/3 the size of an adult's though it has 5 - 7 times more connections between neurons than does the brain of an 18-month-old or an adult (Pearce 1992). The brain of a 6 - 7 year old child appears to have a tremendous capacity for making thousands and thousands of dendrite connections among neurons. This potential for development ends around age 10 - 11 when the child loses 80% of these neural connections (Pearce 1992, Buzzell 1998). It appears that what we don't develop or use, we lose as a capacity. An enzyme is released within the brain and literally dissolves all poorly myelinated pathways (Pearce 1992, Buzzell 1998).

In the developing child, there is a progression of brain development from the most primitive core (action) brain, to the limbic (feeling) brain, and finally to the most advanced neocortex, or thought brain. There are critical periods for brain development when the stimulus must be present for the capacity to evolve (for example, language). There is also plasticity in brain development so that even adults can make new dendritic connections, but they have to work harder to establish pathways which were more easily made in childhood.

[Figure (Pearce 1992) shows a brain cross-section with labels. 1. Thought: New Mammalian "Human" Brain 2. Feeling: Old Mammalian Limbic System 3. Action: Reptillian R-System]

The core (action) brain is dedicated to our physical survival and manages reflexes, controls our motor movements, monitors body functions, and processes information from our senses. Along with the limbic (feeling) brain, it is involved in the "flight or fight" response that our body has to a dangerous or threatening situation. Humans react physically and emotionally before the thought brain has had time to process the information (Buzzell 1998).

Our limbic (feeling) brain wraps around our core (action) brain and processes emotional information (e.g., our likes - dislikes, love - hate polarities). Our feeling brain gives meaning and value to our memories and what we learn. It influences behavior based on emotional feelings and has an intimate relationship to our immune system and capacity to heal. It is involved in the forming of our intimate relationships and emotional bonds (e.g., between mother and child) and is connected with our dreaming, subtle intuitive experiences and the daydreams and fantasies that originate from the thought brain (Healy 1990). This feeling brain connects the more highly evolved thought brain to the more primitive action brain. Our lower action brain can be made to follow the will of our thought brain or our higher thought brain can be "locked into" the service of the lower action-feeling brain during an emergency that is real or imagined (Pearce 1992). The action and feeling brains can't distinguish real from imaginary sensory input. It is a survival advantage to react first and think later.

Finally our thought brain, the neocortex, represents our highest and newest form of intellect. It receives extensive input from the core (action) brain and limbic (feeling) brain and has the potential of separating itself and being the most objective part of the brain. It connects us to our higher self. However, the neocortex needs more time to process the images from the action and feeling brains. It is also the part of the brain that has the most potential for the future, and it is the place where our perceptions (experiences), recollections, feelings, and thinking skills all combine to shape our ideas and actions (Everett 1997). The thinking brain is "5 times larger than the other brains combined and provides intellect, creative thinking, computing and, if developed, sympathy, empathy, compassion and love" (Pearce 1992).

There is a sequential development (a progressive myelination of nerve pathways) of the child's brain from the most primitive (action) brain to the limbic (feeling) brain and finally to the most highly evolved thought brain, or neocortex. Myelination involves covering the nerve axons and dendrites with a protective fatty-protein sheath. The more a pathway is used, the more myelin is added. The thicker the myelin sheath, the faster the nerve impulse or signal travels along the pathway. For these reasons, it is imperative that the growing child receives developmentally appropriate input from their environment in order to nourish each part of the brain's development and promote the myelination of new nerve pathways. For example, young children who are in the process of forming their motor-sensory pathways and sense organs (the action brain) need repetitive and rhythmical experiences in movement.

Children also need experiences that stimulate and integrate their senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Their senses need to be protected from over-stimulation, since young children are literally sponges. Children absorb all they see, hear, smell, taste and touch from their environment since they haven't developed the brain capacity to discriminate or filter out unpleasant or noxious sense experiences. The sense of touch is especially crucial since our culture and its hospital birth practices (including the high rate of C-sections) and, until recently, its discouragement of breast-feeding, deprive infants of critical multi-sensory experiences.

The stimulation and development of our sense organs is the precursor to the development of part of our lower brain, called the Reticular Activating System (RAS). The RAS is the gateway through which our sense impressions coordinate with each other and then travel to the higher thought brain. The RAS is the area of the brain that allows us to attend and focus our attention. Impairments in motor-sensory pathways lead to impairments in children's attention span and ability to concentrate (Buzzell 1998). Over-stimulation and under-stimulation of our senses and poorly developed fine and gross motor movements may lead to impairments in attention.

By age 4, both the core (action) and limbic (feeling) brains are 80% myelinated. After age 6-7, the brain's attention is shifted to the neocortex (thought brain) with myelination beginning first on the right side or hemisphere and later joined by the left hemisphere. The right hemisphere is the more intuitive side of the brain, and it particularly responds to visual images. It grasps wholes, shapes and patterns and focuses on the big picture rather than the details. It directs drawing and painting and monitors melodies and harmonies of music. It is especially responsive to novelty and color and is the dominant hemisphere when watching TV (Healy, 1990, Everett 1997).

The left hemisphere dominates when a child reads, writes and speaks. It specializes in analytical and sequential thinking and step-by-step logical reasoning. It analyzes the sound and meaning of language (e.g., phonic skills of matching sound to letters of the alphabet). It manages fine muscle skills and is concerned with order, routine and details. The ability to comprehend science, religion, math (especially geometry) and philosophy relies on abstract thinking characteristic of the left hemisphere.

Even though we emphasize which functions of learning are performed by which hemisphere, there is a crucial connection between the two hemispheres called the corpus callosum. It consists of a large bundle of nerve pathways that form a bridge between the left and right hemispheres. It is one of the brain's latest-maturing parts. The left and right sides of the body learn to coordinate with each other by this pathway. Gross motor activities like jumping rope, climbing, running, and circle games and fine motor activities like form drawing, knitting, pottery, origami, woodworking, embroidery, and bread-making are crucial to myelinating this pathway and lead to more flexible manipulation of ideas and a creative imagination. This pathway provides the interplay between analytic and intuitive thinking, and several neuropsychologists believe that poor development of this pathway affects the right and left hemispheres' effective communication with each other and may be a cause of attention and learning difficulties (Healy 1990).

We myelinate our pathways by using them. Movements of our bodies combine with experiences of our senses to build strong neural pathways and connections. For example, when a toddler listens to the sound of a ball bouncing on the floor, tastes and smells the ball or pushes, rolls and throws the ball, neurons are making dendritic connections with each other. When a toddler examines balls of varying sizes, shapes, weights and textures, a field of thousands (and possibly millions) of interconnecting neurons can be created around the "word" ball (Pearce 1992). Repetition, movement, and multisensory stimulation are the foundations of the language development and higher level thinking. The toddler's repetitive experiences, with an object like a ball, create images or pictures in his/her brain. "The images of the core limbic brain form much of the elemental "food" for the remarkable and progressive abstracting abilities of the associative high cortex [neocortex]" (Buzzell 1998).

Question: What is so harmful to the mind about watching television?

Watching television has been characterized as multi-leveled sensory deprivation that may be stunting the growth of our children's brains. Brain size has been shown to decrease 20-30% if a child is not touched, played with or talked to (Healy 1990). In addition when young animals were placed in an enclosed area where they could only watch other animals play, their brain growth decreased in proportion to the time spent inactively watching (Healy 1990). Television really only presents information to two senses: hearing and sight. In addition, the poor quality of reproduced sound presented to our hearing and the flashing, colored, fluorescent over-stimulating images presented to our eyes cause problems in the development and proper function of these two critical sense organs (Poplawski 1998).

To begin with, a child's visual acuity and full binocular (three-dimensional) vision are not fully developed until 4 years of age, and the picture produced on the television screen is an unfocused (made up of dots of light), two-dimensional image that restricts our field of vision to the TV screen itself. Images on TV are produced by a cathode ray gun that shoots electrons at phosphors (fluorescent substances) on the TV screen. The phosphors glow and this artificially produced pulsed light projects directly into our eyes and beyond affecting the secretions of our neuro-endocrine system (Mander 1978). The actual image produced by dots of light is fuzzy and unfocused so that our eyes, and the eyes of our children, have to strain to make the image clear. Television, like any electrical appliance and like power lines, produces invisible waves of electromagnetism. Last June, a panel convened by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences decided there was enough evidence to consider these invisible waves (called electromagnetic fields or EMFs) as possible human carcinogens. In the article it was recommended that children sit at least 4 feet from TV and 18 inches from the computer screen (Gross 1999).

Our visual system, "the ability to search out, scan, focus, and identify whatever comes in the visual field" (Buzzell 1998), is impaired by watching TV. These visual skills are also the ones that need to be developed for effective reading. Children watching TV do not dilate their pupils, show little to no movement of their eyes (i.e., stare at the screen), and lack the normal saccadic movements of the eyes (a jumping from one point to the next) that is critical for reading. The lack of eye movement when watching television is a problem because reading requires the eyes to continually move from left to right across the page. The weakening of eye muscles from lack of use can't help but negatively impact the ability and effort required to read. In addition, our ability to focus and pay attention relies on this visual system. Pupil dilation, tracking and following are all part of the reticular activating system. The RAS is the gateway to the right and left hemispheres. It determines what we pay attention to and is related to the child's ability to concentrate and focus. The RAS is not operating well when a child watches television. A poorly integrated lower brain can't properly access the higher brain.

In addition, the rapid-fire change of television images, which occurs every 5 to 6 seconds in many programs and 2 to 3 seconds in commercials (even less on MTV), does not give the higher thought brain a chance to even process the image. It reportedly takes the neocortex anywhere from 5 to 10 seconds to engage after a stimulus (Scheidler 1994). The neocortex is our higher brain, but also needs a greater processing time to become involved.

All the color combinations produced on the television screen result from the activation of only three types of phosphors: red, blue and green. The wavelengths of visible light produced by the activation of these phosphors represents an extremely limited spectrum compared to the wavelengths of light we receive when viewing objects outdoors in the full spectrum of reflected rays from the sun. Another problem with color television is that the color from it is almost exclusively processed by the right hemisphere so that left hemisphere functioning is diminished and the corpus callosum (the pathway of communication between the brain's hemispheres) is poorly utilized (i.e., poorly myelinated).

Reading a book, walking in nature, or having a conversation with another human being, where one takes the time to ponder and think, are far more educational than watching TV. The television -- and computer games -- are replacing these invaluable experiences of human conversations, storytelling, reading books, playing "pretend" (using internal images created by the child rather than the fixed external images copied from television), and exploring nature. Viewing television represents an endless, purposeless, physically unfulfilling activity for a child. Unlike eating until one is full or sleeping until one is no longer tired, watching television has no built-in endpoint. It makes a child want more and more without ever being satisfied (Buzzell 1998).

Question: Well, what about watching Sesame Street, isn't it educational for our children? Doesn't it teach them how to read?

Jane Healy, Ph.D., in her book, Endangered Minds, wrote an entire chapter entitled "Sesame Street and the Death of Reading". In addition to the concerns already mentioned about watching television, Sesame Street and the majority of children's programming seems to put the left hemisphere and parts of the right hemisphere into slow waves of inactivity (alpha waves). Television anesthetizes our higher brain functions and disrupts the balance and interaction between the left and right hemispheres.

Brain waves can be measured by an EEG, and variations in recorded brain waves correspond to different states of activity in the brain. In general, reading produces active, fast beta waves while television watching leads to an increase in slow alpha waves in the left hemisphere and at times even in the right hemisphere (Buzzell 1998). Once again, the left hemisphere is the critical center for reading, writing and speaking. It is the place where abstract symbols (e.g., the letters of the alphabet) are connected to sounds (phonic skills). The pulsating fluorescent light source of television may have something to do with promoting slow wave activity. Our brain "wakes up" to novelty and falls asleep or habituates to repetitive, "boring" stimuli. Advertising agencies and many children's shows (including Sesame Street) have had to counter children's tendency to habituate to television by increasing the frequency of new images, using flashing colors, close-ups, and startling, often loud, sounds. These distracters get our attention momentarily but keep us operating in our lower core and limbic brains.

The lower brain can't discern between images that are real or created on TV, because discernment is the function of the neocortex. Therefore, when the TV presents sudden close-ups, flashing lights, etc. as stimuli, the core-limbic brain immediately goes into a "fight or flight" response with the release of hormones and chemicals throughout the body. Heart rate and blood pressure are increased and blood flow to limb muscles is increased to prepare for this apparent emergency. Because this all happens in our body without the corresponding movement of our limbs, certain TV programs actually put us in a state of chronic stress or anxiety. Studies have shown atrophy of the left hemisphere in adults who are chronically stressed and only functioning from their core-limbic brain. Even as adults, what we don't use, we lose.

Finally, when our brain is simultaneously presented with visual (images on the screen) and auditory (sound) stimuli, we preferentially attend to the visual. A dramatic example of this phenomenon was illustrated when a group of young children (6-7 years old) were shown a video show where the sound track did not match the visual action and the children, when questioned, did not appear to notice the discrepancy. Therefore, even in Sesame Street, studies have shown that children are not absorbing the content of the show (Healy 1990).

Maybe the most critical argument against watching television is that it affects the three characteristics that distinguish us as human beings. In the first 3 years of life, a child learns to walk, to talk and to think. Television keeps us sitting, leaves little room for meaningful conversations and seriously impairs our ability to think.

Question: What's wrong with using television as just entertainment? I enjoyed watching Disney films like Snow White.

Television seems to have a profound effect on our feeling life and therefore, one could argue, on our soul. As human beings, we become detached from the real world by watching television. We sit in a comfortable chair, in a warm room, with plenty to eat and watch a show about people who are homeless, cold and hungry. Our hearts go out to them, but we do nothing. One could argue that reading a book could promote the same sense of unreality without action. The phrases "turn off the TV" or "get your nose out of your book" and "go do something" have meaning. Nevertheless, while reading a book (that doesn't have a lot of pictures) the child's mind creates its own pictures and has time to think about them. These thoughts could actually lead to ideas that inspire a child or adult to action. TV does not give time for this higher level of thinking that inspires deeds.

Television projects images that go directly into our emotional brain. It is said that the words we hear go into knowledge while the images we see go into our soul. Pictures that elicit emotion are processed by the limbic system and the right hemisphere of the neocortex. If no time is given to think about these emotional pictures, then the left hemisphere is not involved. Once again, watching television often eliminates the part of our brain that can make sense of, analyze and rationalize what we are seeing.

We don't forget what we see. The limbic brain is connected to our memory, and the pictures we see on TV are remembered -- either consciously, unconsciously or subconsciously. For example, it is almost impossible to create your own pictures of Snow White from reading a story if you have seen the movie. It is also true that often one is disappointed when one sees a movie after reading the book. Our imagination is so much richer than what can be shown on a screen.

The problem with television is that children get used to not using their imaginative thinking at all, and they don't exercise that part of the brain (the neocortex) that creates the pictures. Children are not reading enough, and we aren't reading or telling them enough stories to help their minds create pictures. Creating pictures is not just entertaining, but the foundation of our dreams and higher thoughts (intuitions, inspirations and imaginations). We dream, think and imagine possibilities of the future in pictures.

Finally, the heart is now seen as an organ of perception that can respond to a stimulus and release a hormone-like substance that influences brain activity. This phenomenon is referred to as our heart intelligence (Pearce 1992). Interacting with human beings is essential for the development of this intelligence. When we stand face to face and look into another person's eyes, we meet soul to soul and we get a sense of who they really are (Soesman). We get a sense of whether they mean what they say - in other words, whether they are enthusiastic and passionate about their subject. We experience their non-verbal language such as how they move, the tone of their voice, and whether their gaze shifts around when they talk. This is how we learn to discern consistency between verbal and non-verbal cues and, therefore, truth.

Television can't give us this intelligence of the heart. It can shock our emotions and we can cry, laugh or get angry, but these emotions are just reactions. When human beings speak on TV, children are often doing homework, playing games, and talking to friends while watching TV. These activities help save their visual system from the effects of TV, but the underlying message is that you don't need to listen when another person speaks or comfort anyone if you hear crying. If the heart, like the brain and probably the rest of our body, gives off electromagnetic waves (Pearce 1992, Tiller 1999), then there is a form of subtle energy that only can be experienced between human beings by relating to each other in the same physical space. This subtle energy can't be experienced by watching human beings on television. Just as we must use all our senses to construct higher level thoughts or pictures of an object, empathy and love for others does not develop from seeing human beings as objects on TV, but by actively relating, face to face, with each other.

Question: What can we do to help our children's brain develop?

  1. Keep the television turned off as much as possible. One author recommended avoiding television as much as possible for the first 12 years of your child's life and then encourage your child to always read the book first before seeing the movie. It helps to cover the TV with a cloth or store it away in a closed cabinet or closet. Out of sight really helps the child keep the TV out of mind (Large 1997). Remember that what we do serves as a role model for our children. We can't really ask our children to stop watching TV if we keep doing it - that will eventually lead to power struggles.

When the television is on, then try to neutralize its damage. Select the programs carefully and watch TV with your child so you can talk about what you see. Keep a light on when the TV is going since that will minimize the effects of the reduced field of vision and provide a different light source for the eyes. Try to sit at least 4 feet from the television and 18 inches from the computer screen. Plan to go outside (to the park, woods, or beach) after viewing television.

  1. Read a lot of books to your children (especially ones without lots of pictures) and tell your children lots of stories. Children love to hear stories about our lives when we were little or you can make them up. Bedtime and riding in the car provide good opportunities for telling stories. Telling our children stories helps to stimulate their internal picture making capabilities.

  2. Nature! Nature! Nature! Nature is the greatest teacher of patience, delayed gratification, reverence, awe and observation. The colors are spectacular and all the senses are stimulated. Many children today think being out in nature is boring, because they are so used to the fast-paced, action-packed images from TV (Poplawski 1998). We only truly learn when all our senses are involved, and when the information is presented to us in such a way that our higher brain can absorb it. Nature is reality while television is a pseudo-reality.

  3. Pay close attention to your senses and those of your child. Our environment is noisy and over-stimulating to the sense organs. What a child sees, hears, smells, tastes, and touches is extremely important to his or her development. We need to surround our children with what is beautiful, what is good and what is true. How a child experiences the world has a tremendous influence on how the child perceives the world as a teenager and adult.

  4. Have children use their hands, feet and whole body performing purposeful activities. All the outdoor activities of running, jumping, climbing, and playing jump-rope help develop our children's gross motor skills and myelinate pathways in the higher brain. Performing household chores, cooking, baking bread, knitting, woodworking, origami, string games, finger games, circle games, painting, drawing, and coloring help develop fine motor skills and also myelinate pathways in the higher brain.

Finally, the future of our children and our society is in the protection and development of our children's minds, hearts and limbs. What we are aiming for in the thoughts of our children is best summarized in this fine verse from William Blake's Auguries of Innocence:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower

Hold Infinity in the Palm of your Hand

And Eternity in an Hour.

Susan R. Johnson, M.D., Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Behavioral and Developmental Pediatrics, UCSF /Stanford Health Care and Graduate of San Francisco Waldorf Teacher Training Program of Rudolf Steiner College.

This paper was presented at the Waldorf School of San Francisco on 5/1/99 as part of a senior project.

It may be freely xeroxed and distributed!

A Developmental Perspective on the Effects of Television Viewing

The effects of TV viewing on young children can be far reaching and irreversible, especially when TV is displacing the very things that contribute to healthy development. Examining the role of television from a developmental point of view, we can ask, "What will help the child benefit fully from this phase, and how does TV viewing contribute to that process?". It may be useful to identify what a child needs, and then determine how those needs are impacted by television.

In the first few years of life, a child is tenderly open to the environment. Like a sense organ, the little one is completely vulnerable, open to any stimulation. This is the time for further development and maturation of the senses. Unlike adults, children are not able to filter out incoming stimulation. Any sense impressions experienced will be built into their sensitive organisms. Putting a baby to sleep in front of the television, or leaving a two-year old to experience the fast paced electronic imagery can have deep-rooted effects. It is important for babies to learn to use looking and vocalizing to elicit responses from others; TV does not respond to an infant's actions, coos and calls.

Some child development experts suggest that more is learned by the child in the first three years than in all subsequent life. This is the time when the child learns to walk, speak, and think, accomplishments which can only be realized through interactions with real people. During this period, sensory, emotional and physical deprivation will retard a child, while overstimulation can make a child restless, discontent and nervous. Ideally then, the little one should be protected from TV viewing which, at this age, is an assault on the senses.

During the pre-school phase, the three to six year old child's work is play. Through play, the brain develops; the mind is formed in response to experience. Children need songs, rhymes, stories and playthings that will draw them into a deeper relationship with the earth and the people around them. The natural desire and necessary task of childhood is to play and explore, to be actively engaged both practically and imaginatively. Pre-schoolers' play is full of demands and rewards for concentration, persistence, and problem-solving. Television viewing does not afford such opportunities for active exploration into reality and fantasy, nor does it require concentration, focused attention, or integration.

Children aged seven through twelve learn through creating together artistically. They are charting the world of feelings and can be helped by imaginative exploration. The imaginative life is particularly vivid at this stage, and there is a great desire for stories and images, thus the allure of T.V. Creative capacities can best be encouraged through storytelling and playacting, painting, music, crafts, movement and games. This is the time when the child develops reading and other academic skills, social relationships, and constructive past-times, all important activities which should not be crowded out by TV viewing.

At about age twelve the senses and brain have matured to a certain level whereby television viewing is not so detrimental as in the earlier years. Structural and biochemical maturation is complete around this age and brain hemispheres are differentiated. Ideally by the time children are teenagers, they will have had an opportunity to develop good reading skills, along with the constructive hobbies, pastimes, and social relationships that offer viable alternatives to television viewing.

A publication of the Green Mountain Waldorf School (



Television viewing:

Children aged 2-5 average 25 hours per week watching TV. Source: AC Nielsen Co., 1990

Children aged 6-11 average more than 22 hours per week watching TV. Source: AC Nielsen Co., 1990

Children aged 12-17 average 23 hours per week watching TV. Source: AC Nielsen Co., 1990

30% of middle-aged men (median age in the study was 39.5) watch TV 3 or more hours per day, while another 61%

watch TV 1-2 hours per day. Source: 1989 study by Larry Tucker at Brigham Young University

"By the time most Americans are 18 years old, they have spent more time in front of the television set than they have

spent in school, and far more than they have spent talking with their teachers, their friends or even their parents." Quote

from Abandoned in the Wasteland: Children, Television and the First Amendment, by Newton Minnow, former

Chairman of the FCC, and Craig LaMay, 1995

"By first grade, most children have spent the equivalent of three school years in front of the TV set." Quote from

Abandoned in the Wasteland: Children, Television and the First Amendment, by Newton Minnow, former Chairman

of the FCC, and Craig LaMay, 1995


62% of fourth graders say they spend more than three hours per day watching TV. Source: Educational Testing

Service study, 1990

64% of eighth graders report watching more than three hours of TV per day. Source: Educational Testing Service

study, 1990


By the time today's child reaches age 70, he or she will have spent approximately seven years watching TV. Source:

American Academy of Pediatrics study, 1990

Intellectual, academic, psychological and social:

"Television provides an escape from reality not unlike that of drugs or alcohol. A person can slip away into the fantasy

world offered by television programs and effectively impede the pressures and anxieties of their own lives. This is similar

to 'going on a trip' induced by drugs or alcohol." Quote from The Plug-In Drug by Marie Winn, 1985


There is a direct correlation between the amount of time a child spends watching TV and their scores on standardized

achievement tests - the more TV watched, the lower the scores. Source: 1980 study by the California Department of

Education which studied the TV habits and test scores of half a million children

"We suspect that television deters the development of imaginative capacity insofar as it preempts time for spontaneous

play." Quote from a publication distributed by the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry


"Every day, all across the United States, a parade of louts, losers and con-men whom most people would never allow in

their homes enter anyway, through television." Quote from Abandoned in the Wasteland: Children, Television and the

First Amendment, by Newton Minnow, former Chairman of the FCC, and Craig LaMay, 1995

"Unsupervised television is like letting your children play out on the street at any hour of the day or night with whomever

they come across." Quote by University of Massachusetts psychology professor Daniel R. Anderson in his 1988

study of TV's influence on children's education


"The primary danger of the television screen lies not so much in the behavior it produces - although there is danger there-

as in the behavior it prevents: the talks, the games, the family festivities and arguments..." Quote from The Plug-In Drug

by Marie Winn, 1985


On prime-time TV, men outnumber women at least 3 to 1, while in the real world, there are actually slightly more women

in the population. Source: 15-year study by Dr. George Gerbner, Dean of the Annenburg School of

Communications at the University of Pennsylvania

On prime-time TV, there are significantly smaller proportions of young people, old people, blacks, Hispanics, and other

minorities than in the U.S. population at large. Source: 15-year study by Dr. George Gerbner, Dean of the

Annenburg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania

Crime is at least 10 times as prevalent on TV as in the real world. Source: 15-year study by Dr. George Gerbner,

Dean of the Annenburg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania


Television contains substantial amounts of "irregular driving" - squealing brakes, speeding, screeching tires and property

damage. Death and physical injury were infrequent, however, and legal penalties rare. Source: 1983 study in the

Journal of Communication


The typical American child will witness 8,000 murders and 100,000 acts of televised violence in his lifetime. Source:

American Psychological Association.

"Preschoolers have difficulty separating the fantastic from the real, especially when it comes to television fare; its vividness

makes even the fantastic seem quite real." Quote from "Monitoring TV Time," by Lillian G. Katz, Parents, January


"Much of what they (children) see on TV represents violence as an appropriate way to solve interpersonal problems, to

avenge slights and insults, make up for injustice, and get what you want out of life." Quote by University of Michigan

psychologist Dr. Leonard Eron, whose landmark 22-year study of TV's effects tracked more than 800 people

from age 8 to adulthood.


More than 3,000 studies over the past 30 years offer evidence that violent programming has a measurable effect on

young minds. Source: Christian Science Monitor, July 6, 1993


In 1980, the most violent prime-time show on TV registered 22 acts of violence per hour. In 1992 the most violent

prime-time show (Young Indiana Jones) registered 60 acts of violence per hour. Source: National Coalition on

Television Violence

In 1992, WGN's "Cookie's Cartoon Club," Fox's "Tom and Jerry Kids," and Nickelodeon's "Looney Tunes" averaged

100, 88 and 80 acts of violence per hour, respectively. Source: National Coalition on Television Violence


Half of North America's murders and rapes can be attributed directly or indirectly to television viewing. Source:

Seven-year statistical analysis study by Dr. Brandon Centerwall at the University of Washington

After the introduction of television in South Africa in 1974, the murder rate among the white population increased by 56

percent over the next nine years. Source: Seven-year statistical analysis study by Dr. Brandon Centerwall at the

University of Washington

Financial, material and legal:

"...annual gross television-broadcasting revenues in the U.S. are conservatively estimated at about $25 billion..." Quote

from Abandoned in the Wasteland: Children, Television and the First Amendment, by Newton Minnow, former

Chairman of the FCC, and Craig LaMay, 1995

"Living with television means growing up in a world of about 22,000 commercials a year, 5,000 of them for food

products, more than half of which are for low-nutrition sweets and snacks." Quote by Dr. George Gerbner, Dean of

the Annenburg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania


"The airwaves are public property. No one can own them because they belong to everyone...Consequently, someone

must make certain that when the valuable portion of the spectrum is used, it is used in such a way that at least benefits the

rest of us - those who can't use it. This is called serving the public interest. Through the Communications Act the people

have given the broadcaster the exclusive right to use a portion of the airwaves, but on the condition that he or she serve

the public interest." Quote from Mass Media Law, by Don R. Pember, 1987


Body metabolism (and calorie-burning) is an average of 14.5 percent lower when watching TV than when simply lying in

bed. Source: Study by Robert Klesges at Memphis State University

Men who watch television 3 or more hours a day are twice as likely to be obese than men who watch for less than an

hour. Source: 1989 study by Larry Tucker at Brigham Young University

TV Linked to Kids' Attention Problems

4 April 2004

By LINDSEY TANNER, AP Medical Writer

CHICAGO - Researchers have found that every hour preschoolers watch television each day boosts their chances — by about 10 percent — of developing attention deficit problems later in life.

The findings back up previous research showing that television can shorten attention spans and support American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations that youngsters under age 2 not watch television.

"The truth is there are lots of reasons for children not to watch television. Other studies have shown it to be associated with obesity and aggressiveness" too, said lead author Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a researcher at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle.

The study, appearing in the April issue of Pediatrics, focused on two groups of children — aged 1 and 3 — and suggested that TV might overstimulate and permanently "rewire" the developing brain.

The study involved 1,345 children who participated in government-sponsored national health surveys. Their parents were questioned about the children's TV viewing habits and rated their behavior at age 7 on a scale similar to measures used in diagnosing attention deficit disorders.

The researchers lacked data on whether the youngsters were diagnosed with attention deficit disorders but the number of children whose parents rated them as having attention problems — 10 percent — is similar to the prevalence in the general population, Christakis said. Problems included difficulty concentrating, acting restless and impulsive, and being easily confused.

About 36 percent of the 1-year-olds watched no TV, while 37 percent watched one to two hours daily and had a 10 percent to 20 percent increased risk of attention problems. Fourteen percent watched three to four hours daily and had a 30 percent to 40 percent increased risk compared with children who watched no TV. The remainder watched at least five hours daily.

Among 3-year-olds, only 7 percent watched no TV, 44 percent watched one to two hours daily, 27 percent watched three to four hours daily, almost 11 percent watched five to six hours daily, and about 10 percent watched seven or more hours daily.

In a Pediatrics editorial, educational psychologist Jane Healy said the study "is important and long overdue" but needs to be followed up to confirm and better explain the mechanisms that may be involved.

The researchers didn't know what shows the children watched, but Christakis said content likely isn't the culprit. Instead, he said, unrealistically fast-paced visual images typical of most TV programming may alter normal brain development.

"The newborn brain develops very rapidly during the first two to three years of life. It's really being wired" during that time, Christakis said.

"We know from studies of newborn rats that if you expose them to different levels of visual stimuli ... the architecture of the brain looks very different" depending on the amount of stimulation, he said.

Overstimulation during this critical period "can create habits of the mind that are ultimately deleterious," Christakis said. If this theory holds true, the brain changes likely are permanent, but children with attention problems can be taught to compensate, he said.

The researchers considered factors other than TV that might have made some children prone to attention problems, including their home environment and mothers' mental states.

The American Academy of Pediatrics said in 1999 that children under the age of 2 should not watch television because of concerns it affects early brain growth and the development of social, emotional and cognitive skills.

Jennifer Kotler, assistant director for research at Sesame Workshop, which produces educational children's television programs including "Sesame Street," questioned whether the results in the April Pediatrics would apply to educational programming.

"We do not ignore this research," but more is needed on variables that could affect the impact of early exposure to television, including whether content or watching TV with a parent makes a difference, Kotler said.

"There's a lot of research... that supports the positive benefits of educational programming," she said.

Sent: Sunday, September 26

Subject: Message to Reza Ganjavi

Re: TV and Our Children's Minds

Great article. My daughter is now three years and one month, and I have unplugged the tv again today. The videos will be going soon. In the last eight months she

has had five months of limited to no tv exposure, and the effects on her are quite evident. Without tv, she engages in more activities and for longer periods, and is not as defiant. She is a high iq kid, and I have found myself looking at adhd and hi iq comparisons in young children. Also have looked at a few more articles regarding television viewing and brain wave functions.(and what relevance they might have to adhd or adhd like behavior)

Several articles mention the reduced alpha function, but I can't seem to find anything regarding theta functions.

If there is any information on this, I would appreciate knowing where to look.

My inclination to eliminate tv and bring more nature into

my daughter's life has found ample support with this article.

Thank you.

Denise H.

Health warning for 'square-eyed' youngster

Millions of children and teenagers could be damaging their health by watching too much television, a new study showed today

Those who sat in front of the TV for more than two hours a day were at higher risk of smoking, gaining excess weight, and having high cholesterol as adults

Their cardiovascular fitness – a measure of how well the heart is working - was also more likely to be poor at the age of 26

Scientists in New Zealand who carried out the study urged parents to limit their children’s TV viewing to no more than one to two hours a day

Ideally, youngsters should be rationed to less than an hour a day, they said

An expert commenting on the results said they strengthened the case for a ban on food advertisements aimed at children

The study led by Dr Robert Hancox, at the University of Otago, New Zealand, involved about 1,000 children born in 1972 and 1973

They were followed up at various intervals until early adulthood. During this time, parents provided details of weekly television viewing

At the age of 26, assessments were made of participants’ body mass index (BMI) - a measurement relating height and weight – blood pressure, cholesterol, and cardiovascular fitness.

Writing in The Lancet medical journal, the researchers said a clear link was found between extensive TV viewing and a range of heightened health risks.

They estimated that among 26-year-olds, 17% of being overweight, 15% of raised blood cholesterol, 17% of smoking and 15% of poor cardiovascular fitness could be attributed to watching television for more than two hours a day during childhood and adolescence.

No link was found between television viewing and blood pressure, however.

The associations remained after adjustment for factors such as social background, BMI at age five, parents’ BMI, parental smoking, and physical activity at 15 years old.

Dr Hancox said: “Although the adult health indicators that we have found to be associated with child and adolescent television viewing are unlikely to result in clinical health problems by the age of 26 years, they are well established risk factors for cardiovascular illness and death later in life.

“Our results suggest that excessive television viewing in young people is likely to have far-reaching consequences for adult health.

“We concur with the American Academy of Pediatrics that parents should limit children’s viewing to one to two hours per day; in fact, data suggest that less than one hour a day would be even better.”

He acknowledged that parents might find it difficult to impose such a regime and would need a lot of support and encouragement.

But he pointed out that it was worth the effort because adult lifestyle changes aimed at losing weight, improving fitness, lowering cholesterol levels and giving up smoking were “notoriously difficult to achieve”.

In an accompanying article, American expert Dr David Ludwig, from Harvard Medical School in Boston, said it was now clearer than ever that TV food advertisements targeting children should be banned.

He said: “The argument for action is based not only on strong scientific evidence, but also on common sense.

“In an era when childhood obesity has reached crisis proportions, the commercial food industry has no business telling toddlers to consume fast food, soft drinks, and high-calorie, low-quality snacks – all products linked to excessive weight gain.”

A precedent for limiting the marketing of products seen as harmful to children already existed in the form of restrictions on the sale of tobacco, he argued.

Dr Ludwig said: “Measures to limit television viewing in childhood and ban food advertisements aimed at children are warranted, before another generation is programmed to become obese.”

A spokeswoman for CBBC, which broadcasts BBC TV programmes for children, said average children’s television viewing in the UK had fallen from 166 minutes a day in 2001 to 154 minutes in the first three months of this year.

She said: “It’s perhaps too simplistic to point the finger at TV viewing. There may be far more complex reasons why children sit around at home more and take too little exercise, for instance the fact that we live in a risk-averse society.

“Twenty years ago 80% of children either walked or cycled to school, and last year it was just 5%, which is a massive reduction.

“Children also spend a lot of time using computers. A recent report said 87% of kids played on a computer game last year, and 75% of seven to 14-year-olds have a PC at home.

“Sedentary behaviour should be a cause for concern, but we should sound a note of caution about looking for a single factor behind it.”

She said CBBC offered a range of programmes, many of which were designed to encourage our-door activities and sport.

Below is a document signed in July by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and five other prominent medical groups about the connection between media and violent or aggressive behavior in some children. Please also access the AAP Media Matters page.

Joint Statement on

the Impact of Entertainment Violence on Children

Congressional Public Health Summit

We, the undersigned, represent the public health community. As with any community. there exists a diversity of viewpoints - but with many matters, there is also consensus. Although a wide variety of viewpoints on the import and impact of entertainment violence on children may exist outside the public health community, within it, there is a strong consensus on many of the effects on children's health, well-being and development.

Television, movies, music, and interactive games are powerful learning tools, and highly influential media. The average American child spends as much as 28 hours a week watching television, and typically at least an hour a day playing video games or surfing the Internet. Several more hours each week are spent watching movies and videos, and listening to music. These media can, and often are, used to instruct, encourage, and even inspire. But when these entertainment media showcase violence - and particularly in a context which glamorizes or trivializes it - the lessons learned can be destructive.

There are some in the entertainment industry who maintain that 1) violent programming is harmless because no studies exist that prove a connection between violent entertainment and aggressive behavior in children, and 2) young people know that television, movies, and video games are simply fantasy. Unfortunately, they are wrong on both counts.

At this time, well over 1000 studies - including reports from the Surgeon General's office, the National Institute of Mental Health, and numerous studies conducted by leading figures within our medical and public health organizations - our own members - point overwhelmingly to a causal connection between media violence and aggressive behavior in some children. The conclusion of the public health community, based on over 30 years of research, is that viewing entertainment violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and behavior, particularly in children.

Its effects are measurable and long-lasting. Moreover, prolonged viewing of media violence can lead to emotional desensitization toward violence in real life.

The effect of entertainment violence on children is complex and variable. Some children will be affected more than others. But while duration, intensity, and extent of the impact may vary, there are several measurable negative effects of children's exposure to violent entertainment. These effects take several forms.

Children who see a lot of violence are more likely to view violence as an effective way of settling conflicts. Children exposed to violence are more likely to assume that acts of violence are acceptable behavior.

Viewing violence can lead to emotional desensitization towards violence in real life. It can decrease the likelihood that one will take action on behalf of a victim when violence occurs.

Entertainment violence feeds a perception that the world is a violent and mean place. Viewing violence increases fear of becoming a victim of violence, with a resultant increase in self-protective behaviors and a mistrust of others.

Viewing violence may lead to real life violence. Children exposed to violent programming at a young age have a higher tendency for violent and aggressive behavior later in life than children who are not so exposed.

Although less research has been done on the impact of violent interactive entertainment (video games and other interactive media) on young people, preliminary studies indicate that the negative impact may be significantly more severe than that wrought by television, movies, or music. More study is needed in this area, and we urge that resources and attention be directed to this field,

We in no way mean to imply that entertainment violence is the sole, or even necessarily the most important factor contributing to youth aggression, anti-social attitudes, and violence. Family breakdown, peer influences, the availability of weapons, and numerous other factors may all contribute to these problems. Nor are we advocating restrictions on creative activity. The purpose of this document is descriptive, not prescriptive: we seek to lay out a clear picture of the pathological effects of entertainment violence. But we do hope that by articulating and releasing the consensus of the public health community, we may encourage greater public and parental awareness of the harms of violent entertainment, and encourage a more honest dialogue about what can be done to enhance the health and well-being of America's children.

Donald E. Cook, MD


American Academy of Pediatrics

Clarice Kestenbaum, MD


American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

L. Michael Honaker, PhD.

Deputy Chief Executive Officer

American Psychological Association

Dr. E. Ratcliffe Anderson, Jr. MD

Executive Vice President

American Medical Association

American Academy of Family Physicians

American Psychiatric Association


American Academy of Pediatrics

601 13th Street NW Suite 400 North

Contact: Marjorie Tharp

American Psychological Association

750 First Street NE - fifth floor

Contact: Jeff McIntyre or Bill Horvath

American Medical Association

1101 Vermont Avenue 12th floor

Contact: Margaret Garikes or Pam Korland or Dianna Perry

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

3615 Wisconsin Avenue NW

Contact: Nuala Moore

TV is bad for children's education, studies say

By Andrew Stern

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The more time children spend watching television the poorer they perform academically, according to three studies published on Monday.

Excessive television viewing has been blamed for increasing rates of childhood obesity and for aggressive behavior, while its impact on schooling have been inconclusive, researchers said.

But studies published on the topic in this month's Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine concluded television viewing tended to have an adverse effect on academic pursuits.

For instance, children in third grade (approximately 8 years old) who had televisions in their bedrooms -- and therefore watched more TV -- scored lower on standardized tests than those who did not have sets in their rooms.

In contrast, the study found having a home computer with access to the Internet resulted in comparatively higher test scores.

A researcher states, “Compared with people who watched less than two hours of television daily, those who watched more than four hours a day had a 46 percent higher risk of death from all causes and an 80 percent increased risk for CVD-related death.”

With every hour spent in front of the TV, there is an 11 percent increased risk of death from all causes, 9 percent higher risk of cancer death, and an 18 percent risk of a CVD related death.

"Our findings give some reassurance that it is fine to limit TV viewing," she said. "In fact, it may result in stronger relationships between young people, their friends and their parents."

"In both studies, we found that high television use, or even high computer use, was related to relationship issues," Richards said, adding that strong relationships with parents and friends are important for the healthy development of teens to adulthood.


T.V. FAQ's

Isn't some TV worthwhile, positive ­ even educational?

There is some research which seems to demonstrate that children and adults can be educated by certain types of TV shows. It

is also true that some programming is informative and worthwhile. That being said, one should not immediately jump for the "on"

button, because we have to weigh these positive aspects of TV against the negatives.

Take a show like "Sesame Street," for example. Yes, there have been studies which have indicated that "Sesame Street" can

improve a child's ability to recognize letters and numbers, among other things. However, "Sesame Street," like the vast majority

of children's programming, is designed to hold a child's interest by flashing a barrage of sound and movement at a very fast rate.

There is compelling research which indicates that this barrage of sound and movement shortens the attention span. Thus, Suzi

might spend her first five years watching "educational" children's TV, and learn quite a bit from it. But when Suzi gets into

elementary school, all of her knowledge won't help her when she can't focus and concentrate on schoolwork (and life in general)

because she has a short attention span.

My point is this: Yes, TV can offer good programming. But that fact alone is not enough to outweigh the numerous negative side

effects of TV. Yes, if you watch a VERY little TV (1-5 hours per week) and are VERY selective about what you watch, you

will not suffer adverse effects. But even 1-5 hours per week of "educational" TV has dangers:

The biggest danger of "selectively" watching TV is that it opens the door to un-selective watching. TV is like an addictive

drug. The network programmers are like the drug pushers - they are doing everything they can to get you hooked on

their product. A little bit of TV means that the TV is there, in your living room, waiting. Waiting for you or your children

to have a spare moment and flip it on. Waiting for you to turn on an "educational" show and then get sucked into hours of

crap TV.

Every hour spent watching "educational" TV is an hour not spent reading, talking to your family, playing a game, going on

a hike, building forts out of blankets, baking cookies - all of which are also educational activities. Watching "Magic

School Bus" is fine, but wouldn't kids be better off in the back yard with a magnifying glass and a picture book about


Even "educational" TV is a product. No matter what you think, you don't get it for free. One way or another, you have to

pay for it - in the cost of products the show advertises, in the cost of products sold by the companies that support the

show, in taxes (if it's public television), in cable costs...SOMEHOW you are paying for the actors, the animators, the

sets, the technical people, etc. You may be willing to pay the price, but most likely you just don't think about the costs.

Even "educational" TV is still TV. The physical and health concerns are still there. The warped social messages may still

be prevalent, etc.

For further thoughts on this issue, check my "5 most common reasons for watching" or some of my links.

Is it TV that's bad, or the people in the industry?

Tough question. Certainly I don't believe that the technology of TV is an inherently evil thing. A TV is just a box with wires,

silicon and glass inside. I also do not believe that everyone who works in the television industry is a ruthless, greedy,

self-serving, immoral person. One of my best friends, in fact, works for a cable TV company. However, I think some people,

particularly at the higher levels of the industry, are ruthless, greedy, self-serving, immoral people. They certainly must know of

the physical and psychological effects of TV on individuals, particularly children. They must know of its effects on society. The

must know it fosters materialism and greed. They must know that it keeps lesser-educated people from seeking to better their

lives, while at the same time decreasing self-worth and making people feel inadequate. They must know it's addictive (Don't

believe that? Try going without it for a month). Somewhere at ABC, at CBS, at NBC and at FOX, there are people who know

all of this. But they keep doing it. Why? To make a buck. I hope their money makes them VERY happy, because I don't know

how they can live with themselves.

What do people say when you tell them you don't watch TV?

They usually start telling me how they "hardly ever watch the thing." Except Star Trek. And the news, of course. And Oprah

sometimes. And....

Don't you EVER see ANY television?

I don't think it is possible to live in Western society and NEVER see TV. It's just ingrained in our society too much. That in itself

scares me. You find TV in just about everybody's home, in restaurants, in classrooms, in's all over. It's as if people

can't be without it. But back to the question. I can't speak for other anti-television activists, but as far as my own family goes,

we did not own a television for six or seven years. Recently, we bought a TV/VCR combination so that we could play

videotapes which we either rent or buy. I realize that may make me a hypocrite in some people's eyes, but I am comfortable

that the videos we see are not the same as commercial TV. Anti-television activism has many degrees - some people say all TV,

videos and video games are bad, some people just advise cutting down the number of hours your family watches. Personally, I

think a National Geographic video once a week for young children and a quality movie once a week for the older members of

the family is plenty.

How do you get any information about the world?

I don't think TV is a very good source of news and information anyway. I read two newspapers most days, and subscribe to

three or four monthly publications. I love to attend sports events at all levels and I listen to some games on the radio. I can get

my weather reports and breaking news from the Internet. I consider myself to be pretty well-informed, and I think that I would

have to watch TV 24 hours a day to stay as well-informed if I cut out all my other information sources. I realize that none of my

information sources are entirely free from commercialism. That's fine. I can live with that.

Aren't computers and the Internet just as bad as TV?

Not at all. Computers and the Internet have their downsides, of course. Certain games and types of websites can become

psychologically addicting if you let them. Nevertheless, for the most part, computer applications are interactive. They require the

user (note the word "user" instead of "viewer") to DO something, to think about something, then act, then think again. There is

somewhat less commercialism and definitely greater public access on the Internet. (Do you think I could get a TV station to air

the views I'm expressing right now?)

Isn't life without TV boring?

No. Quite the opposite.

Won't your kids be social rejects?

My kids will go to kindergarten with no idea who the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers are. But my four-year old typed me a

rather lengthy note on the computer this morning. He loves when I read him The Chronicles of Narnia, Ramona the Pest, The

Hobbit, and The Boxcar Children. He is helping his two-year old brother to sound out written words. Who wants their kids'

worth and popularity to be based on whether or not they saw last night's episode of ___________ (fill in the blank)?

5 common reasons for watching TV - and how these reasons fall short

1) I watch TV for the news.

Plain and simply, TV news content is determined by what will score high in the ratings, not by what stories are important

for viewers to see. Of course, no news medium is completely free of the influence of advertisers. However, print media

has a long tradition of news writers and editors who pride themselves on their willingness to print stories regardless of the

flak they may take from their advertisers. TV newsmakers have no such tradition. Furthermore, TV news shows must

depend more heavily on their advertisers because they do not have any alternate sources of income - whereas print

media charge subscription fees.

The end result is that TV news shows must do everything possible to ensure that people keep watching (so that their

ratings, and their advertising dollars, don't drop). That's why TV news shows are filled with 30-second stories on such

topics as gruesome killings, car chases, dancing bears, hot air ballooons, snake charmers, etc. These types of stories are

much more interesting and exciting than, say, what your local congressional representatives are up to. These types of

stories score high in the ratings - but are they really the most important news of the day?

For more information on TV news, visit this site!

2) What's wrong with a little entertainment?

Nothing, if that is all it is. Unfortunately, however, the purpose of television is not to entertain you. The networks want

you to think that they produce TV shows just for your pleasure. Gee, aren't they nice? Think about it. It costs

tremendous amounts of money to hire the actors, writers and technical producers for a TV show. It costs additional

money for sets, studios, props, etc. Where is all that money coming from? From the companies that buy commercial time

on the shows, of course. But where do they get the money? From the profit the companies make on the products they're


I know, I know. You are not affected by commercials. You leave the room or turn down the volume, or don't pay

attention to them. The only problem is, why don't those companies go out of business, if they spend all that money on

commercials that don't affect anyone? Those companies are actually making A LOT of money. They are not so stupid as

to keep buying TV commercials if they don't influence us. TV's purpose isn't to entertain us - its purpose is to round us

up, like so many cattle, so that we can be talked out of our money by any corporation that wants to buy commercial time.

3) It keeps the kids off the streets, or out of my hair.

It used to be that parents raised their kids. Now, all too frequently, the kids are being raised by the X-Men, Mighty

Morphin Power Rangers, Beavis and Butthead, and Rikki Lake.

4) TV is educational.

OK, I will almost buy this one. I will admit that there is a miniscule amount of programming on PBS and some cable

channels which can provide educational information. In fact, very often this programming is well-produced, well-written

and beautifully-filmed. But certainly there are not 25 hours per week of this type of programming. Given the choice, do

you think most kids will watch the educational programs? Of course not.

Books are educational too, but I have yet to meet a kid who screams, cries, and throws a fit when he's told to close a

book and go up to bed.

5) TV is the only way to see some sporting events, since ticket prices have skyrocketed.

I am a huge sports fan, and I agree that TV is the only way that a lot of people can attend a game. But I am also

convinced that TV has done more to hurt amateur and professional sports than anything else. Listen to some of the major

complaints that sports fans have today: The athletes are over-paid crybabies who don't love the game as much as their

big-money contracts; ticket prices are outrageous; the games are too commercial now; etc. Why do you think all these

things have happened? It is because sports are controlled by the advertisers and the networks, who are out to make

money. Ultimately, who pays for the multi-million dollar contracts and the new stadiums? The fans pay - in their taxes,

their ticket purchases, but mostly, they pay in the form of over-priced goods which are advertised on TV during the games.

You may hate the greed and commercialism in sports today, and you may think there is nothing you can do about it. But

each time you turn on the TV and watch a game, the ratings go up, and you are sending a little message to the networks,

the advertisers and the team owners that it is OK for them to take the sport down the road it is going.

Eh-Oh! American Academy of Pediatrics recommend no TV for children under two years!

No wonder the Teletubbies talk funny!

A new policy statement of the American Academy of Pediatrics has made clear what many parents have suspected for a long time: Television is bad for young children. In the August issue of the Academy's journal Pediatrics the report's authors write: "Pediatricians should urge parents to avoid television viewing for children under the age of 2 years." It continues: "While certain television programmes may be promoted to this age group, research on early brain development shows that babies and toddlers have a critical need for direct interactions with parents and other significant care givers for healthy brain growth and development of appropriate social, emotional and cognitive skills." The Academy also recommends that viewing for older children be limited to two hours a day.

Media commentators seemed unable to come to grips with the simplicity and directness of the Academy's message. Many were left clinging to their usual advice that 'moderation is best'. Anne Woods, producer of the Teletubbies, tried to reassure parents that watching her programme was somehow an interactive experience for children, and the programme's US marketer, Kenn Viselman, dismissed the advice of the 55,000 doctors as "a bunch of malarky".

But the Academy is not going away. They have also advised their members to ask parents about "media history" when treating eating disorders and obesity. Their report will add to concerns raised in 1996 by a study in Manchester showing that exposure to television caused delayed acquisition of language in toddlers. Eh-oh!

Millions of people don't watch TV and we're having a great time!

What are you missing? If you're like most people in Britain or America, you’re spending four hours every day staring at a piece of furniture. Television eats up half the time you are not working or sleeping - ten years for the average person. All those things you want to be: a lover, a parent, a scholar, a wild teenager or a pillar of the community - when are you going to do all that? TV takes away your real life.

White Dot magazine is published quarterly in Chicago and Brighton.

March 10 2003

Study Links Aggressive Adults, TV Viewing

By MALCOLM RITTER, AP Science Writer

People who watch violent television as children behave more aggressively even 15 years later, according to one of the few TV violence studies to follow children into adulthood. The study linked violent TV viewing at ages 6 to 9 to such outcomes as spouse abuse and criminal convictions in a person's early 20s. ...Joanne Cantor, professor emerita of communications at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, called the new study "a very strong addition to what I consider a large amount of data that points in the same direction."

Summary of Research on the Effects of Television Viewing

U.S. surveys indicate that 7-17 year olds average between 25-30 hours per week, while pre-schoolers may be viewing up to 60 hrs/wk. In 1971 average viewing time for pre-school children was 34 hrs/wk; most recent figures suggest 54 hrs/wk. This means that in many instances, the majority of a child's waking hours are spent with TV on. Pre-school children make up the largest TV audience in the U.S.

Surveys further indicate that by the time children graduate from high school, they will have spent more hours in TV viewing than in school. Assuming an average of 3 hrs/day, children view 20,000 commercials a year. By age 16, they will have witnessed 200,000 violent acts, including 33,000 murders.

Numerous scientific studies have assessed the effects of TV on children, evaluating the question from many points of view. Following is a brief review of research findings.

Effects on sensory development

Children who are actively playing will have more opportunity to develop their senses than children passively viewing. By its very nature, TV is an impoverished sensory environment. In a recent study comparing TV viewing with laboratory simulated sensory deprivation, researchers found that 96 hours of laboratory induced sensory deprivation produced the same effects on the person as only a few minutes of TV viewing. Normal sensory experience is vital to maintaining a balanced state of mind and body.


While viewing, the eyes are practically motionless and `defocused' in order to take in the whole screen. Constant movement is required for healthy eye development. Visual exploration is a prerequisite of seeing, and necessary for developing a sense of depth and perspective. The two-dimensional screen does not facilitate such development The sense of sight is maturing through age 12. Excessive TV viewing, one of the most passive visual activities, can seriously impair a child's observational skills. Viewing affects not only eye mechanics, but also the ability to focus and pay attention.


Since TV is more visual than auditory, children's sense of hearing is not being fully exercised. Active listening is a skill that needs to be developed. Children need practice in processing auditory stimulation, making their own mental pictures in response to what they hear. Also, when TV is constantly on, the sense of hearing may be dulled by the persistent background noise.

Sense of wonder

The subtle rhythms and patterns of life's wonders which can only be appreciated through patient observation and experience will hold little interest for a child given a steady diet of TV. The fast paced, action-packed, high drama which is programmed to keep viewers tuned in does not accurately represent the natural world, yet it is what children come to expect. Real experiences, therefore, can't compete with TV and the child's sense of wonder is dulled.

Effects on Health

Because of the activities it displaces, TV viewing certainly impacts motor coordination, balance, and general level of fitness. Yet there are other, perhaps less obvious, effects.

Radiation and artificial light

Early research on radiation has led to a substantial reduction in the amount of X-rays being emitted. Little experimental evidence exists on the effects of artificial light on people; further research is needed before conclusions can be made. In the meantime children should be nourished as much as possible by natural light, and not `overdosed' with artificial TV light.


Elevated cholesterol and obesity are two of the most prevalent nutritional diseases among U.S. children today. TV viewing has been found to be associated with both of these conditions. Likewise, viewing correlates significantly with between-meal snacking, consumption of advertised foods, and attempts to influence mothers' food purchases.

Sleep deprivation

Many studies indicate that children are staying up late to watch TV. One reported that children as young as eight were still watching TV at 11:30pm on school nights. Teachers comment that children are too tired and irritable to work well after late night viewing. Sleep is a physical necessity, required to build up the growing organism. It is also a psychological necessity, the prerequisite for dreaming. Yet dreams after TV viewing may be disturbed, with vivid TV images resurfacing and causing nightmares.

Effects on cognitive and intellectual development

Numerous child development and educational experts express great concern with television's numbing effect on children's brains. Many reports suggest that our children's minds are not developing the way they should, and this is attributed in large measure to excessive TV viewing.

Language acquisition

In the early years, when the brain is so malleable and sensitive, TV viewing prolongs the dominance of right brain functions which induce a trance-like state. When viewed for more than 20 hours per week, TV can seriously inhibit the development of verbal-logical, left brain functions. The patterning that the brain needs for language development is hindered by viewing during this language sensitive period of infancy, and it may be more difficult to acquire speech later on. Studies document that general word knowledge and vocabulary are not effected either positively or negatively by TV, but that creative verbal fluency is lower for children who watch TV more because it does not offer time for interactive play and conversation.

Reading skills

There are more videotape stores than book stores in the U.S. today. A great many studies have documented declining literacy rates over the last thirty years. TV viewing is an easier and preferred activity compared to the challenge of book reading, especially for children who have not yet developed fluent reading skills. TV requires little concentration, de-focuses the mind, offers electronically produced images, and encourages passivity, while reading necessitates concentration, thought, focusing, and the ability to visualize. Television trains short attention spans, while reading trains long attention spans. Studies suggest that light viewers learn to read more easily than heavy viewers. Research into brain wave patterns confirm these differences. Studies of both children's and adults' brain wave patterns while viewing TV confirm that brain activity switches from beta (indicating alert and conscious attention) to alpha waves within thirty seconds of turning the set on. Greatly increased alpha waves resulted regardless of whether children were interested in the program or not. The electrical responses of the brain while viewing resemble those which do not normally occur when the eyes are open.

Effects on Creativity and Imagination

Boredom is the empty space necessary for creativity. With TV filling a child's leisure moments, the necessary void is never experienced. Additionally, the child's play is often restricted to forms prescribed by adult programmers whose primary objective is to sell toys. With pre-determined themes and ready-made playthings, little is left to the imagination.

Furthermore, when children are bombarded with TV images, their own ability to form imaginative pictures becomes severely impaired. This process of generating internal pictures is critical to the development of dendrites and neural connectors which lay the foundation for intelligence and creativity. Studies which have investigated how TV viewing affects performance in creative problem solving suggest that excessive viewing may lead to decreased attention, persistence, and tolerance. The displacement of problem solving opportunities also results in a more limited repertoire of creative solutions.

Effects on Social Development

Television is not a substitute for meeting and interacting with real people in real situations. A child cannot develop a sense of self in the absence of contact with others. While viewing, a child is not gaining practice in relating to others, and in constructive interpersonal problem solving. Furthermore, most TV problems are framed in oversimplified, black-white thinking and resolved, often violently, in one hour (less commercial breaks).

Over thirty years, findings have consistently demonstrated that violence on TV correlates with subsequent aggressive behavior. Recent evidence from an extensive longitudinal study carried out in four different countries suggests there is a sensitive period that begins before age eight when children are especially susceptible to the effects of violence shown on TV.

Effects on Perceptions of Reality

Heavy TV viewers develop a distorted sense of reality. Most notable may be an exaggerated perception of the prevalence of violence in society, which comes from an over-representation of violent acts in programs. (The frequency of violence in children's programs is six times greater than that of adults').

Pervasive sex-role and racial stereotyping further perpetuates a distorted view. A recent census of characters and their occupations depicted in prime time and childrens' programs revealed that three times as many men as women appeared on TV, and the most common jobs portrayed were in traditionally male areas.

A publication of the Green Mountain Waldorf School


Those watching TV cartoons reported half the pain as those who were being soothed by Mom. When compared with children who just sat in a hospital room with mothers who didn't try to soothe them, the TV watchers reported one-third the pain.

"The power of television is strong and it can be harmful for children if it is stronger than the force made by the mother to distract children," Bellieni said. "I believe that this power must be controlled and reduced."

In general, Mom's soothing touch may be overrated, another expert said.

Other studies have found that the mothers and fathers attempts at comforting often backfire because it makes the children feel that "something must really be bad" if they need to be soothed, said Dr. Brenda McClain, director pediatric pain management services at Yale University.

McClain, who was not part of the Italian study, said the Bellieni's effect may not be just television, but any kind of distraction, such as storytelling. "Distraction is a very powerful tool," she said.

But it's got to be passive distraction like television, not one requiring children to do anything because when they are asked to play, their reported pain levels go up, a study last year found, said Dr. Stephen Hays, director of pediatric pain services at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital.