Too much telly?
Just how much of an impact does watching television have on children and young teens and how does it affect their development? Carmel Doyle reports
ACCORDING to biologist and psychologist Dr Aric Sigman, who is the author of books such as Remotely Controlled: How Television is Damaging Our Lives and The Spoilt Generation, the main thing parents need to consider is the age that children start to watch TV and the number of hours per day that they spend watching it.
" We never think of media consumption the way we think of nutritional consumption, but media is something that's consumed and early consumption has effects on children. So the best way to deal with this is by controlling and reducing consumption," he says.
Sigman points to France, where it is against the law for television broadcasters to broadcast television programmes intended for children under the age of three. Meanwhile, the US government advocates keeping screen time viewing to a maximum of two hours per day for the under-18s.
Since up to 80pc of a human's development will take place by the age of three, he says what children are exposed to up to then will have the most impact.
" The more TV they watch, the more likely they are to have certain problems later on. For example, there's a consistent relationship between how much TV children are watching and the effect on their attention."
Dr Moya O'Brien, a clinical psychologist and founding director of ICEP Europe ( www. icepe. ie), which provides online courses in psychology and special needs topics for teachers, parents and professionals, says TV shouldn't be a substitute for interacting with parents or other children.
For parents who are adamant that their young child isn't exposed to TV, she says they should not place a TV in the room where their child is playing, for example.
"If you want to change behaviours, the simplest thing is to change the environment, rather than constantly being in a situation where you are having to say 'no' and taking them away from a TV."
With older children and teens, however, O'Brien says if you try to stop them watching something it's very easy to set it up as a ' power struggle' where they are going to watch it when you're not around for instance.
" If the TV is in a room where the parent and the children can come together, then you do have an opportunity to discuss topics that come up on a TV show and to give a different point of view, if that's what your opinion is."
TVs in the bedroom?
O'Brien also doesn't agree with children having a TV in their bedroom as she says it can isolate them from their family.
" Children will always have an option to remove themselves and go down to their bedroom, but I think if they are in their room watching TV then you really don't know what they're watching. It's the same with the internet."
She says it's better to have a TV in a more public area in the home.
" Parents can monitor what they're looking at and then have a more balanced discussion about what the kids are watching."
Sigman is also against parents allowing their young child to have TVs or computers in their bedroom.
" Get children used to the idea that a screen is something which is in a family area," he suggests. " Even if it's a computer that's used for school, there's no reason why that computer can't be kept downstairs so parents can have an idea about what's going on."
The age of advertising
Both O'Brien and Sigman feel parents need to be mindful of the effect TV advertising can have on your child. O'Brien points to the American Psychological Association, whose Taskforce on Advertising and Children has called for legislation to restrict advertising aimed at kids aged eight and younger. She says this is because a younger child is unable to differentiate between commercial and non-commercial content.
And just as advertising works on adults, Sigman says it can have a powerful effect on the desires of children.
" We've never had so many commercial interests speaking directly to our children. These refined, slick messages can be transmitted directly and can affect children of all ages. There's a good argument for the outlawing of certain types of advertising to children."
He says you also have to think about what type of advertising is used, such as very slim models.
" This can lead to body dissatisfaction problems which have nothing to do with what is being advertised. It distorts the child's view of the world and gives them expectations about themselves, what they can have and what they should look like."
The problem becomes amplified in that the more TV a child watches the more advertisements they will view.
Ultimately, Sigman thinks the television issue needs to be looked at from a broader parenting perspective. " The discussion becomes more about authority and parenting. It's a much bigger picture. Children need boundaries," he concludes.
Mother & Babies