<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> Television can hamper a child's ability to learn

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The School Years


Your Child's Brain Wasn't Built for All That TV

TV trains the brain. It impacts neurological development. It seems so harmless, and sometimes even marvelous, but it is not a neutral force in your child’s life. This page discusses how TV can hamper a child's ability to learn.

TV Interferes with the development of intelligence, thinking skills and imagination.

A crucial element of thinking is extrapolating from what you know and figuring out how it applies in a new situation. School requires this, TV does not. In The Development of Children, Michael and Sheila Cole report on the work of G. Solomon who found that children socialized to learn from TV had lower than normal expectations about the amount of mental effort required to learn from written texts, and tended to read less and perform relatively poorly in school. (LimiTV Summary: It takes very little mental effort to follow a TV show. Kids raised on TV believe it takes less effort to learn from books because they are used to being spoon-fed information by television.)

Opportunities for a child’s imagination to develop are also denied by habitual TV viewing. Children need some unstructured time to allow imagination skills to form by thinking about a book read or a story heard, a conversation in the home, or an event in school, or just the scene outdoors.

TV conditions a child to dual stimuli: sound and images.

The persistence of TV sound and rapidly-changing images can condition a child to expect that level of stimulation in other circumstances, notably school. But there, a child will be called upon to speak, to listen to a teacher, work some problems, or read, none of which contain the attention-grabbing effect of TV’s dual stimuli.

Anecdotal information from the college level suggests that one of the main reasons professors introduce multimedia (sound and image) segments into lectures is to retain the attention of the TV-raised student. A chalk-on-the-blackboard lecture leaves many students unable to remain attentive.

Watching TV Impedes the growth of longer attention spans.

As with conditioning a child to the sound and images of television, the approximately seven minute length of program before a commercial interruption can condition a child to a seven minute attention span. The Wall Street Journal, February 10, 1994 relates the experience of professional story teller Odds Bodkin, who performs before some 10,000 people a year, most of them children. After about seven minutes, he says, restlessness sets in as their inner clocks anticipate a commercial break.

Schools expect kindergarten through second graders to have short attention spans, but also expect attention capability to increase with grade level. When that doesn’t happen, children are disadvantaged. A student who, month after month, is inattentive in class may well find it difficult to learn the material being presented.

Watching TV Interferes with the development of reading skills.

A child must learn to move the eyes back and forth across the page in order to read. But with television, the eyes fix on the screen. One hour a day in school learning to move the eyes back and forth cannot compete with four or more hours with the eyes fixed on a TV screen. It’s little wonder that many children find difficulty learning to read.

Watching TV decreases the time for developing speaking skills.

Children may hear new words on a TV show, but this is not the same as speaking. If they are watching TV, they aren’t spending time talking. Children generally start to talk by speaking single words, then progress to short sentences, then to groups of sentences. Reading to a child, and speaking to a child directly, aid the development of speaking skills. A child rarely develops proficiency with speech simply by getting older. A child spending four or more hours a day watching TV loses the time needed for conversation, and may well find difficulty becoming articulate and fluent, and be less able to speak and write in complete sentences than the child who, it seems, "just never stops talking."

Certain types of TV cultivate aggressive or violent behavior in children.

This topic has been the subject of much research over decades and the abundance of evidence supporting TV’s cultivation of aggressive behavior in children has been one of the leading factors driving the installation of a TV rating system.

The child prone to aggressive or violent behavior can find difficulty dealing appropriately with parents and siblings, with teacher authority, and with irritation by other students.

As early as the 1950s, ‘60s, and 70s, the correlation between TV violence and aggressive and violent behavior in children was documented. In 1972, a U.S. Surgeon’s General’s committee released a six-volume report, Scientific Advisory Report on Television and Social Behavior, which concluded that viewing TV violence has serious consequences for children, making a child more willing to respond with aggression in a conflict situation, more willing to harm others, and more aggressive in his or her play.

Appendix III of the report, "Television and Growing Up: The Impact of Televised Violence", concludes the following:

"The relation of third-grade television habits to later behavior now appears even more impressive. Not only is the violence of programs preferred in third grade related to peer-rated aggression in the third grade and ten years later, but it is also related positively to self-discipline and anti-social behavior ten years later on." (Appendix. III, p. 51)


Kellogg Foundation Grant
Annual TV-Turnoff Week
Feedback from Families
Activities for Children
Products to limit TV time

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