Catholic Morality

The Hidden Dangers of Television

Children's development needs

Children learn so much in their first three years compared to the rest of their lives.  They learn to walk, to speak and experience the awakening of thinking as they grow from being babies to infants.  Through play, children develop their knowledge of things, their relationships

Television watching itself affects child development regardless of the programme content.  Recent research show that television watching adversely affects children's thinking, speaking, imagination, senses, physique, feelings, and behaviour.  It is important for parents to be aware of these effects.

T.V. watching as an experience

Television watching puts children into a passive, trance-like state where they become "TV zombies" a condition quite different from their active, playful state when not watching.  Some parents observed that: "my five year old goes into a trance when he watches TV  He just gets locked into what is happening on the screen.  He's totally, absolutely absorbed when he watches and oblivious to anything else."  After television watching children can be irritable.  "After watching they're nervous, bored, disagreeable, slowly coming back to normal."  What, then, do children experience while watching television?

TV addiction

Marie Winn calls television the 'plug-in-drug' because many people find they cannot stop watching.  People joke about being "hooked on TV"  Someone said "I watch TV the way an alcoholic drinks."

Not unlike drugs and alcohol, TV watching allows the participant to blot out the real world and enter into a pleasurable and passive mental state, where worries and anxieties cannot intrude.  The typical vacant state of someone on drugs or alcohol is very similar to the state of the TV watcher.

The eyes need to be completely passive in order to watch TV i.e. a fixed focus, no voluntary eye movements and a fixed head position.  It is as if instead of the imagery arising from within as in day dreaming, it is produced mechanically for the watcher by the television.ips with other children, their physical control and their imagination.  Playing is a child's work, and channels energy constructively into the learning processes.  It is essentially active.  Children learn through imitating other children and the adults who tell stories, nursery rhymes, speak with them, and who can provide everyday activities such as baking or making pictures.

TV retards brain development

The brain is patterned by the senses, by movement, speech, thought and imagination.  As the brain develops, children shift from a non-verbal "right hemisphere" dreaming consciousness to a verbal, logical "left hemisphere" state.  Television watching prolongs children's dependency on the right hemisphere.  The "brain" strain on children of forming 625 lines composed of over 800 dots appearing 25 times per second - into meaningful images must be considerable.  With the lack of eye movement, this strain can produce sleeplessness, anxiety, nightmares, headaches, perceptual disorders, poor concentration and blunted senses.  T. V. watching can produce sensory deprivation.

TV and speaking

Children learn to speak by talking with real people, not by listening to mechanically reproduced sound.  Real people speaking communicate the meaning of words, whereas television only reproduces the sounds, a subtle but vital difference, confusing for toddlers.  Television by emphasising the visual, reduces the need of children to learn how to speak; no verbal response is required of the child; thus speech is discouraged.

Members of a working-party on reading agreed that "Children knew nursery rhymes much less well than previously, largely because of television which was a "look and forget" rather than a "look and learn" medium.

TV encourages lazy readers

Reading involves concentration, accurate perception, imagination, the comprehension of a story line, and the freedom of the reader to vary the pace.  Television, by causing the "vacant state" undermines concentration; by an overwhelming visual impact stultifies the imagination; by blunting the senses, interferes with the mechanics of reading; and by emphasising the nonverbal reduces children's enthusiasm for words.

A reduced sense of identity

Before television, there was a children's culture rich in games, songs and rhymes.  Children could play longer, sustain interest more, play dramatically and were more active according to experienced nursery teachers.  Television watching puts children into an untypically passive state in which they are deprived of their true work which is their play.

Children develop their sense of identity, of saying "I" to themselves in meeting real people.  The people on TV are unreal, impersonal images which do little or nothing to awaken a child's sense of self.  Hence "TV children" may tend to relate to themselves and others as things, objects, tools or even machines.  This attitude may later develop into an inability to react constructively in social situations.

Anti-social behaviour

The content of violent programmes may affect children's behaviour, for children learn by imitation.  However, the nature of the TV experience regardless of programme content may cause antisocial behaviour.  Relating to others more as objects than human beings, a result of TV watching, can contribute to violence.  Also, the television experience gives an illusion of participating in an activity when in fact one is totally passive, so that children who are heavy viewers are less able to judge the feelings, expectations and problems of others in real life situations.

The effects of radiation

Radiation and artificial light may affect children's health and vitality.  The scientist Ott found that beans' growth in front of a TV set was distorted by toxic radiation into a vine like growth, with roots growing upwards out of the soil.  Ott questioned what the excessive absorption of artificial light might do to children.

Almost no educational benefit

Which is better qualified to teach a young child, a machine or another human being?  Experienced teachers have noted that children who watch quite a lot of television retain very little of its content after a short while (The "look and forget" Medium).  This could be due to the fact that the children are not called-upon to be active; they are not engaging their will-power and creating their own imaginative pictures.  The impression left by the TV images is superficial.

The American programme "Sesame Street" was specially designed to help disadvantaged pre-school children catch up cognitively and verbally with those from more fortunate backgrounds.  A 1975 survey suggests that "Sesame Street" widened the achievement gap, and that light viewers exhibited more gains in learning than heavy viewers.

What can we do?

If you feel, after reading this, that you would like to change your family's habits with regard to television, how should you go about it?  First, make sure that both parents are in agreement.  Then realise that it will be difficult to get rid of television without putting other things in its place, especially if your family have been heavy viewers.

                1 - Restrict firmly the number of programmes watched, or, if you are resolute enough, get rid of the TV set altogether.  Or put it away and use it only for very special occasions.

                2 - Offer alternative activities of a creative sort, e.g. crafts, puppetry, dressing-up drawing and painting, modelling, pets, various hobbies, sports, music, fork dancing, nature studies, gardening.

                3 - Encourage reading of well-written books (classics).  Read aloud to little ones.

                4 - Aim at a positive and warm family life, interesting mealtimes, bedtime stories, singing, nursery rhymes, etc.

                5 - Try to find friends who think the same way and help each other, e.g. organising children's parties together.


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