by Lisa Zyga
Studies have shown that TV is linked to a wide variety of health risks, especially in young children. Yet, the number of hours watched per day by children seems to be increasing, if anything. With satellite TV, hundreds of channels, new video games, and programs offering unlimited DVD rentals, it's enticing to take advantage of the technology and be part of the "cultural" scene. But despite how easy it is to switch on the TV to make your kids sit still, this past time has little good to offer and much risk to contend with.
Here are a few things to keep in mind the next time you decide it's "TV time."
TV affects brain development and functioning. According to the health Web site Mercola.com , when you watch TV, your brain enters alpha level, a mode where your mind is most receptive to ideas while least prepared to think critically. To quote the video, "Effective hypnosis is induced, and the viewer surrenders to the unending television image stream....Images are implanted directly into the mind without viewer participation." Of course, the conspiracy-type language should be taken with a grain of salt.
But if you think that's scary, try to imagine what young people think when watching certain shows. According to psychologists, children under seven can't distinguish between reality and fantasy, making scary-looking monsters truly terrifying. Explaining to them that the characters "aren't real" makes little difference. Similarly, children ages 8-12 are often scared by shows depicting violence, victimization of children, and weather disasters. Even though these events are unlikely to occur to them personally, children this age don't fully comprehend statistics and risk percentage.
Our adult brains, accustomed to living in the world at large, may have a hard time understanding how children think when watching TV. Another example is the impact of commercials, where studies have shown that children under 6 are unable to distinguish program content from commercials. The youngest children could be even more vulnerable, with studies suggesting that TV-watching in children under age 2 could trigger autism due to insufficient social interaction with real people.
Aric Sigman reviewed 35 studies of TV health risks , and found 15 links to different risks including ADHD, obesity, lower immunity, sleep disruptions, and short-sightedness. Kids who watch TV are also more likely to engage in smoking, drugs, and sex at earlier ages due to exposure on TV. Interestingly, one study found that people who watched more TV as children had an overall lower educational achievement by age 26.
Some risks are associated with light exposure of physically sitting near and watching the TV. Studies have shown that this exposure suppresses the production of hormones such as melatonin, which can lead to premature puberty and even increase the chance of DNA mutations, which can cause cancer.
While experts have long warned that children view TV in moderation, just exactly how much is moderate? Various assessments have found that kids watch about 4-5 hours a day on average. Sigman recommends a daily maximum depending on age: 0 hours for kids under 2, 30 minutes for ages 2-7, 1 hour for ages 8-12, 1.5 hours for kids 13-15, and 2 hours for age 16 and up.
If there's one thing that parents can do increase the overall health of their kids, it seems like cutting down on TV would be hard to beat.