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Of Mice and TV

Mouse1

Until now, animal studies have never been done on the effects of television. I guess for the obvious reason that animals just aren’t interested in watching TV. This has been a huge disadvantage as animal studies have been essential for establishing that a whole host of things, from abuse, to cigarettes, to lead poisoning, to malnutrition are all bad for the developing brain.

But then, Dr. Dimitri Christakis made a brilliant leap, and thought why not look at the effects of background TV on young mice. Since 2008 a handful of studies have shown that even background TV has at least short-term negative effect on young children. But what about the long term effects of background TV? It would be unethical to do experiments on young human children looking the effects of large amounts of background TV throughout their early years. And yet, in real life there is a substantial subset of young children who are being exposed to 4 to 8 hours of background TV every day.

http://esciencenews.com/articles/2008/07/15/parents.should.limit.young.childrens.exposure.background.tv

http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/pages/Kids-in-U-S-Exposed-to-4-Hours-of-Daily-Background-TV.aspx

Correlational studies and longitudinal studies have found that children exposed to large amounts of television do worse academically, emotionally and academically. But critics have dismissed these studies as not taking into proper consideration other potential causes (such as poor parenting and/or genetics), with large TV exposure being a symptom rather than a cause.

A mouse study has the potential to discover exactly what the effects are background TV really are and prove that these effects are caused by background TV and not by something else.

So what did Dr. Christakis and his mouse study actually find out?

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How Background TV Undermines Well-Being

Background TV

Background TV

 

As Linda Wasmer Andrews points out in her excellent article “How Background TV Undermines Well-Being”, there are two main ways that background TV is bad for you, it makes it harder to communicate, and it makes it harder to concentrate.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/minding-the-body/201305/how-background-tv-undermines-well-being

Harder to Communication

The importance of parents and caregivers talking to, and interacting with their young children has been well documented:

After four years these differences in parent-child interactions produced significant discrepancies in not only children’s knowledge, but also their skills and experiences with children from high-income families being exposed to 30 million more words than children from families on welfare. Follow-up studies showed that these differences in language and interaction experiences have lasting effects on a child’s performance later in life.”

http://centerforeducation.rice.edu/slc/LS/30MillionWordGap.html

And it turns out that background TV reduces and interferes with these all important interactions:

“A new study looks for the first time at the effect of background TV on interactions between parents and young children. Using an experimental design, researchers found that when a TV was on, both the quantity and quality of interactions between parents and children dropped. This study challenges the common assumption that background TV doesn’t affect very young children if they don’t look at the screen.”

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090915100951.htm

“For every hour in front of the TV, parents spoke 770 fewer words to children, according to a study of 329 children, ages 2 months to 4 years, in the June issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. Adults usually speak about 941 words an hour… Parents may not realize how little they interact with children when a TV is on, Christakis says. A mother may think she’s engaged with a baby because they’re both on the floor playing blocks. But if a TV is on in the background, the two of them talk much less, he says.”

http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/2009-06-01-TVandkids_N.htm

“These findings suggest that TV co-viewing produces a relatively detrimental communication environment for young children, while shared book reading encourages effective mother–child exchanges.”

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-2958.2011.01413.x/abstract

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Update to tvSmarter.com

new5

Finally, a long overdue update to tvSmarter. New look, and lots and lots of new links. Hope you check them out!

Here are a few examples:

“Excessive TV in childhood linked to long-term antisocial behavior”

http://www.otago.ac.nz/news/news/otago042140.html

“In fact, for years now, the adversarial gun and film industries have indirectly been in business together, using each other to sell their products even as they cudgel one another on the op-ed pages.”

http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,273609,00.html

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How TV Pacifies Us and Subverts Democracy

TV Nation by Munchurian
TV Nation, a photo by Munchurian on Flickr.

 

Bruce Levine has done an excellent job writing an overview of the problems with TV. I especially appreciate his points about TV being used as a pacifier for inmates and patients.

Parents also appreciate the pacifying effects of TV, which is why kids spend more time watching TV than they do in school. How TV effects viewers (cognitively, socially and physically) really is an important issue that is all too often neglected, so it was heartening to read his article in Alternet.org, Salon.com and brucelenine.net.

http://www.alternet.org/culture/does-tv-help-make-americans-passive-and-accepting-authority

http://www.salon.com/2012/10/30/does_tv_actually_brainwash_americans/

http://brucelevine.net/how-tv-zombifies-and-pacifies-us-and-subverts-democracy/

 

Here are a few highlights:

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Book Review: Raising Generation Tech

Raising Generation Tech

 

The standard formula for books on kids, the media, culture, etc. is to describe various studies and to illustrate with real-life stories. This is actually a pretty good formula and was what I was expecting when I started reading “Raising Generation Tech: Preparing Your Children for a Media-Fueled World”. Instead, the author, Jim Taylor does things a little differently. Yes he does go over some of the new research and yes he includes some real life anecdotes, but what stood out for me was his philosophical take on the storied relationship between children, media and family.

As someone who has read extensively on how media is affecting both children and adults, I wasn’t expecting anything particularly new. But you can tell Dr. Taylor has thought about this deeply and has found some new, very interesting ways of looking at these media issues. For example:

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Why TV Undermines Academics & Values

 

Dr. Laura Markham has an excellent overview of the effects of TV, and why parents should limit, or even get rid of the TV.

Why TV Undermines Academics & Values

http://www.ahaparenting.com/parenting-tools/raise-great-kids/intellegent-creative-child/tv-compromises-academics

 

A sample from her article:

You recommend that kids don’t watch much, if any, TV. Why?

Because TV is addictive, and like all addictions, it has a high cost that we usually avoid acknowledging. Research shows that people who don’t watch TV are happier and healthier, have better self-esteem, and are less fearful.

Females who don’t watch TV have a healthier body image. This is all even more true for kids, because TV has a bigger impact on them. Not surprisingly, families who watch less TV are closer, and kids who see less TV become sexually active at a later age.

But let’s start with reading. We know that kids who love to read do better in school. Virtually all parents say they want their children to love reading, but most kids stop reading books that aren’t assigned in school by middle school. Only 28 percent of eighth graders score at or above the proficiency level in reading; in fact, only two percent of them read at an advanced level. What happens?

TV and reading are linked: Research shows that the more TV kids watch before the age of eight, the less they read after the age of eight. Of course, that’s a correlation, so it doesn’t prove that one leads to the other, but most researchers are convinced. If you want your children to be readers, don’t let them get addicted to TV and videos. Time spent on the one activity precludes the other. And once kids develop the habit of TV, they are less likely to seek out books of their own accord. Books — which are more work — just can’t compete with the lure of the screen.

  

I really like her question and answer format, some of the other questions are:

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