Friday, 11 November 2011

Impact of TV on infant development

Television, the drug of the Nation
Breeding ignorance and feeding radiation 
-Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy
I stopped watching TV in 2000 after reading articles in AdBusters and Kill Your TV about the harmful effects it can have on peoples lives, and participating in TV Turn Off Week (now called Screen Free Week). It was a liberating experience- so much so that I simply didn't turn the TV back on. For me, the decision was more about having time to paint, sew, converse, read, drink fine wine, stare at the stars, hang out with my mates and make sweet sweet love! I was also sick of feeling worthless because I didn't own all the things the beautiful did- and I was super bored of conversations that revolved entirely around what happened on such and such a TV show last night- I felt there were heaps of cool things going on out there in the big wide world, but I was trapped in my shitty suburban lounge room watching other people having the fun for me. 

It appears however, that people like me a part of the minority. In Australia, young children spend more time watching television than any other activity. The average four-month-old gazes at the box for 44 minutes every day. So I guess that TV is the number one drug of choice for Australians- and their kids. There is a urban rumour going around about birth rates spiking 9 months after power black outs- I wonder if it is true?
I haven't completely escaped the clutch of the idiot box- I do watch a few shows on DVD, but being able to chose when I watch them (and not watching commercials) has enabled me to actually feel satisfied that I have lived my life- and not by proxy.

"Do you know we are ruled by TV?"
-An American Prayer by Jim Morrison

You may have read that the Australian government is feeling this vibe too- it has recommended that children under two years of age not watch any television. The recommendation, part of the National Physical Activity Guidelines for Australians, is based in part on studies by Jo Salmon, associate professor of epidemiology at Deakin University, which found  "children aged six to 30 months who are watching television have less developed vocabulary, display more aggressive behaviour and have poor attention spans," says Professor Salmon. 

These (and other) studies have identified three key factors in optimising infant brain development: face-to-face interaction with parents or carers; learning to interact with or manipulate the physical world; and creative problem-solving play. The no TV recommendation is based on the fact that staring slack jawed at the idiot box does not provide any of this, but it may:

  • reduce the amount of time your child has for active play, social contact with others and chances for language development
  • affect the development of a full range of eye movement, and
  • reduce the length of time they can stay focused.

The Deakin University study also found that Screen-based activities for children less than two years of age have not been shown to lead to any health, intellectual or language benefits. Another recent study  concluded that "Audible television is associated with decreased exposure to discernible human adult speech and decreased child vocalizations. These results may explain the association between infant television exposure and delayed language development."

So what about those programs that expressly claim to turn your baby into a genius? In 2008 lawyers threatened a class-action lawsuit for unfair and deceptive practices against Disney unless it agreed to refund the full purchase price to every family that purchased a Baby Einstein video. “The Walt Disney Company’s entire Baby Einstein marketing regime is based on express and implied claims that their videos are educational and beneficial for early childhood development,” a letter from the lawyers said, calling those claims “false because research shows that television viewing is potentially harmful for very young children.” Disney ran screaming into the woods now offers refunds for those who bought the products thinking they could substitute real life interaction with a DVD. You can read more about this, and other similar cases at Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood.

At the end of the day, incidental TV is probably not a big deal if you also spend quality time with your bub, playing games and talking to each other. TV is an integral part of modern life, and using it as a 'sometimes' plaything (and not a babysitter) can only help your child develop a healthy attitude towards it. There are enough things out there making parents feel shithouse without the odd spot of TV being another guilty burden they have to bear. 

 Has any one else made the decision to pull the plug? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter.


  1. turning off the tv was the best thing i ever did. It started with commercial tv because I just could not STAND ads, but quickly changed to tv altogether. The best part? Anytime someone says anything about getting an advertising jingle in heir head, i can honestly say "oh, i don't know it"..

  2. So true! I'm amazed how many people stare at me with complete disbelief when I tell them I don't watch TV. "how do you know what's going on in the world?", "how do you stay in fashion?", "what do you do at night instead?". Well, I read newspapers, journals, magazines, blogs, books and get out into the world... Experience life first hand. And if the show is really that great, I'll hear about it enough to watch it- on my own terms, in my own time, on DVD.

  3. It's so sad sometimes, I had a headache the other morning and asked my partner's (almost) 7 year old girl if she minded please turning off the tv. Not an unreasonable ask, in my own home, when I was recovering from some epic illness, or so I thought. She started crying and I got black flagged as the evil 'step mother'. My partner immediately started packing up his and his kids stuff to leave. "why are you leaving? we haven't even had breakfast yet?" I was genuinely mistified as to the sudden departure. "the tv wasn't even as loud as the dishes you are washing! It's obvious you don't want us here!". Wow. Yes wow. Several points to mention here: 1. Dishes are a necessary part of owning plates, cups, cutlery etc. TV has no necessary function at 6:30am on GO. Unless you count it as necessary in setting up your daily routine of lethargy and general unproductiveness. 2: she cried. She CRIED! Over missing the latest installment of Dora the Exploiter.. /hangsheadinshame. It was such a shit of a day after that, the whole argument put such a dampener on what was a beautiful sunny day, perfect for picnics, swimming, walking through the bush, chasing dragonflies, listening to birds sing, appreciating the beauty that is around us... It just reaffirmed to me that tv is truly the drug of the nation. And what's worse is these kids are addicts before they are in double digits. Where do you go from there?

    (sorry to vent Sandi, it's nice to find someone else who shares my views! x Lucy)


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