Right now, your school-aged children are basking in what’s left of their Christmas vacation. Are they practicing the clarinet before music class starts back up? Are they boning up on their math? Are they even reading?
Or are they watching television and playing video games?
For many years, psychologists and health professionals have been encouraging parents to put limits on how many hours each day their children spend in front of the television. The Canadian Paediatric Society has issued a position statement that children should watch no more than two hours of television a day.
“Once children start watching TV unattended, they watch many, many hours in a day,” said Dr. Robert Moriarty, an Edmonton child psychologist, referring to the addictive nature of the activity.
Although there are some positive aspects, he said there are probably many more drawbacks, especially if children are overindulging.
Apart from being addictive, he said, it prevents children from engaging in social activities and interacting with their actual physical environment, including nature. He said that video and computer games have the same problems.
The society said Canadian children watch excessive amounts of television and there is a relationship between watching violent television programming and an increase in violent behaviour.
“There are some studies and a lot of suggestion that seeing all of this violent activity has to do something to our psyche, whether we realize it or not, either desensitizing us or losing track of what’s real and what’s not real, or the worst case scenario – taking it beyond TV watching and putting the violence into practice,” continued Moriarty.
It might also have a negative impact on learning and academic performance, plus watching more mature programming might encourage irresponsible sexual behaviour.
The fact that TV and video games are a powerful form of escapism also means that they are inherently dissociative acts that remove the child’s mind from paying attention to what is actually going on in their immediate surroundings.
“There are more and more studies that show we are becoming less socialized and have less skills in dealing with reality. That can go throughout our entire lifetime.”
It also contributes to depression, either as an instigator of it or as something that prevents recovery.
Apart from these aspects of children’s psychology, excessive television watching is a major factor that contributes to the increased incidence of childhood obesity.
Moriarty added that it’s much healthier for parents to watch TV with their children and discuss what they’re viewing.
“It helps family building. If parents restrict their children to one or two hours a day then they’ll probably start to restrict themselves.”
He said if TV is a problem then it’s important to have a plan to gradually decrease its influence in your family’s life. Talk about it and figure out what to do with the free time beforehand.
“It’s extremely hard to go from many hours of TV watching to one or two a day. If parents try to do that all at once, it’s doomed for failure. They have to gradually wean themselves and their kids off and have a plan ahead of time what they want to do when they’re not watching. Send them outside to play, or whatever.”