The Negative Influence of Television on Children

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For decades there has been debate as to how television media affects our children. Many parents have been concerned since the beginning of television. Through extensive research over the last few decades, television has been thought to desensitize and have detrimental effects on our children, which inhibits them from developing feelings of security, compassion, diplomacy, and discernment. Television watching also promotes violence, unsafe sexual practices, and eating disorders in children. According to Muscari, the average American child spends approximately 28 hours per week watching television. By the time a child reaches the age of 18 they will have seen 16,000 murders and 200,000 other acts of violence. American media is the most violent in the world; 80 percent of American television programs contain violence (31). This does not include other forms of media such as: movies, video games, music, and in current day, the Internet. Berk notes that violence is rarely condemned, nor or ways of solving problems often depicted. It is because children do not see the seriousness of violence that they often do not get the full impact of the consequences, such as what happens when someone is shot with a gun. Children are learning that violence is the answer to problems. Boys and children from low socio-economic backgrounds tend to be the more frequent viewers of television (347). Therefore for these children, television should especially be monitored. Many children cannot distinguish between real and fantasy violence. Two and three year olds cannot tell the difference from what is on television and what is real. If a young child is asked if a bowl of popcorn pictured on television would spill if the television were knocked down, they will almost always answer yes. In addition, preschoolers have trouble combining different scenes into one whole story. They cannot view a character's motives or consequences. It isn't until age seven that a child begins to understand that this person is a character that is playing a role and his behavior is scripted (Berk 378). Television for children under the age of seven needs to be positive in nature as, to them, it is real. Research has found many negative effects from watching television. Children may become desensitized to the pain and suffering of others and are more likely to behave aggressively toward others. They also may become more fearful of the world around them (Wolfe 80). This fear comes from the child watching violence on television and thus perceiving the world to be a violent place. A range of negative actions can be induced by the media, including general anxiety and nightmares that can affect a child for a considerable length of time (Linn 108-117). Furthermore, according to Linn, "when people first think of the ill effects of television, they often think of violence, but childhood obesity, anorexia nervosa and bulimia, are escalating health problems" (95) associated with television as well. Television ads encourage children to eat unhealthy foods and the more they watch them, the more they believe that these foods are healthy for them (Berk 408). The opposite side is that, extremely thin females are often seen on television, causing average size Americans to perceive themselves as being overweight. Television portrays that with a thin body comes "power, popularity, friends and success (and those that are overweight) are often perceived as failures, lonely or rejected" (Marcus). When an average American views themselves as overweight it may lead to eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Anorexia affects approximately 1% of American teenage girls, and 2-3% are affected by bulimia (Berk 532 – 533). The visual part of television is not the only cause for eating disorders. As children get heavier they spend less time actively playing and then replace that time with sedentary pursuits and gain more weight (Berk 408). These sedentary pursuits can include more...
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