There is no denying that we are sometimes overwhelmed with reports of addiction. Turn on the TV and the reports are never ending. The newspaper covers it on a local scale. It used to be that families were shocked to learn of a loved ones addiction. Now, there are few families that aren’t affected by it. When addictions are related to substance abuse (think alcohol, drugs, etc.), we understand that the problem is deep rooted and a sign of life out of control. What if, though, the addiction is to something a bit more subtle? Could something as simple as watching TV become an addiction?
Television can be wither used responsibly or abused, just like alcohol! Did you know that the American Academy if Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of two should have no TV time? What about older children? Their suggested “use” is no more than two hours per day. Why such strict recommendations? The flashing bright colors, loud sounds, and frequent fragmentation of reality that television is comprised of is far too much stimulation for most young minds. It can become a mind-altering experience. Because of this kind of gratification, it can quickly become addictive and spiral out of control. Many times parents have tried to justify overexposure to electronics by claiming that it is helping their children become smarter, but that is clearly contradictory to what science has to say.
What can happen if there is repeated exposure to TV stimulation? Well, similarly to when a person is exposed to a drug, repeated exposure will begin to dull the senses. You can see this happening when you try to tear you children away from the TV and get a blank stare or attitude. This is often coined as being “hooked” and often times can result in a meltdown if you are trying to encourage separation. If you pay attention to how your child responds to transition from the TV to another activity then you should be able to establish is they are are overstimulated or addicted. Kids who are addicted typically care less about what they are watching, they are just looking for that “hit” of electronic stimulation. The brains of these children are developing in response to the environment that it is growing in and you could possible be creating a mind that craved high level stimulation but lacks the ability to focus its attention.
What can you do?
- Make TV a family activity. Discuss what is being watched. Don’t be ashamed of turning down or even muting the volume during commercials and having a family discussion or break. Try to help you kids to keep their minds going while watching by connecting events on the show to real events in your family life.
- Limit watching to a specific amount of time and time of day. Kids respond well if they have chores to complete before watching TV. Don’t let it just become a constant background to the life of your family. Turn it on to watch a specific show and then turn it off when that show is done. Include your kids in the discussion of TV alternatives. If you are limiting the amount of time after they’ve had free reign, letting them be part of the conversation will help that go much smoother. One other point, don’t use the TV as a babysitter! That just enables the behavior.
- Not all TV is created equal. Look for shows that are paced appropriately for your kids. There are programs that don’t rely of seizure-inducing graphics to keep their attention. Don’t be afraid or bashful to censor the shows that your kids watch! Help then learn to distinguish what is good and what is bad.