Television Draws Teens into Vast Wasteland

By Horn, Wade F. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 13, 1998 | Go to article overview
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Television Draws Teens into Vast Wasteland

Horn, Wade F., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)

Q: The new school year is upon us and so is the new TV season. Once again I find myself wondering how much television is too much for my two high school-aged children? What is your take on this?

A: The average American teen-ager spends 1,500 hours each year sitting in front of a TV set. In comparison, they will have spent only 900 hours sitting in a classroom. This is not good news.

Studies show that excessive TV watching is associated with all sorts of bad things, such as poor school performance, a diminished attention span and an increase in aggressive behavior. Too much TV watching also makes teens feel less secure and worry more that they will be a victim of crime. Teens who watch a lot of television also have lower social trust and are less engaged with peers.

Television also makes children fat. According to the federal government's Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 8- to 16-year-olds who watched four or more hours of television a day were, on average, 17 percent heavier than those who watched fewer than two hours of television a day.

That is because children who watch television a lot are less likely to engage in physical exercise. Indeed, one study found that only 37 percent of students in ninth through 12th grades engage in physical exercise at least three times per week, but more than 90 percent watch television every day.

The negative effects of children watching too much TV are not confined to childhood. In a 20-year study of more than 300 Chicago-area children, L. Rowell Huesmann of the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research found that the more violent television programs a child watched at ages 6 through 8 that the more aggressive behavior the child displayed 15 years later upon becoming an adult.

For example, 16.7 percent of the young adult women who had watched a lot of TV violence as girls reported having punched, beaten or choked another adult, compared with only 3.6 percent of young adult women who had not watched a lot of TV violence as children.

For young adult men, the rates were even higher. Thirty-seven percent of the young men who had watched a good deal of TV violence as children reported having thrown something at a partner during an argument, compared with only 16 percent of low-violence TV viewers doing so.

In addition to the violence, television also displays casual and frequent sex as the norm, coarse and lewd language as acceptable, children being disrespectful to parents and other adults without consequence, and religion as silly, anachronistic or destructive.

In the 1960s, TV pioneer David Sarnoff described television as a vast wasteland. It's become worse since then.

But it's not just the content of TV shows that is the problem. Research suggests that the passive nature of TV watching may lead to diminished neural development and brain growth in children. So even if your teen is watching four hours of news, documentaries and public television a day, that is still too much.

What is the answer?

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