Chapter Review – Television, Computers and Video Games
John definitely saves the best for last in The New Six-Point Plan for Raising Happy, Healthy Children.
This final chapter is mostly about TV and John forthrightly says what most people already know but are afraid to admit.
…Watching television inhibits the development of initiative, curiosity, resourcefulness, creativity, motivation, imagination, reasoning and problem-solving abilities, communication skills, social skills, fine and gross motor skills, and eye-hand coordination.
And after saying this he implies other detriments could be named also.
Not a nice picture. No pun intended.
Even though John’s advice does not run parallel with the opinions of his peers he doesn’t shy away from saying what parents need to hear. No hinting or beating around the bush. He knows and readily admits that his advice runs counter to modern ideas about raising kids but while everyone stammers he speaks out.
In spite of his academic achievements, however, what he advises, he learned and proved in the laboratory of family life as a child, a parent and a counselor.
So his advice is qualified by many levels of experience and academic studies.
In this last chapter John focuses on the problems TV causes, particularly in the life of developing preschoolers, and he draws from his own experience to make his point.
His son, Eric, was failing the third grade and as it turned out television was a major contributor to the problem.
Eric was struggling to complete in-class assignments and John and his wife, Willie, were exhausted with pushing and prodding him to finish the tasks at home. The stalemate was broken when Eric’s teacher informed them – only half way through the year – that Eric would not be promoted to fourth grade.
Up to that point John had faithfully applied the popular principles of psychology for raising children. Following that meeting, however, things changed.
John’s wife, Willie, had a heart to heart with John about changing their parenting ways. They both agreed that they hadn’t turned out badly so maybe their parents weren’t that wrong after all. Together, they devised a new approach which John describes as:
A benevolent dictatorship, the antithesis of the parenting that was popular at the time. We began telling Eric and Amy what we wanted them to do instead of asking, pleading, bargaining, bribing, reasoning, and explaining – i.e., wishing. We embraced a zero-tolerance policy concerning disobedience. If one of them disobeyed, we punished instead of talked.
And probably the most dramatic change they made was the suspension of TV viewing. They didn’t just stop watching TV, they gave theirs away.
The end result was nothing short of remarkable. In John’s words:
The children began playing more creatively, paying better attention to us, and acting generally more calm. The level of sibling conflict – much of which had swirled around the issue of what TV shows to watch – diminished considerably. Undoubtedly, some of the improvement was due to the other changes we were making, but I’m convinced that the single most critical variable in Eric’s rehabilitation was the sudden and complete absence of television in his life.
John shared his views and experience in his weekly column – syndicated in over 200 newspapers – and was publicly chastised by his peers. But Eric’s teacher, not knowing what caused the change, praised the parents and said keep up the good work.
And of course this begs the question, how much TV do kids, particularly preschoolers, watch? And exactly what effect does it have on kids? John accommodates us with an answer.
Based on Nielsen surveys preschoolers watch on average 25 hours of TV a week but John points out that children whose parents have higher educational achievements tend to watch fewer hours of TV.
Using a much more conservative figure of 14 hours a week John shows that preschoolers are watching 728 hours of TV a year and a whopping 2,912 hours between birthdays two and six.
Now consider these facts all of which John notes in his book:
- The preschool period is referred to as the formative years and considered the most important of a child’s life by both developmental psychologists and educators.
Every dimension of a child’s development is stimulated during these years: intellectual, artistic, musical, athletic, interpersonal and spiritual – or not.
- Generally the average child spends more time watching TV than any other single activity during these formative years.
Watching TV is not an activity. It is passive. The mind is being stroked not exercised. They are stimulated to do nothing other than blob-ize – my word not John’s.
- John observes, “No other single influence has more dramatically altered the nature of childhood in the last fifty years than the TV set.”
- The content of TV viewing is the topic of most social experiments not the quantity of TV viewing and the resulting advice is, watch educational content rather than questionable themes.
John points out that the only thing a child is doing while watching TV is watching TV. Spending hours a day doing nothing is more psychologically damaging than watching a few minutes of undesirable, unrealistic fabrications on a TV screen.
The TV thinks for us, acts for us, argues for or against ideas for us and occupies our time completely. The effect is almost hypnotic on everyone, even adults. If you disagree try and interrupt just one of your friends “favorite” programs and note the response.
- The only individuality being shown during a TV program is that of the producers and participants.
- The only creativity being expressed is that of the writers, directors and actors.
- The members of the production team are saying something. The viewers are only listening. No discussion.
- And, unfortunately, even though the viewers are listening, they aren’t necessarily picking up everything being said.
Any learning is mostly subconsciously retained and therefore not readily accessed. Can you name one or two things you learned while watching TV that had a significant impact on your development.
- TV kills the natural development of attention span.
John suggests that the constant flicker of the TV picture in some way disrupts the development of a child’s brain and effects their ability to focus.
That may or may not be scientifically verifiable.
But, I do think that a child’s capacity for attention is definitely affected by a constant dose of TV.
The attention any person gives to a TV is captured not freely given.
Once the program is off the ability of a person to attend to anything for any length of time is determined by how entertaining the next event is.
Watching TV programs individuals to be drawn to anything that mesmerizes. Very few conversationalists can do that. Teachers in a class room don’t have the resources to duplicate the effect. Robotic states don’t encourage learning anyway. TV watchers are manipulated and pleasured into watching and passive while it all takes place. They can’t attend to anything that requires active participation after that.
The setting and atmosphere of a class room is completely inverted to that of the TV room. After TV, we can attend only to things that require no personal effort, which precludes all meaningful relationships and activities.
It is because of this that John says, “every hour that a preschool child spends watching television is an hour of that child’s potential being wasted.”
In short and to use John’s word – again – a person who becomes addicted to TV viewing looses their “autonomy.”
John suggests that ADD is the direct and immediate effect of TV viewing.
His own son, Eric, was ADD until they threw the TV out and John freely quotes parents who have reported the same remarkable change in their ADD affected children when TV is out of the picture.
Statistics do not shine favorably on TV:
- Since 1955 reading skills have dropped.
At the writing of john’s book 1 in 5 seventeen year olds were functionally illiterate meaning they couldn’t read a newspaper, recipe or a manual for operating a power tool.
- Learning disabilities have increased – 30% of learners demonstrate symptoms.
Yes, some disabilities are genetically induced but are we to believe that is true for 30% of all school kids?!
- Veteran teachers report that children are far less imaginative and resourceful now than a generation ago when TV viewing was half what is it today.
After a significant amount of TV viewing children can’t relate to the classroom. They sit and subconsciously soak a few bits of information but the end result of that isn’t positive. Even tumors soak up nutrients but serve no useful purpose.
John says terms like:
Children’s-program, Educational-program, family-program and even “watch-together” are all contradictions.
Once a family begins watching TV together the connections cease.
Because of the powerful effect of television programming and the impressionability of young children one psychologist, Dale Kunkel, has compared ads targeting young children to shooting fish in a barrel. And he is no academic slouch. Check out his credentials here.
The APA says that children see forty thousand TV commercials a year.
On top of that Johns says, “family spending for children has grown tenfold in the last twenty years and more than double in the last seven.”
In response, some parents have complained that the government should do something, particularly about the marketing of junk foods and toys.
John says, “parents should not want the government solving this problem for them and should resist any attempt on the part of the government to do so…’government help’ is nothing but a euphemism for ‘government interference…’”
He goes on to say, “The only parents who want the government to solve this problem…are the parents without backbones.”
John is no less negative about video games.
He says they are just as addictive and whatever improvements they stimulate in visual/perceptual skills deserves nothing more than a “so what?”
He isn’t saying video games are absolutely bad. He is saying they are bad for kids.
And he isn’t favorable toward computers either.
He names several professionals who disparage the idea of using computers for educational purposes:
Psychologist Jane Healy studied the issue for several years and started with positive attitude toward the use of computers for kids but eventually concluded that “computers stifle learning and creativity and may cause damage to both vision and posture.”
She says, “we have no evidence that stands up under scrutiny that computer education is helpful for learning in children under the fourth grade.” P. 286
Others who concur are:
- Douglas Sloan, professor of history and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College. He claims that computer companies who donate computers to school do so for money not philanthropy.
- Theodore Roszak, a history professor and author of “The Cult of Information” says computers shouldn’t be introduced educationally until high school.
Roszak says kids should be learning the art of mastering specific ideas not swimming in a sea of information.
- Clifford Stoll, the author of “High-Tech Heretic” says that the instant gratification involved in downloading information off the internet “discourages study, reflection and observation.”
John points out that even though everyone is mesmerized by the availability of computers for classroom use very little research has been done on the effect computers have on childhood development and the little bit that has been done raises many red flags.
For any Christian parent this is significant because the Psalmist made a very brief but graphic statement about the effect of good parenting on children.
As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Psalm 127:4
We could write volumes on the significance and meaning of this statement. Every sincere parent should read that verse everyday of their lives and the ones that do will have no problem regulating TV.
Don’t be satisfied with this write up alone. The chapter has much more information to digest and every thoughtful parent will take the time to read and think through this material.
You can buy this book and many others written by John inexpensively at Amazon. Amazon prices are best, their service is excellent and John’s writing is sound.
Enjoy the reads and don’t forget to THINK!AboutIt.