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Commentary | VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES

To Avoid Hurting Kids, Use Television Wisely

January 11, 2003|Jennifer Vail | Jennifer Vail is a school consultant in Grover Beach.

"My child isn't going to watch that stuff," my family heard me say more than once. But the pressure is high. Disney, Pokemon, Power Rangers: An endless list of television characters fills the toy stores and fast food eateries (there's a topic).

Come watch me, come play with me, they beckon to children. Can even parents resist the temptation of tuning them in? "Scooby-Doo" is still my favorite.

The experts question programming and the effects of violence that children are exposed to on television and in movies. Traumatization and desensitizing of children to death and violence with no sense of consequences are showing up all over the country.

People are what they fill their minds with, and children are more affected because their minds are open and ready to receive. For example, watch "The Wizard of Oz" from a small child's point of view. The witch is very frightening. I learned this the hard way. My son thoroughly enjoyed the movie, but soon after watching it developed an irrational fear of women with long black hair. This fear remained with him for quite some time.

Because I am a mom working at home, my 5-year-old son has had the opportunity to enjoy a plethora of educational television focused on the young -- "Barney," "Arthur" and "Dragon Tales," to name a few.

During breaks he quizzes me on animals, habitats and other amazing facts that leave me in doubt about my own education. His enthusiasm is boundless as he watches the "Croc Files" and informs me of his plans to become a famous scientist so that he can study animals, stars and dinosaur bones.

The knowledge he gains does relieve a bit of the guilt I feel as, once again, I tune him in to the boob tube in a desperate attempt to meet a deadline or find a moment of peace.

That the content of programming can either have a positive or negative effect on children is evident. However, it doesn't stop there. Experts question the actual physical effect that television has on children. They address not only interaction skills but also eye and brain development and how it is negatively affected by watching television.

A great paper titled "Strangers in Our Homes: Television and Our Children's Minds," by Susan R. Johnson, outlines the effects that television has on a child's physical development. Johnson writes, "Watching television has been characterized as multileveled sensory deprivation that may be stunting the growth of our children's brains."

So with all of this said, is television a terrible thing?

My personal opinion is that there's a need for moderation, moderation, moderation and lots of participation in life.

Television can be a great tool in opening our eyes and minds to other parts of the world and cultures we might not otherwise have an opportunity to know. Like all tools, it must be used responsibly and with respect.

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