Monday, October 21, 2013

Television is not our best friend

My granddaughter, Loey, will be two at the end of October 2013. She is a delight. And very observant. Several times in the past two weeks, as I've been holding her - so her face is close to mine - and I say something, she'll stick her index finger in my mouth and say:

"What's this?"

And I realize she is pointing at a filling, a blob of shiny metal in my mouth (actually, whole lots of them. I am a good flosser and fine brusher, but I am also an awesome eater. I have had many cavities in my life).

It's an awkward moment - not because explaining the filling would be awkward in any way. But because she is asking me a question, clearly waiting for an answer, with her limpid blue eyes staring into mine, but her finger is in my mouth, so I cannot talk.
I look at her, she looks at me, finger in my mouth, and then I try to talk, bringing my teeth in contact with her finger, which she immediately pulls away. At which point, I say something like this:

"There was a hole in my tooth and they filled it up with metal."

And then she seems to lose interest. Funny girl!

But it got me thinking: at the age of two, Loey has already developed a mental image of a normal mouth, a mouth whose teeth does not invite comment or notice. I expect this means that neither Chris nor Lauren have very many fillings. So simply from being around her parents a whole lot, she saw their teeth and those teeth became what teeth are supposed to look like in a mouth.
Very passive ingestion of data leading to strong pattern recognition. It's how our brains seem to work.

Then I think about children watching television. They often do so at the urging or at least tacit approval of their parents, so have every reason to trust this source of data. In other words, kids are not scared or suspicious about television. Instead, they are entertained, stimulated - and inundated with information.
We should think of a television as a high-bandwidth, high resolution stream of data feeding the watcher.
And what will children do with this data? The same thing they do with any other data. They will analyze it, identify patterns, and adjust their understanding of the world accordingly.

If a kid manages to develop the image/concept for "normal teeth" just by looking at her parent's teeth, I am sure that if she watches commercial children's television on a regular basis she will have new patterns settling into her brain, affecting how she sees the world,and what she wants from it. Do you really want to let that sort of stuff get into your child's brain? 

Parents get to decide this - that's your responsibility as a parent.

And so I plead with parents around the world: turn off your televisions!  Just leave them off. All day long and into the night. Instead, read books (not on an iPad). Sing songs. Play games together. Board games, card games, not Angry in the real world with your children, not in cyberspace.

You don't have children? Or they are grown up? No problem. You still have a brain. The pattern-generating effects of TV on adults is no different (see: Fox News). And so I also plead with all adults: Stop watching TV. Just stop. Instead, spend some time thinking about your life - what you like about it, what you want to improve. Check in on your fundamental beliefs: do you still feel the same way you did a year ago about the really important stuff in your life? It never hurts to ask.

And think about, be in, the small bits of the world left that are not a part of Humanland. Take a walk in a forest. Sit on the beach with your eyes closed and feel the sun warming your face, hear the wind whistling past your ears and the waves rushing in and out....

But for your sake and mine, and your children's, stop watching TV!

1 comment:

iudith said...

Hello Steven,

I can only agree 100% with you,
for both children and adults.

Today's children don't even realize what they miss because of all these electronic tools ...
They miss growing up in a yard full of trees, flowers and animals,
playing with other children, and, yes ... with adults who, just like you, do have the time, mood and disponibility to play with them and tell them stories read from
BOOKS and *not* from Facebook ...

This so much electronic and cyber just satisfies our "ego" ... well ... sometimes ... but will never add any real beauty or good to our and the world's life ...

Best Regards,
Iudith Mentzel