TV — are your children at risk?

It seems for as long as television exists, we’ll be debating its effects on young and impressionable minds.

The Herald Sun article, Children at risk from too much TV, discusses a recent study by the Australian Research Alliance on Children and Youth (ARACY), which found parents are failing to responsibly control the viewing habits of their children.

While many parents are aware of the harmful effects TV can have on their kids, they don’t take appropriate measures in regulating the programs they watch, nor the hours they spend watching them. Rather, they see television and/or video games as babysitting devices.

Over the holidays I often found myself in restaurants and cafés surrounded by families. A disturbing trend I noticed was that almost every child had his/her head down at the table, transfixed by a ‘DS’ gaming console. Though all seated together, these family members were eating in isolation. Parents were not taking the opportunity to engage with their children outside of the family home. They also failed to recognise the opportunity to teach their children social skills that lay the foundations for the future.

More disturbing was when I was in a medical centre’s reception for several hours. In that time, I counted four children under the age of five years playing violent hand-held video games. The parents weren’t concerned because their children were engaged with media, which, while potentially damaging, rendered them silent.

It’s disappointing to learn that parents feel that such media, in particular TV shows that are violent, gendered, sexualised, and laden with advertising, are simply too ‘difficult to avoid’. Other key findings of the ARACY study included:

  • Today’s children are watching more unsupervised television than ever
  • Australian households contain an average of three televisions
  • 20% of children have a television in their bedrooms
  • Many children watch programs targeted exclusively at adult viewers
  • One in three Australian households has a TV on constantly
  • Children are engaged with television more than any other media, with kids under four watching 150 minutes a day

In response to the findings, ARACY chief executive, Lance Emerson, said: “It’s important to consider the program in relation to the development needs of the child, to set rules and expectations … and to take a positive role in discussing television content with children.”

Certainly, Mr Emerson makes some valid points. As both a psychologist and a father of five, I believe that whether we’re talking video games, TV, or any other form of media, parents must accept the fact that they are in the parenting business. That means establishing interpersonal and social skills in their children, and taking all necessary measures to ensure they are not exposed to inappropriate violence and/or sexual content. While this may often be ‘difficult’ in today’s society, parents must see this pursuit as a non-negotiable job requirement.

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