TV Rehab Possible

From the February 2001 Trumpet Print Edition

Since the 1950s, TV has gradually elbowed its way into the center of family life in many homes. Those who have had a nagging sense that there may be something less than wholesome about placing TVs in kitchens, family dens and bedrooms, to be watched by children a numbing average of five hours per day, are about to (surely not for the first time) have their suspicions confirmed.

There have been over 1000 studies on children’s exposure to violence on TV and in video games and videos. Most find that violent content does increase aggressive behaviors. But now, for the first time, there’s evidence that kids who reduce their use of TV and video games are actually less aggressive later on.

A recent study by Thomas Robinson of the Stanford University School of Medicine in California and four of his colleagues focused on third- and fourth-graders in two San Jose, California, public schools. One school gave its third- and fourth-graders special lessons on how to cut back on their use of television, videotapes and video game. Another school, used as a control group, was given no special lessons. The curriculum first focused on helping the children see how much time they spend watching TV and then coming up with alternative activities they enjoy. Then it went into a ten-day TV turn-off—the kids tried to watch no television, videotapes or video games for an entire ten days “to show them what life was like without television and to build their confidence that they could actually go without television” (NPR, Morning Edition, Jan. 16).

After that came a period where kids tried to keep their total viewing under seven hours per week—an average of an hour per day. “We found kids who were in the school that received the curriculum reduced their number of acts of physical aggression by about 40 percent and reduced their number of acts of verbal aggression by about 50 percent compared to the control group” (ibid.).

The authors also noted (as many studies have proven over the years) that children’s television programming contains even more violence than prime-time programming. Is it any wonder that exposure to this violence manifests itself in children by “making them more aggressive, desensitizing them to violence and causing them to believe that the world is a cruel, scary place”? (Agence France Presse, Jan. 15).

As the old saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out.”This is certainly true with children, who are more easily influenced than the adults who are responsible for rearing them. The evidence is abundant for those who are willing to recognize it. It is also encouraging: This study proves that you and your children can benefit from getting out of the TV trap.