Wednesday, February 3, 2010

There's a monster in my house...and I didn't know it!

" There's a monster in my house...and I didn't know it!" This was the statement made by a parent (refering to her TV) the night of the mini-conference a co-worker and I did on early brain development, in a media driven age, and the impact of violence on brain development. I will never forget as this mother sat there in complete shock, as she realized what the hours and hours of violent TV viewing was doing to her children. She described two young boys at home, and how the agression and violent behaviors were escalating.

To some of us, we may not relate to this at all. We may have heard or read early on about the detrimental effects TV viewing and too much screen time can have on the tender, developing brains of small children. We may have made the decision to limit screen time from the beginning, or even take the entire TV out of the house. But, as an early intervention therapist who spends a lot of time in the homes of the kids on my caseload between the ages of birth-3, I can tell you, this is not the norm. The norm is the TV being turned on the moment the child wakes up in the morning. The norm is televisions in bedrooms of little ones. The norm is that most parents and grandparents that live in these homes do not understand the harmful effects of screen time, and even more, the harmful effects of violent cartoons, violent children's programming, and violent adult programs that many of them allow their children to watch. Most of the kids I work with are referred to me for sensory processing issues, or other developmental issues. Many times, I end up having to stop, re-evaluate and re-refer the child to behavioral therapy. We are talking very young kids. My job is to educate the parents, but many times they just don't get it. They wonder why their child can't attend to a simple task for one minute, but they don't see the connection between hours and hours of fast paced TV viewing, and limited attention span.

So many people think it is wonderful that their young child can watch a movie over and over, and they think this means thier child has wonderful attending skills. Unfortunately, this is not the case. What you will see in young children much of the time, is, after viewing a movie, or violent cartoon, the child who was supressing all their energy while sitting and watching the movie, will then have to let it all out, and there will be increased hyper activity. This will result in more difficulty and inattention later as the child is required to sit still or listen.

I could name and describe numerous studies that I just finished looking at that talk about the impact that media violence has on young minds, and it's not good. In my opinion, one of the worst outcomes for children who view violence is that it desensitizes them to it, and they don't even understand the degree to which this is really a serious thing. They begin to crave more and more violence, and study after study shows that they begin to act more agressively.

Many decades of research has shown that media violence causes:

-Increased fear, some children have nightmares, and night terrors.
-Increased agression and hostility, and they may show more tendency to resolve conflict by physical force, and some will begin bullying behaviors.
-Increased appetite for violence-they may only want to watch those shows with violence in them, or only desire to play violent video games.
-Increased insensitivity-when a person is continuously exposed to violence they can become less empathetic and less caring toward those who are suffering or hurt in real life. They may be less capable to responding to those in need.

The bottom line is that violence in the media is glamorized in our society. My caseload happens to be all boys right now. It scares me when I see these children being exposed to this every day. Here is the message they are getting: Violent behavior is acceptable, even useful. Children are driven to imitate adults. When they are exposed to TV, video games, and movies that glamorize this behavior, they will imitate. I see this all the time.

We as parents make choices for our children. We need to be aware that if TV viewing, and video gaming is something that we are going to do in our homes, we are in control, no matter how much the child begs and pleads to watch or play something that we are not comfortable with. Some people don't even realize that there are some child oriented TV stations that are better than others. Look for the slower paced programs. Just because it's a cartoon, don't assume it's for kids. This is huge! There are almost just as many cartoons out there now that are so incredibly inappropriate for kids, as there are the more appropriate ones. Be wise, and allow your child's brain to grow and develop into it's full potential. My next post will be my last on this topic and will contain many ideas and strategies to implement and use within your home to encourage positive and healthy brain development for your precious child! Stay tuned!


trina said...

Hi Michelle! I'm looking forward to following your blog. :) trina

Anonymous said...

Absolutely brilliant post from a brilliant therapist and brilliant mother :)

I have to say that this world of violence/gaming etc is not one I have any knowledge of (apart from choosing no part of it at all), it isn't my norm, my family norm or my friend's norms. And for that I am exceptionally thankful.

Tereasa said...

Michelle, I am aghast by what you shared. I have seen this with my own eyes, but continue to be shocked by what many children are exposed to. In Sunny's foster home, there were multiple t.v.'s. At the age of two, her favourite movies were Spiderman, Harry Potter and Monster House. She was continuously exposed to violent video games, as well. Not to mention that utterly ridiculous show, Boo-Bah. If this is normal, posts like yours should be circulated in larger circles. I don't understand why it is normal, though. I thought no t.v. before two and then only small amounts and absolutely no violence was the general rule for children. Isn't this common sense?

Tereasa said...

P.S. We are not taking our t.v. when we move. We do have a small one that we haven't even used in three years, which we will take. It will be stored and only taken out for family movies. I can't wait!