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Television Contributes to Attention Deficit Problems. Are We Surprised?

Its been a while since I’ve sat down for a hearty feast of Saturday morning entertainment, and if it wasn’t for a seminar I was asked to present to a large group of teachers, I don’t know that I would have ever gotten around to meeting some of these top quality animated personalities.

The land of animation is fertile ground to discover the latest trends in advertising and programming aimed at children. I knew this would be the perfect place to find plenty of examples for my demonstration on basic media deconstruction. (In English, that means watching commercials and programs, often in slow motion, and looking for the various techniques being used to win over the minds and wallets of junior consumers.)

However, upon reviewing the montage of action heroes, cold cereal, and rebellious little characters, an overall theme emerged to a far greater degree than I’ve ever noticed before: Absolute hyperactivity.

Going back and looking at a Cheerios commercial from 1960, I was reminded how much the landscape has changed. Back then, advertisements and programs were leisurely paced. Camera angles changed only when necessary (largely because editing was very time consuming), or commercials were recorded live with two cameras at most. The Cheerios’ commercial was 60 seconds long, which was common at the time.

Over the following decades, commercials took on a decidedly different tone. They became more “hard sell,” using sounds, colors, and often a faster pacing to draw our attention—especially on Saturday mornings. They also turned into 30-second pitches.

Today the MTV generation has convinced anyone who directs media for children and teens that a mounted camera is passé. Even animation mimics hand held camera movements mixed with rapid-fire editing and what seems to be nearly a random unfolding of events and stories. When the commercial break starts, you hardly even notice, and the sheer deluge of products being presented is amazing with many advertisements clocking in at 15 seconds.

Coincidentally, days prior to my presentation, a team of researchers in Seattle released the findings on their latest study exploring possible relationships between television viewing by very young children and attention deficit problems. Of the over 2,500 youngsters observed, a correlation was discovered. Children up to three years of age were more likely to develop behavior problems, increasing about ten percent for each average daily hour of TV viewing. In other words, the likelihood of a child being diagnosed with attention deficit disorders would increase by 10 % for those who watched one to two hours, 20% for those who watched between two and three hours, 30% for children glued to the set for three to four hours, and so on.

From their findings, it is obvious that the problem gets bigger depending on the amount of television being consumed. So, how much TV do these little people take in? Of the one year olds, 36 % watched no TV, 37 % viewed one to two hours daily, 14 % viewed three to four hours per day, while the remainder—a sizeable 13 percent—watched over five hours per day! It gets even larger by age three. Only 7 percent are TV free, with the majority (nearly half) viewing one to two hours per day. Worse yet, roughly one in ten is viewing seven or more hours per day.

In an article on Salon.com [http://www.salon.com/mwt/wire/2004/04/05/tv/], Dr. Dimitri Christakis, one of the researchers who works with the Children’s Hospital and Regional medical Center in Seattle, says the team doesn’t know exactly what programs the kids were watching, but believes the unrealistically fast-paced images typical of most TV shows may permanently alter normal brain development. He says this theory is further backed by evidence from studies of newborn rats where an over-stimulated environment caused the “architecture of the brain [to look] very different.”

I’ve observed my own children after a vacation in tube-land. They are cantankerous, onerous, monstrous and every other “ous” I can think of for at least the rest of the day. I suspect many parents reading this are thinking, “This is news?”

But science is all about physical evidence. Even with this report, the politically correct statements in the conclusion advise “additional research is needed.” However, for those who are just entering the joy of parenthood, I’d take the advice from this group of doctors, and pay close attention to the television viewing habits of your preschool age children.

And for seasoned parents, take another look at what your kids may be watching. Like me, you may be surprised at what a hyper activity sitting in front of the television has become.

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