Homework or television?

Indeed it would be unfair, if not unacceptable, to keep children off the television entirely but what matters is how much time they are allowed access to the small box at the expense of books.

One school of thought though is that as long as children watch useful programmes they must be allowed to do so as long as they want to.

For example, what’s wrong with an avid sports lover watching sports programmes for many hours or someone who has a passion for music committing many hours to such programmes, which would boost their enthusiasm and motivation to follow their dreams?

Such instances might be an exception although the researchers seem agreed that as long as this happens over the weekend, it’s fine.

But recent studies reveal that too much time spent in front of the television can drag down children’s grades and also help spur poor eating habits that lead to obesity.

So concluded two studies tracking the potentially harmful effects of TV ‘ and the power of parents to curb those effects.

One study found that more time in front of the TV during weekdays meant poorer school performance at school. Academic achievement was especially impacted for children with unrestricted access to all types of TV programming.

Recent studies found a relationship between watching TV for longer hours on schooldays and worse school performance.

They also discovered that there was an even stronger relationship between children who could watch R-rated progammes (those that include hard language, tough violence or pornography) or whatever they wanted on TV. They did worse in school.

The second study tracked the volume, and types, of food-related advertising included in programming aimed at pre-scholars. Most adverts were aimed at pulling tots toward long-lasting relationships with particular products, the researchers found.

The majority of child-oriented food advertisements viewed seemed to take a “branding” approach ‘ focusing on creating lifelong customers rather than generating immediate need, the researchers discovered.

According to the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP), the average American child spends about four hours each day in front of the TV. That’s far more than the AAP recommendation of no more than one to two hours a day of “screen” time.

It is the same with most children in Africa who spend long hours watching TV.

In Zimbabwe, for example, during the week children’s programmes run from 2pm until 5.30pm ‘ a straight three-and-a-half hours of TV watching. Later in the evening there are more programmes that children can’t seem to get enough of, which are not necessarily suitable for them.

Previous studies involving some 4 500 children have linked television exposure to increased odds for obesity, aggression and high-risk behaviours.

TV watching on weekends did not appear to affect school performance, the researchers found.

However, that was not the case for weekday viewing. Of the children that did not watch any TV on weekdays, 50 percent said their school performance was excellent, compared to 42 percent for those who watched less than an hour a day. When TV viewing jumped to between one and three hours daily, the number of children who said their school performance was excellent dropped to 35 percent.

Programming content mattered, too. Of the group of children whose media content was restricted ‘ meaning no R-rated movies, and parental guidance for other programming ‘ 54 percent described their schoolwork as excellent. In contrast, just 22 percent of children who could watch anything they wanted on TV felt the same way.

The survey discovered that taking time away from homework results in poorer school performance and that not only does TV take time away from homework, it takes away from learning sports and learning how to be active to help maintain good health. It sets children up for a sedentary adult life.

More often than not, young children can’t tell the difference between advertisements and the programmes they are watching.

The bottom line, according to researchers, is for adults to know how much TV their children are watching, and know what they are watching. They must not live it to children to decide whatever they want to watch, even if they want to pursue a career in television.

More importantly is the fact that children should not watch more than two hours of TV daily, and it is even better if it can be kept under one hour, because that is where the real differences in schoolwork started to show up during studies.

October 2006
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