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Can too much television truly rot the brain?
FRIDAY, APRIL 27, 2012 17:22 PM

Can too much television truly rot the brain?  Whether individuals are watching the evening news at dinnertime or playing a video game with some friends, they are probably sitting in front of a television set. Since so many families around the country own more than one TV, there is a good chance that if the kids are home, they are not far from one of these devices.

While there are plenty of educational programs on at all times, television sets still have their fair share of less-than-flattering nicknames, like "the idiot box." In addition, there are those who believe that watching too much TV can rot the brain. As a result, many people have concerns over how much time children spend in front of a television set, and what impact this is having on their mental development.

How often are children exposed to television?

Even if children are not sitting directly in front of a TV or actively watching a program, there is a good chance they are being exposed to high amounts of what is known as background TV on a daily basis.

In a recent study, which will be presented at the International Communication Association’s (ICA) annual conference, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), the University of Iowa and the Universiteit van Amsterdam surveyed 1,454 English-speaking households where children between the ages of 8 months and 8 years old resided. What they found was that these youths were exposed to almost four hours of background TV on a daily basis. This was especially true of smaller children and African Americans.

Study author Matthew Lapierre of Penn’s Annenberg School for Communication said he and his fellow researchers were "rather floored" by how much background TV children are exposed to these days. As a result, their study provides solutions to reducing the amount of time kids are around background TV.

"This study should be a warning to parents and daycare providers to shut off the television when no one is watching, and certainly to consider the consequences of having a television in a child's bedroom no matter how young they may be," said Cynthia Stohl, the ICA’s president-elect and chief conference planner.

How bad is exposure to TV?

One of the reasons why Lapierre and his colleagues were somewhat shocked to learn just how often children are exposed to background TV was due to the amount of research available on television’s potential to harm youths. According to the study, poor performance in cognitive and reading tasks has been linked to high levels of background TV exposure.

Social status plays a role

According to Psychology Today, the economic status of a child’s family often influences the ways in which TV affects kids’ cognitive abilities.

For instance, educational researchers have found that the more middle-class children watch TV, the lower their grades in school may drop. This is due to the fact that the time these students would otherwise devote to completing homework assignments or talking to their parents is instead redirected toward watching televised programming.

At the same time, the news source reported that educational researchers have found that children in impoverished environments end up performing better academically when they watch more TV. In some cases, shows can provide these kids with more intellectual stimulation than their parents have to offer.

Parents can draw their own conclusions

As researchers continue to look into what impact too much TV has on today’s youth, parents who are concerned about what effect televised programming is having on their children may want to have them take an IQ test for kids. Using the results they receive about their children’s cognitive abilities, parents can form their own opinion as to whether TV has had a positive or negative influence on their kids’ mental development.

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