Television as an Anti-Experience
Having a 14-month old little bundle of “all-girl” joy named Ashley constantly following me around the house this summer, I am continually amazed at the wonder with which a child experiences the world around her. Now that we are in our new home and becoming better acquainted with the new terrain, we have been seeking schools for Ashley to begin in late August when my studies and regular teaching responsibilities resume. After visiting about 3 schools and 2 other homecare possibilities, we have finally settled on St. James, a Christian Montessori school in our area. As I write this, I want to emphasize that I am in no way suggesting that Montessori is the only way to go, as I firmly believe that there is a good deal of latitude in these kinds of decisions and each case has its own unique circumstances that must be considered and decided by the parents before the Lord. With that said, at St. James, I picked up a magazine and read a very interesting article by Dr. Silvana Quattrocchi Montanaro entitled, “Television and the Young Child.” I found myself very much in agreement with the article and wanted to share a few thoughts from it. The article discusses the negative effects of television on young children, which include: (1) reduction of real experience, (2) pathological effects on body and mind, (3) allowing the worldview of a few, viz., those who control TV content, to significantly influence your child. As the author notes, instead of an active learning experience, watching television is essentially a passive and indirect experience. Because TV reduces one’s direct relationship with reality, children are presented with “flattened” and distorted views that do not correspond with reality. “When we look at television we do not realize the absence of three sensory channels and the lack of concordance between what we see and what we listen to. This situation is called ‘sensory schizophrenia’ because the senses are divided between themselves, the mind, and the external world. Because television eliminates an enormous amount of sensation, it reduces our participation and response to the world” (p. 14).
The author also explains how children need direct experience that stimulate each of their senses and time to make those experiences part of themselves. The length of time that it will take for a child to “absorb” a sensory experience with a particular object will of course vary. However, the repeated attempts help to develop concentration skills. In contrast, television, “gives continuous, one-way information with no possibility of prolonged observation and personal action or interaction. Children are deprived of their natural ability to learn in an active interchange with the environment (people and objects) and are pushed to become passive watchers with no time for processing and storing information” (p. 15).
When children spend a number of hours every day in front of the television they are deprived of active “learning by doing.” Commenting again on the passivity that results from watching TV, Dr. Montanaro writes, “contrary to what they want us to believe, television is an anti-experience and an anti-knowledge machine because it separates individuals from themselves and from the environment and makes them believe they are living while they are only observing passively what other people decide to make them see” (p. 15).
Other negative effects of extensive TV watching include:
(1) Inability to concentrate due to lack of using the hands. (During the first years of life, the hand activity necessarily involved in direct experience stimulates the brain and helps to encourage and develop problem solving skills).
(2) Unreal and negative images become models of behavior and could be linked to some of the learning disabilities so common among children today. “Children with long daily exposure to television lose the capacity to listen; they cannot pay attention. What seems like attention to the screen is simply the effort required for following the change of fluorescent points in order to detect the image; it is a chase after the image” (p. 17). The right side of the brain is connected with images and centers on global thinking and synthesis of data. The left side is the analytic side and is directly connected with developing the skills necessary for reading and writing in various languages. Children, who from a young age have been constantly presented with television images do not develop the analytical skills needed for writing and reading and tend to become too quickly frustrated in school when confronted with reading and writing assignments. Moreover, the negative images (e.g., violent, sexually suggestive, etc.) that children take in from the TV are unreflectively internalized, are easily recalled, and become models of behavior that children imitate.
(3) *Desensitization and emotional illiteracy. “Television, because of the technical difficulties in reproducing images, must give importance especially to close-ups of faces in order to make them express something and the faces must be isolated as much as possible from the context because there is a short signal-context relationship in television. This difficulty necessarily limits the choice of programs to those who must have big and not detailed images. Thus, it is impossible to express the important but subtle gradations of feelings produced during positive human relationships. Because television can transmit only a limited range of the emotional spectrum, all delicate and tender feelings are excluded; yet, we need to show them in order to help the children’s positive emotional development—development required for a happy and rich social life” (p. 17).