Sunday, May 06, 2007

Programming young minds

Saturday Cuppa: Lime and Nettle tea

How very odd... I've not been able to log into blogger this past fortnight as google as done something weird to the log in process and doesn't want to recognise my username or password.

I've managed to sneak in today via someone posting a comment! So, here's last week's blog and if I can get back in here I'll write again soon!

The overuse of tv in the lives of young children made headlines this week, and rightly so. Unfortunately, when anything comes as a potential dictate from the government it sends people scampering away in fear that Big Brother is watching. The media indulged in a collective ignorance about a topic which, individually, the journalists often know very little. It's not the first time I've had to turn a radio off because a broadcaster was using an interview to display their inflated ego, rather than use the opportunity for insightful journalism and to educate people. I'm always disappointed at the misuse of air time.

Nobody wants to be told how to raise their children, yet the mass consciousness which supports the tele-visual culture doesn't allow any space for intelligent discussion. It is our children who suffer as a result.

The call to government, from a leading researcher, for a complete ban on tv for under 3s is completely in line with the ethos of The Mother magazine (TM also recommends a ban on dvds, videos and computers).

Many people believe that if they sit with their young children while watching a tv or a computer screen then viewing is acceptable. There are at least three issues with this which make it misleading.

1.) Most people don't sit with their children. If parents are willing to be completely honest, you'll find that even the youngest of children are watching it unsupervised.

Within a minute of watching tv, the brain goes into a hypnotic state which means children (and adults) will just 'sit' and watch. This makes for a free and readily available babysitter. Mothers like this and within a short space of time they use this service for hours a day. And why not, they justify, after all, it helps them to get their important 'jobs' done. In our culture of nuclear families, mums appreciate the 'space' away from their children.

2.) It isn't just the content which should be of concern. Tv presents many hazards, and the programmes which many people consider to be 'educational' are simply unnecessary for the developing brain. One newspaper columnist even went as far as to suggest children needed tv to keep up with their peers in learning information about the world! Whatever happened to parents? We are our children's teachers. WE can show them whatever they need to learn about the world in their childhood. To suggest tv is necessary for our children's learning is an example of people clinging to an addiction and justifying its use in their own lives.

3.) Televisions and computers emit an electro-magnetic field which has low levels of radiation. (Mothers who breastfeed at computers should take heed of that). The cathode rays which come out from the screen are damaging to the body. Our young children should not be exposed to this fluorescent lighting.

CRTs (cathode ray tubes) have a way of numbing the brain. This is entirely inappropriate for the needs of a growing brain. Our children learn best from real life people and situations ~ and making use of all their senses, rather than just visual and auditory. Because of the hypnotic effect of CRTs, our children literally need us to turn the tv off for them. The many disorders which arise from CRTs include poor memory, lack of concentration, impulsive behaviour, poor listening ability, the need for instant gratification and trouble moving (to name but a few!).

It's a sad fact that many families don't believe they could exist without tv. Fooey! It takes less than a week to become accustomed to a new, PEACEFUL lifestyle which does not involved being programmed by a tv. Some parents manage to create some sort of discipline regarding tv watching, only to have their child then sit at the computer for hours every day. There are so many health issues involved in tv and computer watching, that it takes a book, rather than a blog, to discuss them sensibly. I can only hope that if your family's life is ruled by the screen, you might take some time to research the matter fully.

When Bethany, who is now 11, was almost two, we introduced her to tv. It was near the end of my pregnancy with Eliza, and Paul let her watch Barney the dinosaur so I could sleep-in. She used to wake up VERY early and it was far too early to go off to the park, so tv became an instant source of entertainment.

One show soon became two, as Paul thought it would be nice for her to have a copy on video. Well, tots aren't silly! Videos replay don't they? She became obsessed. It was truly horrible. I didn't know anything back then that I know now about the insidious effects of the tele-visual culture. I wish I had! There's no room for regrets, but with hindsight, I'd have begun parenting without tv.

I knew something drastic had to be done, so we put the tv in the wardrobe. It felt strange for us too, not to sit back and watch shows in the evening.

We decided to get rid of the tv altogether, and both girls spent the next nine years without it. Interestingly, Eliza, who'd not experienced tv in our own home, has never been able to sit and watch it like Bethany can. When they visit friends who've had a tv on, within minutes Eliza will come and say she's 'bored'.

About six months ago, a lady in the village was getting rid of a tv and video player, and offered it to us. We ummed and aaahed. It was certainly not an immediate 'yes'.

"All those nature programmes and documentaries…" we said. And on the basis of that we agreed. I truly wish we hadn't.

Well, the great tv experiment has been interesting, and a steep learning curve on the parenting path. Yes, it has been wonderful to watch shows like Planet Earth and see extraordinary footage.

The children wanted to see other shows too, like Blue Peter. There is one presenter for CBBC, who is so inappropriate for children's tv. There is something about her attitude, as if she's giving young kids the come-on or something, which sits very uncomfortably with Paul and I.

Last week, the remote and the tv guide went walk about… I wonder how that could have happened!?

Bethany rather lost the plot and acted like an alcoholic that had her secret stash stolen.

Bethany managed the day without tv, but it was tough going. I found it emotionally exhausting saying 'not today'. What I have noticed since the introduction of the 'fool's lantern', is that for girls who used to read all the time, and constantly engage in creative endeavours, a lot of their creative interests died down quite dramatically.

So, we came up with a deal. Three hours of tv, maximum, a week ~ and no nagging, whining or bullying me into more, or we get rid of it altogether. (Unfortunately they also watch tv at school ~ about an hour a week from what I can gather, PLUS computer time!).

Choices are to be made at the beginning of the week. Anything on a commercial station gets videoed, so it can be watched without the adverts. The usual rule of sitting as far back from the tv as possible always applies.

The girls go to bed at 7.45 during the week, so there isn't much time for tv when they come home from school - by the time they've had a snack, done their spelling and practised their instruments, had a play in the village, eaten dinner, etc. I've noticed that being strong on tv and computer times has seen a return to the girls spending time making pictures and other items. This is as childhood should be.

If you're new to the concept of holistic family living, I recommend that, if you do choose to keep a tv and computer, that you set a maximum limit. Personally I think more than ½ an hour a day is too much for children.

You need to know exactly what is being watched at any time, and that it is age-appropriate. Cartoons really can't be recommended because of the speed at which the scenes move. Install parental controls on your internet access. It is too easy for pornographic material to be accessed. Once an image is in a child's mind it can't be taken away!

I've not given consent for my children to have internet access at school because the Principal has stated, in writing, that she can't guarantee the children won't access inappropriate websites!

The tele-visual culture is a nightmare for the sensitive needs of our young children. The call banning tv for under 3s is brilliant, but personally I'd say it should extend to under 7s. But, of course, this country would fall over if that was suggested!

The truth is we live in a culture which doesn't know how to parent. We've collectively lost the ability to recognise what constitutes a healthy childhood. Parents are scared to let their children outside to play, and instead, 'gift' them with a tv and computer in their own bedrooms. I find it shocking that 50% of under 3s have a tv in their bedroom!

Is it any wonder there is so much social dysfunction? More than 60% of families never eat a meal together. Those who do, tend to sit at a dining table and share the experiences of the day. These same families are more likely to eat healthier food and have more harmonious relationships.

The connection with obesity and tv-watching is no coincidence. When the mind is numbed by the CRTs it simply can't hear the messages from the brain, saying "STOP!, I'm full!". The person isn't being nourished by the stimulation of real human company, and so keeps eating, looking for 'comfort'. More often than not, the people who watch tv alone in their bedrooms, always eat alone, and not surprisingly eat junk food.

This is a topic about which I'm prepared to stand on a soap-box. If, like me, you genuinely believe tv is something which can be a useful form of education or entertainment, then it really has to be approached with great discipline. Children are a bit like water, in that they can find all the cracks and get through. They know how to push, push and push till mum gives in. Unless you're like concrete with your principles, it is infinitely easier to not have the idiot box (aka Plug-in Drug) at all. You can opt instead for a video/dvd tv only, and rent wildlife shows, say, once a week.

No child on this planet will be deprived because they've been 'denied' teletubbies, Blue Peter or Dr Who. As adults we too easily transfer our own addictions on to our children, with no justifiable basis. I've noticed that those adults who are adamant tv and computers are important for children are the same people who actually couldn't tell you the first thing about children's healthy brain development, or the health issues connected to electromagnetic fields. How ironic that they make the loudest noise when the call for honouring children's well-being is brought into the public arena.

I do not recommend TV at all for growing children. It simply isn't an asset to family life. Everyone has their own view on it, which is fair enough. Having experienced life with and without tv, I have the courage of my convictions, and know without doubt that life is dramatically more peaceful, loving, spontaneous and creative without a tv ~ for parents and children.