Young children start off with no language and no frame of reference, so when they watch television, they are looking at mindless scenes and listening to meaningless sounds. Consequently, when children watch too much television, at the cost of having quality real-life experiences, they are being wired for failure. Real-life experiences stimulate a child’s developing brain on many levels. It wires the brain to pay attention and interact with the world. It activates the brain to learn to add meaning, make decisions, predict, solve problems, reflect, delay gratification and take control of the environment. Television, on the other hand, wires the brain to “see without understanding” and “hear without listening”.
Short-term effects :
Dr Dimitri Christakis conducted a study during which a group of 4 year olds, who were randomly selected, were asked to draw pictures for 9 minutes. Another group watched a slow-paced educational video and a 3rd group watched 9 minutes of a fast-paced television show called “Sponge Bob Square Pants”. This show is well-known for its high energy and rapid scene changes – similar to many popular cartoons.
When the 3 groups of children were challenged directly afterwards to repeat a series of 3 numbers backwards, solve a problem and exert self-control, the group that watched the high-paced were so over-stimulated by the overbearing sights and sounds that they basically shut down. Most of them failed all the challenges as shown below.
According to these findings fast-paced television programs overstimulate the majority of everyday children to the point where they struggle to learn, solve problems and resist temptation for a period afterwards. Nobody knows for sure how long the impact lasts.
*My guess is that the negative impact will last longer in some children of a certain age than others, depending on a child’s inborn temperament and the level to which his executive functioning skills have been developed up to that point in time.