Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Television, Children, Parenting and Autism

As the father of a 2 1/2 year old (Emeline) who loves to watch videos (particularly Dora the Explorer), I found this latest post by Al Mohler very interesting (http://www.albertmohler.com/blog_read.php?id=792) concering a study at Cornell University that reports a "statistically significant relationship" between autism and television viewing. One of the reasons I found it so compelling is because of the response of my 3-month old daughter (Cameron) to the visual stimuli of television. Whenever we place her on her blanket on the floor when Emeline is watching a video, we never place Cameron facing the televison because we try to limit the exposure our girls have to television. But recently she has developed the ability to roll over from her back to her stomach, and she literally will rotate and position herself to see the television when it is on. This is an important observation for me because the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that no child under 2 watch any television, and yet my 3-month old is literally cranning her neck to see it!

Television is a powerful medium that has the ability to render the average intelligent adult into a passive, unresponsive vegetable, and apparently effectively captivates the young minds of infants as well (as we are learning). Unfortunately, for many care-givers, television has become a primary means of adbicating one's responsibility to interact and nuture our children. Parenting is exhausting. It is hard work, and as young parents, Emily and I see how easy it is just to throw in a video and let the television take care of Emeline for awhile. I resonate with the temptation to put your kid in front of the television for a few moments of quiet rest and relaxation. In our fatigue, and what can only often be called nurturing neglect of our children, we may be stifling their full potential.

What parents often fail to take into consideration is the impact of the medium of television on children. Let's be frank, as most women can attest to this based on experience with the men in their lives, television is a major distraction in our lives. Several years ago I remember visiting a couple in their home. The wife wasn't home and I was trying to engage the husband in conversation. He had invited me into the living room to talk, but he left the television on. The gentleman could barely even make eye-contact during our conversation. He kept sneaking away peeks at the tv screen and often drifted into barely audible responses to my questions, and at times it was quite obvious that he hadn't even really heard what I had asked him. I have a friend that when we go to lunch, I never let him face the television because if I do, conversation is shot.

We see the crippling effects of the medium of television in our adult lives, and yet we remain unmoved in protecting our children from the potentially negative impact of television, particularly excessive television viewing. Try talking to a child watching television and see what kind of response you get. You will be fortunate to get any kind of response. Studies show that television does not encourage the development of our children's imagination. It is a passive rather than active in its engagement. It shortens the attention span (and we wonder why so many children are now diagnosed as ADD). Some researchers, as Mohler's post points out, suggest that viewing television can affect "the cognitive and neurological development of the child." And now this study from Cornell University suggests that there may be a link between autism and television viewing. Shouldn't this cause parents to be a little more discerning in the viewing habits for their children?

Maybe this latest study will cause parents to re-evaluate the viewing habits of their children.


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