This is what happens when a 90s kid writes a paper at 3 am about the “dangers” of television
In a generation where technology reigns king and holds the human race hostage, you’d think one of the biggest technology mediums out there – television – would be perceived as a good thing. Apparently though, the mass
communication invention that changed family room blue prints forever is considered harmful for children. I have a 14-month-old cousin who knows how to use her mother’s iPhone better than I (an Android customer) do, and everyone considers her to be one of the smartest babies around. Why? Because she’s been exposed to technology and can do things at barely a year old that my grandfather, now 88, couldn’t figure out if his life depended on it. Sure, technology conceivably makes you lazy, but harmful? It just doesn’t make sense. What makes less sense, though, is what a life without TV would mean to kids today. During my freshman year of college, I met a friend who had grown up without TV. One night when parting ways after dinner, I said “TTFN! Ta ta for now!” and she looked at me like I had four heads and was speaking a foreign language. Maybe it’s just me, but if you didn’t know I was quoting Tigger there, well, you’re doing it wrong. And by “it” I mean “life.”
In his article On Media Violence, W. James Potter (1999) attempts to argue that television is, in fact, harmful to children. He cites several symptoms/outcomes/results of television exposure as the basis for his argument, mainly fear, desensitization, aggression, and identification. Well, Mr. Potter, you’re wrong. Here’s why:
On aggression and desensitization, Potter writes “The more aggressive the person is, the more influence viewing of violence will have on that person’s subsequent aggressive behavior” (32) …does he see what he’s saying here? If you’re a naturally angry, aggressive person, watching something with anger or aggression is more likely to affect you. Someone please call NASA! It appears we have uncovered long lost truths of rocket science! Seriously, he’s contradicting himself here – it’s your personality that determines your aggressiveness, not what you watch on TV. Just because most women (and admittedly myself, too) will cry when they watch The Notebook every weekend on ABC Family because they’re (we’re?) hopelessly romantic, doesn’t mean that every disturbed little boy who watches Jersey Shore will grow up and punch Snooki in the face. Correlation does not imply causation, Mr. Potter.
A recent (2011) finding makes a similar argument to Potter’s, but instead aims to attack the cognitive harm television does to kids. In an experiment conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Lillard and Peterson found that watching just 9 minutes of the popular cartoon SpongeBob Squarepants caused “significant” strain on “the ability to think, plan, and focus” in pre-schoolers so that “immediately afterwards, a child isn’t operating at full capacity.” This was also due in part to “too many oddities and unexpected twists” in the show.
This is why I have a problem with science – its narrow-mindedness blinds it from the truth. In their experiment, the other pre-schoolers that did not watch those 9 minutes of SpongeBob either colored for 9 minutes or watched a slower, quieter, more educational children’s cartoon, Caillou.
Now there’s no way these researchers could understand this, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, but, SpongeBob is not harming the prefrontal cortex. Clearly they did not watch SpongeBob as a kid because anyone who did would know one thing: SpongeBob is and was totally freakin’ awesome.
Honestly, when you heard,
“Are ya ready kids?”
“AYE AYE, CAPTAIN!”
you lost your flipping mind. It didn’t matter what you were doing – as soon as SpongeBob came on you stopped and watched. If you didn’t, you were that kid in school the next day who didn’t know what had happened. Watching SpongeBob wasn’t optional, and it was sometimes the best part of your day. The little yellow man who lives in a pineapple under the sea isn’t turning your kids into mush, it’s making them hyper. Try talking to a kid who just came back from recess or just finished watching their favorite TV show. It’s pointless. They’re kids who get overly excited over simple things. It doesn’t mean TV is bad, it means they’re kids. Can we move on?
Potter later discusses the issue of children developing fears from watching violent television programming. He argues that “exposure to violence in the media can lead to fear effects” which are “an emotional reaction [comprised] of anxiety and stress” (35). I can’t say I disagree with what Potter has to say here. Actually, I endorse it. When I was five, I begged my parents for months to let me watch Jurassic Park because I was obsessed with dinosaurs. For the majority of those months, they said no, knowing the movie would be a bit too old for me. Finally, after endless nagging, they gave in and allowed me to watch it. It scared the living hell out of me, so much so that I had terrible nightmares of being chased and eaten by dinosaurs. The next day, 5-year-old Pat gave the VHS back to my parents and asked them to hide it somewhere I would never find it so I couldn’t watch it anymore. I still have those nightmares to this day, fifteen years later. I also know that Velociraptors can open door handles and that if I ever encounter a wild Tyrannosaurus Rex I should stay still in hopes he can’t see me because running will just get me eaten. TV is harmful? More like life-saving.
W. James Potter is further concerned that “characters who are…perceived as similar to the viewer evoke viewer
empathy” so much so that when a character experiences pain or trauma, so too will the viewer. Once again, I agree with Potter’s assessment. When Cory and Topanga broke up, I felt the same agony that Cory did. I also realized at a young age that someday I was going to find a girl I absolutely could not live without and would love with all my heart and, when that day came, to never give up, never give in, and never, ever let her go. I identified with Cory Matthews as a kid and, now, at 20, want nothing more than to find the love of my life. Is that really that bad?
In The Dynamics of Mass Communication, Dominick explains that, simply, “all this means that under certain conditions TV will be an influential force in shaping what children think about certain topics”(434). Well, if I were a kid today, based on what I saw on TV over the last few months, I would assume that politicians are evil, liars, and solely out to make one another look bad and not help me. Guess what? I wouldn’t be wrong.
TV isn’t the enemy here.
Growing up, my absolute favorite TV show was Pokémon, a TV series based off the popular video game franchise. If you’ve never heard of Pokémon before, imagine going to the zoo while tripping acid, then trying to catch the zoo animals in a little ball, and finally forcing the animals to fight each other to the point of unconsciousness for money and fame, and you have Pokémon. Was it violent? Yes. Is my name Michael Vick? No. Do you see a problem here? Yeah, me neither.
Saying television harms children is like saying wearing flip flops in the winter causes cancer. Is there research out there that supports the claim? Yup. Does it make the claim any less asinine? Not at all. Watching Pokemon and other programs on television didn’t mean I was going to grow up to be some psychotic serial killer, it meant I was a kid. If anyone can prove otherwise, I’ll be happy to listen.
But, until that point, TTFN: Ta ta for now.