- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 28, 2006

While winging it from Charlotte, N.C., to Des Moines, Iowa, last month, I passed the time by reading, cover to cover, American Airlines’ excellent in-flight magazine, American Way. Contained in the Sept. 15 issue were compelling stories about various South American destinations, including Robinson Crusoe Island off the coast of Chile, but what I found most interesting were statistics on family television habits.

Did you know 50 percent of American households have three or more television sets? In the average U.S. home, the television is on nearly eight hours a day. The average American watches more than four hours of television a day. On average, children in the United States will spend more time this year in front of the TV (1,023 hours) than they will in school (900 hours). Six of 10 Americans can name the Three Stooges, but fewer than two in 10 can name three sitting U.S. Supreme Court justices.

My take: It’s only a matter of time before an invading force will be able to put ashore on either coast and take us over before anyone notices — if anyone even cares. After all, the invasion will make for excellent reality television.

My purpose in writing this column, however, is not to predict the apocalypse. In 1978, I began raising a voice of alarm concerning the number of hours American children were allowed to spend watching television. Since then, the after-school-activity mania has reduced children’s average weekly TV time, but not appreciably.

I speculated that excessive television watching (more than five hours per week), especially during the preschool and early elementary years, actually could “rewire” a child’s brain in ways that would interfere with establishing critical learning abilities, including long attention span.

Subsequent research by psychologist Jane Healey, author of “Endangered Minds,” and others has confirmed that excessive television watching puts brain development at risk, increasing the likelihood of learning disabilities and behavior disorders. Confirming my initial speculation, she says the rapid-fire barrage of images that assault the brain of a young child staring at the boob tube actually can prevent the brain from wiring properly.

Miss Healey’s most recent research reveals that video games and computers are having similar, if not even more damaging, effects on children’s brains.

Former investigative journalist Marie Winn has spent the majority of her adult life studying the effect of television on child learning and behavior. The latest edition of Miss Winn’s well-written and meticulously documented book “The Plug-In Drug,” is a must-read for parents.

Unfortunately, my experience tells me that no amount of proof of television’s potential harm to children will move parents to make significant changes in their children’s viewing habits. There are exceptions, of course. I have talked with a relatively small number of parents across the United States who have eliminated or considerably reduced the time their children spend with television, video games and computers (fewer than five hours per week). None has reported anything but positive outcomes, not only to their children, but also to the overall quality of life in their families as well.

Reliable conclusions cannot be based on a self-appointed sample of that size, which is my reason for writing this column. I’m looking for reports, whether positive or negative, from parents who have eliminated television and video games from their children’s lives and from parents who didn’t allow them from day one.

Tell me about your children’s behavior: Are you experiencing significant discipline problems? Have any of your children been diagnosed with a learning disability or learning disorder, including attention deficit disorder? Are they having problems in school, and if so, of what sort? Do your children play independently and creatively, or do they rely heavily upon you to structure their free time? Anything else you want to add is fine with me.

E-mail your answers to [email protected] Thanks for taking the time to help me with this project. I will devote a future column to a summary of the information I collect.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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