When I was growing up, my parents never obviously limited my TV time. I didn’t watch a whole lot of TV anyway, so it was never a big deal. Now, the only shows I enjoy watching on TV are Spongebob and SportsCenter. I’m very verbal about my love for Spongebob, and last year I had an interesting conversation with one of my teachers when she told me that she wasn’t going to let her child watch cartoons at all. She claimed that excessive cartoons, and Spongebob in particular, makes kids dumber. This got me thinking: how much of a factor is TV on brain development, and does excessive TV consumption cause negative impacts on a person’s life?
The first thing that’s important to consider is brain development in children and its stages. According to developmental biologist Jean Piaget, children go through three stages of brain development before they reach age 12. Stage one occurs between birth and age two; stage two occurs between age two and age seven, and stage three occurs between age seven and age twelve. The final stage is from age twelve onward. Generally speaking, it can be assumed that children will watch most TV between ages 2-12. The studies of Piaget state that during the intuitive phase (ages 4-7) of the pre-operational period (ages 2-7), children develop and begin to understand concepts in raw forms. In addition to that, many of those concepts become so engraved to a point where they are irreversible. It isn’t until the period of Concrete Operations (ages 7-12) that kids are able to use logic and reason more fluently. Obviously, different cartoons demonstrate and portray different messages, and some are more advanced than others. So, it can be said that depending on the cartoon, TV shows do potentially have an effect on the minds of children, and in some stages, those effects can be permanent.
Historically, it has been believed that excessive television consumption “rots the brain”. According to Kyla Boyse (2010), kids who watch TV excessively tend to have a higher chance of being obese, are more likely to drink and do drugs at a younger age, and are often misinformed about sexuality. She argues that television often promotes these things, and that that promotion can have a very negative impact on the minds and lives of children. Boyse touches on a study done that shows the effect of TV consumption on school life, stating that effects can last many years and even harm the average consumer as late as age 26. In addition to this, she states that TV consumption as a child leads to a decreased chance of college graduation and an increased chance of flunking or dropping out of school.
From a more concrete standpoint, there are obviously many opportunity costs of watching TV, including physical activity, reading, or even playing with friends and, as a result, developing communication and inter-personal skills. Another study done in early 2016 somewhat breaks down the previously stated idea, suggesting that heredity plays a huge and widely overlooked role in how children develop. Criminologists Joseph Schwartz of The University of Nebraska and Kevin Beaver of Florida State University (2016) studied the correlation between kids’ TV consumption at a young age and other variables like ethnicity, gender, and the rates of incarceration and violent crimes, as they got older. The difference of this study was that it actually tested multiple sibling pairs as well. In almost all results of the case, it was found that when blood relation was taken into consideration, almost all correlation between excessive TV consumption and negative impacts on life disappeared. So, all in all, Schwartz and Beaver are basically saying that TV consumption does not necessarily lead to bad behavior in the teenage or adult years. The claim is that those actions are already more likely influenced by heredity. Heredity is the one confounding variable that could lead to bad behavior, regardless of how much TV a person watched as a child.
To conclude, TV consumption may hinder brain development in children, but it is not the defining cause of delinquency. Granted, it can be concluded that excessive consumption does have negative impacts on one’s life, in that a child’s time is limited and while watching TV he or she is not playing with friends, reading, or engaging in physical activity. Despite Schwartz and Beaver’s conclusions, a logical parent would monitor both the type of shows their child watches and for how long they watch them and encourage them to spend more of their time at play, some thing I enjoyed daily, despite my adoration of Spongebob.