Watching television is steadily evolving into the most preferred pastime, irrespective of viewers’ age and gender. However, despite its unlimited entertaining and informatory opportunities, viewing television entails both positive and negative outcomes. Specifically, this activity is detrimental to language development in young children.
Watching Television and Language Development
Currently, television greatly influences the formation of children since their birth (Pagani, Fitzpatrick, Barnett & Dubow, 2010, p. 426). Moreover, “The average amount of screen time increases with age” (Duch, Fisher, Ensari & Harrington, 2013). Numerous research studies indicate that enormous children’s exposure to computer games, TV-based entertainment, playing programs, and television reduces their level of critical consciousness (Christakis et al., 2009; Tomopoulos et al., 2010). Moreover, such activities change their perception of the world, transform moral and ethical values, deteriorate their abilities to analyze and synthesize information, and retard language development (Christakis et al., 2009; Tomopoulos et al., 2010; Duch et al., 2013). In spite of the presence of insightful and educational programs, television does not promote sustained interest to the world, other people, diverse phenomena, and so forth. It evokes natural curiosity, which is immediately satisfied with superficial, distorted, or even completely incorrect information. The inner world of young children is still in its infancy; everything that they receive from communication and activities shared with adults plays a significant role in shaping their identity (Pempek, Kirkorian & Anderson, 2014). Uncontrolled consumption of media information characterized by poor quality and inappropriate content prevents the formation of speech and articulation; it does not provide children with incentives necessary for the formation of motor skills and senses. Those who watch television too often are at a great risk of remaining without knowledge of the world. They experience difficulties in distinguishing reality from fiction, acquiring new knowledge, reading, and writing. Moreover, they are sometimes characterized by increased anxiety in conjunction with spontaneous aggression.
In accordance with recent research studies, such as those by Christakis et al. (2009), Pagani et al. (2010), Duch et al. (2013), Pempek et al. (2014), frequent and long-term television viewing has multiple negative effects, replacing concrete sensual experience and hindering the development of language skills in young children. A child’s early involvement in watching television adversely affects one’s development, significantly lowers curiosity, and makes one passive (Pagani et al., 2010, p. 426). Children learn to speak by communicating with people not television. Their developing brain does not handle television speech with the same intensity as a conversation with a living person. Successful language development depends on a child’s psychophysical health, including one’s state of higher nervous activity, mental processes (attention, memory, imagination, and thinking), as well as physical (somatic) state. Prolonged TV viewing is fraught with slower development of language, depletes vocabulary, worsens figurative speech, and decreases abilities to accurately articulate thoughts.
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In addition, watching television is associated with a sedentary lifestyle, which potentially leads to overweight, obesity, and other disorders. Furthermore, when a person utters words, all one’s body is involved in the process of speaking, making certain micromotions. Engaging one’s entire being (literally and figuratively) in the process of communication, an infant learns to speak at the level of consciousness, uttering various imitative sounds: cooing, babbling, to list a few. Before he or she promotes one’s first word, a baby trains the muscles of his body and face and learns to coordinate more than a hundred of muscles involved in articulation, focusing on adults. On the contrary, when he or she hears speech from TV loudspeakers, his or her body does not react to sounds. In the process of young children’s language development, live communication and interactions with family members cannot be substituted with watching television.
During viewing television, children’s mentality is more directed towards visualization than verbalization (Christakis et al., 2009). Children watch TV silently; they do not communicate with others or practice speaking. Moreover, viewing television not only prevents the formation of speech and articulation. It blocks spontaneous creative games and natural movements, not giving children incentives, much-needed for the formation of motor skills and senses. A child develops through his or her bodily experience. A TV screen is an imaginary reality that cannot turn into a tangible experience necessary for the development. Unlike statements, television images cannot be confirmed or denied; they are visually presented to a viewer and not reality-oriented. Broadcasted information is designed for the anonymous audience since it does not require selective, logic, and critical thinking, appealing directly to emotions and abilities to recognize patterns. TV programs are often stereotypically constructed and do not encourage a child to develop one’s own imagination and creativity. Stories represented by animated cartoons do not encourage children to dream. Therefore, children’s vocabulary becomes scarce. They predominantly use exclamations, such as those occuring in TV comics, disjointed fragments of phrases, and ridiculous imitations of noise, accompanying them with robotic movements. Insufficient diversity of external stimuli can lead to the deficiency in the formation of brain functions. Being caused by watching television, language delay entails far-reaching detrimental ramifications (Tomopoulos et al., 2010, p. 1106).
Language development is inextricably linked with the formation of cognition and thinking abilities in young children. Human cognitive skills and abilities to think conceptually form in the process of language development (Owens, 2010, p. 97). Speech, emanating from TV screens, remains a poorly understood set of strange sounds. According to research findings provided by Tomopoulos et al. (2010), long-lasting infants’ exposure to television results in worsened language development (p. 1108). Such an outcome negatively influences further development of young children. The researchers state that “lower effects on expressive compared with receptive language tests may reflect limited expressive language at age 14 months; it is possible that greater effects on expressive language might be seen for older children” (Tomopoulos et al., 2010, p. 1106).
Researchers have identified that television affects the development of language skills because watching television dramatically distracts parents from communicating with their children (Christakis et al., 2009; Duch et al., 2013; Pempek et al., 2014). Communication is a “process of encoding, transmitting, and decoding signals in order to exchange information and ideas between the participants” (Owens, 2010, p. 436). As a result of redundant television viewing, children constantly experience the lack of communication at their early age though it is essential for the development of all mental processes, including speaking. Children’s development is characterized by their active exploration of the world and acquisition of practical and informative activities. In early childhood, communication with parents is vital and plays a key role in children’s cognitive development. Numerous research studies have confirmed that communication with parents and other family members positively affects the development of children’s speech (Christakis et al., 2009; Pagani et al., 2010; Duch et al., 2013; Pempek et al., 2014). Furthermore, cooperative games help a child fully realize his or her abilities and talents. Psychologists point out that parents should take part in games with their children instead of watching television. A child’s verbal behavior (language acquisition) evolves due to one’s interactions with family members and, thus, language is a product of verbal statements selectively supported within the first years of life. Beginning with simple forms of babbling in infancy, children’s verbal behavior gradually develops until it reminds adults’ language. According to Christakis et al. (2009), parents do not communicate with infants in a perceptible way, and television frequently leads to “significant reductions in discernible parental word counts, child vocalizations, and conversational turns for children 2 to 48 months of age” (p. 556).
A recent research by Pempek et al. (2014) has estimated that background TV also makes detrimental impacts on language development in young children. For two years, scientists have closely monitored and analyzed the development of language skills in young children exposed to background noise of television. The researchers have obtained persuasive evidence that exposure to television violates the natural development of language skills in young children. According to Pempek et al. (2014), even if a child does not watch TV, he or she experiences difficulties in perceiving parents’ words due to extraneous sounds produced by background television. Parental teaching is interrupted by television noise and not effective. The study has confirmed the fact that the duration of dialogues and the number of words and phrases uttered in a television program do not promote language development. Childhood is associated with high emotional responsiveness to external sounds. Background television noise, especially speech, results in children’s slower reaction and lower concentration: a child cannot focus on communication with parents or other occupations. Audible speech of background television does not cause any images and sustainable experiences in young children. In conformity with the research findings, background TV is not only “distracting and disruptive to infants and toddlers, but it also reduces the quantity and quality of parent-child interactions” (Pempek et al., 2014, p. 219). Television has become an integral part of life for most of average families around the world; many parents do not consider it necessary to turn it off while communicating with their young children. The longer a TV set is on, the less attention parents pay to communication with their children. Background television can negatively affect the dynamics of language development and diminish the quality of relationships between parents and children. Therefore, the researchers strongly recommend that parents turn off TV sets when they interact with their children (Pempek et al., 2014, p. 220).
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Contemporary studies have determined that, irrespective of their age, children spend a larger part of their vigilance on watching television in comparison with all other occupations, including homework assignments, communication with family members, and games with peers (Christakis et al., 2009; Pagani et al., 2010; Tomopoulos et al., 2010; Duch et al., 2013). Anyone who has turned out to be immobilized by television since one’s infancy will be silent while growing up. Verbal communication creates necessary conditions for the development of various forms of activity, cognition, and participation in teamwork, contributing to human successful socialization. Moreover, information obtained from TV programs does not promote the expansion of young children’s outlook. On the contrary, it is often extremely counterproductive, complicated, striking, or banal.
In conclusion, although modern life is impossible without watching television, this extremely popular occupation is associated with both positive and deleterious consequences for young children. Recent research studies, such as those by Christakis et al. (2009), Pagani et al. (2010), Tomopoulos et al. (2010), Duch et al. (2013), have determined that the average amount of time spent on viewing TV programs increases with age, posing a threat to the development of children in general and their language skills in particular. Prolonged young children’s exposure to television decelerates their language development, impedes meaningful communication with family members, and diminishes cognitive abilities. Even background television is detrimental to language development. Taking into consideration the necessity for children’s harmonious development, it is essential to monitor and thoroughly control their exposure to television.
Children Who Watch Television Spend Less Time Reading or Drawing Than Children Who Do Not
It has always been thought that family plays the most important role in a child’s life; however, the situation has recently changed, and much influence is made by television. It is hardly possible to find a household without a television; usually there are even more than one screen in a house. Many children have TV sets in their rooms and consider sitting in front of a screen to be much better way of spending time than any other activity. In his article, Hoffman (2003) mentions that “the average American child spends every day about 3 hours in front of television and only 45 minutes he or she devotes to reading”. A six-month old baby can also stare at the screen without understanding anything. Baby’s attention is drawn by a number of changing pictures accompanied by sounds. By the age of seven-eight, watching television becomes more comprehensive; the child is able to realize what is real and what is not. At the age of eleven, the child is able to make conclusions, correlate deeds of characters with his/her own deeds, in other words, to distinguish good from bad and analyze the situation. However, it is necessary to be aware of the fact that if to allow watching television from the early childhood not limiting time, the child will spend the whole day in front of TV. As a consequence, it will be difficult for the child to distinguish reality from television story. Today’s children grow up with a stream of entertainment, and there is no space for reading and drawing. There are emerging concerns regarding time children spend watching television since it can make a huge effect on the development of a child’s perception.
According to David (2013), in 2005, there were 40% of children, who read daily; however, in 2011, the percentage has reduced to 30%. It is caused by the fact that children’s eyes are glued to different devices. Children are no longer interested in reading books. However, we cannot blame them for spending time in front of screen rather than reading a story or drawing. In his article, Shapiro (2013) claims, “parents do not provide children with good reading behaviors, children do not feel comfortable with books”. There is no doubt that if parents start buying books and start reading themselves, this will encourage children. It is also necessary to add that drawing also plays a very important role in children’s development. With the help of drawing, children are taught to express their emotions and become more confident; however, within time, they lose enthusiasm for drawing, so it is vitally important to encourage them to draw. Since parents are usually very busy and do not have enough free time to spend with their children, they are also expected to be busy; thus, this gap is filled with screen time. In her research, David (2013) claims, “children who read and draw for pleasure, have good memory, confidence, greater self-esteem and general knowledge. Reading and drawing build empathy, improve imagination and language development”. In the time of technological progress, parents should preserve the art of reading and drawing for pleasure.
However, even though children spend not much time in front of television, it is necessary to control the quality of the programs. American Academy of Pediatrics (2010) claims that “even innocuous children’s programs use specific effects to concentrate children’s attention”. Usually, children who watch much TV are not able to concentrate since there is often much noise and silly voices on television. While watching television, little concentration is required. However, if you are reading or drawing, it is necessary to maintain attention for a long time. Concerning age peculiarities, children under 2 are not recommended at all to watch television. At that age, it would be much better to explore the world around and socialize with people. Nowadays, children have to teach to be still – to have a still mind and be able to concentrate on a story. The rhythm of life is really fast; as a result, children simply do not have a habit to read or draw. In such a situation, it is necessary to control time children spend in front of television. What is more, it is vitally important that parents review all the programs their children watch. Undoubtedly, there are some educational TV programs that make a positive impact on language development. Owing to this, children enlarge their vocabulary and become able to express their thoughts. It is recommended to stick to 2-hour limit, but it is also necessary to offer children alternatives to watching television. For example, children can be offered listening to music, reading, drawing, or even playing outdoors.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (2010) consider ”amount of time spent on watching television interferes with time spent in activities, that have positive influence on the children’s health and development, such as interacting with parents, reading, drawing, doing homework and active playing”. The ease of watching television is undoubted; as a result, children prefer being glued to television than engage into creative play. To play some games inside, children are required to prepare for the game and clean everything after. Regarding watching television, everything is much simpler: turning on and off. There is no doubt that watching television deteriorates children’s creativity. The research proved that children brought up in the community with no television were much more creative than those who had a TV set. It is necessary to engage children in appropriate activities. Again, it all depends on parents, because very often when they are under stress, they lack desire to interact with children and simply put them in front of television. However, it would be much better if the parents devoted more time to reading or playing together with children; otherwise, there might occur such social ills as children’s lack of attention and concentration.
At the same time, it is necessary to emphasize on the fact that electronic media is not always related to the amount of time spent on reading or drawing. On the contrary, television has not always contributed to television watching. In reality, there is a thought that the time children have spent on watching television has remained almost the same, but children started to read more. Viewing television in its turn makes an impact on the following media use: going to the cinema, listening to the radio, and reading comics. It means that children prefer spending little time reading and drawing. Reading for fun can be triggered by parents’ encouragement to read books, children’s motivation and intelligence. Undoubtedly, American children are not reading a lot; however, there is no chance to make children read and draw more by unplugging computer. It is important to mention that our culture is a text-based culture, and parents need to encourage reading in all possible ways. The affordability and availability of different gadgets turned reading into a fun activity.
Watching television has become an American national pastime. However, it is a well-known fact that there are a lot of activities that would make much better impact on children’s well-being. Television viewing is considered to interfere with such activities as interacting with parents, reading, drawing, and playing. It is easier for the child to perceive and remember the information he or she saw on screen than the information he or she heard. There are usually visual images on the screen. However, a lot of parents are confused about the fact that their child does not want to read, does not listen to the teacher in the class, and does not interact with other children. The explanation is very easy: the child is not interested in it, he or she is not used to creating his/her own images, and analyzing the situation on his or her own. It is also difficult to make decisions and a choice. Every person has to possess such skills and abilities to develop successfully. It is necessary to encourage children to create their own show for the family audience. Children should be taught to do and create rather than be a consumer. A lot of children are no longer interested in arts and crafts since they got used to spending hours viewing bright entertaining commercials, which are trying to convince that happiness comes with the things they buy (Huffman, 2013). In that situation, it is recommended to expose children to a different type of entertainment that is not influenced by advertising. Billions of dollars are spent on marketing, which is aimed at making children loyal to their products. However, if the child spends too much time viewing television, then the risk of damaging brain is very high. According to the research, unlike reading and drawing, watching television does not advance cognitive functioning to a higher level.