THE ENTERTAINMENT TRAP

The Stats Tell the Story

In the  mid-1800s the average work week was about 70 hours, or about six 12-hour  days. At the turn of the twentieth century that figure dropped to about  60 hours per week, and by the mid-1900s, 50 hours were the norm. Today  people work an average of 40 hours or fewer a week. But, ironically,  with more leisure time than ever, we have collectively turned to  television to satisfy our increasing appetite for novelty, news, and  entertainment.

Americans  spend half their free time in front of the television. Ninety-nine  percent of households in America own at least one television—more than  have refrigerators or indoor plumbing. Thirty-two percent of households  have two television sets, and 66 percent have three. The average time  that television is on each day in the typical U.S. home is seven hours,  with individual viewing for adults topping four hours. That is 28 hours  per week, or two months of nonstop television viewing per year.[1]

In a  65-year lifespan, the average person will have spent nine years glued to  the television, enough time to obtain at least two university degrees.[2] American youngsters, on average, spend more time watching television than any other activity besides sleeping.[3] Psychologist Dr. Jane Healy notes that: “By ages three to five—the  height of the brain’s critical period for cognitive  development—estimates place viewing time of the average child at  twenty-eight hours a week. Average time for elementary students runs at  about twenty-five hours a week, and for high-schoolers, twenty-eight  hours a week, approximately six times the hours spent doing homework.”[4] When television time is combined with playing video games, many teens  are spending 35 to 55 hours in front of the television or game station  every week, according to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics.[5]

Retired  award-winning news analyst Robert MacNeil asks: “When before in human  history has so much humanity collectively surrendered so much of its  leisure to one toy, one mass diversion? When before has virtually an  entire nation surrendered itself wholesale to a medium for selling?”[6] Watching  television has become a major leisure activity; but, ironically,  sitting in front of the tube is more likely than other leisure activity  to leave people passive, tense, and unable to concentrate.[7] In fact, sitting in front of the television for long periods of time  leaves people in a worse mood than when they started watching.[8]

Creative  thinking, socializing, and individual or group reflection have been  replaced by scripted reality in many homes. But meaningful mental and  social activities produce a wiser, more productive, and fulfilled  people, ultimately creating a safer society.

Plug-in Drug?

With those  stats before us, it’s sobering to consider that television can have a  hypnotic, and possibly addictive, effect on the brain. The term  television addict has become proverbial in our society, and even a  subject of commentary by researchers: “Excessive cravings do not  necessarily involve physical substances. Gambling can become compulsive;  sex can become obsessive. One activity, however, stands out for its  prominence and ubiquity—the world’s most popular leisure pastime,  television. Most of the criteria of substance dependence can apply to  people who watch a lot of television.”[9]

And what are  the criteria of substance dependence? Spending a lot of time with the  substance; using it more than intended; thinking about reducing use or  making repeated unsuccessful attempts to reduce use; giving up important  social, family, or occupational activities for it; and reporting  withdrawal symptoms when one stops using it.[10]

Howard  Shaffer, who heads the Division of Addictions at Harvard University,  supports that, maintaining that drug use “is not a necessary and  sufficient cause of addiction. It is improper to consider drugs as the  necessary precondition for addiction.”[11]

The effects  of compulsive TV viewing can be devastating to home life, social  relations, and even work. One 32-year-old police officer has one wife,  two children, and three TV sets. He watches 71 hours of television a  week. “I rarely go out anymore,” he admits.[12]

Such  uncontrolled television exposure seems to create an increased but  unsatisfying thirst for more stimulation. Worse yet, the culture created  by the entertainment industry provides a fantasy world that makes  ordinary life boring. Media critic Neal Gabler notes how, as a result of  media saturation and stimulation, everything is judged by its  entertainment value.[13] Every experience has to be highly entertaining, whether it is work, school, church, or leisure time.

People  report feeling more relaxed and passive while watching television, but  their sense of relaxation ends when the set is turned off. However,  feelings of passivity and lowered alertness remain. Survey participants  report television has somehow “absorbed or sucked their energy, leaving  them depleted.”[14] Relaxation occurs quickly when the set is turned on because viewers  associate viewing with lack of tension. Brain changes reinforce this  association. But stress and lowered mood state occur once the screen  goes blank again, reinforcing the urge to leave the set on. And the  longer people watch television, the less satisfaction they derive from  it.[15] To those who are addicted, the absence of television can cause  depression, a sense of loss, anxiety, and cravings for more of  television’s stimulating effects.

Television and the Adult Brain

Adult brains can create new neurons.[16] [17] But regarding that, Jeff Victoroff, neuropsychiatrist and author of  Saving Your Brain, notes: “A wealth of new scientific evidence shows us  the difference between the effects of passive and active experience on  the brain. Active responses to cognitive challenges are unquestionably  what turn on our adult neurons. And here’s where we come to the crucial  point about mental stimulation and the brain: passive experience does  little for the adult brain. To keep the brain learning and growing, we  need to generate active responses to cognitive challenges.”[18]

Many people  watch television thinking that it is educational. But what type of  learning takes place while the brain is in a passive state? How much of  even “educational” programming is transferable to the brain’s higher  cognitive centers?

Many people  think that once they are adults and their brains are fully developed  their choices don’t affect brain health. But the adult brain is  continually responding to internal and external cues and remodeling  accordingly. “[Brain] nerves are constantly making new connections that  will serve us better in the things we do frequently. The brain can be  shaped by experiences, just as particular muscles respond to particular  exercises.”[19]

It’s true  that gross anatomy doesn’t change, but “through everyday life, certain  neuronal groups are selected to thrive while others die owing to lack of  use. If a person is inactive mentally, that individual loses brain  cells.”[20] On the other hand, “activities that challenge your brain actually  expand the number and strength of neural connections devoted to the  skill.”[21] Examples would include learning a musical instrument, reading mentally challenging material, or learning a new craft or skill.

Adults as  well as children can use their brains in an active way and reap the  resulting benefits of neural growth, expansion, and resilience. But  adults can whittle down a once-sharp intellect through lack of use,  causing unused brain circuits to diminish or even die. Without  interfacing with others and meeting mental challenges, the mind becomes  less able to focus on a task, making the individual less productive and  less able to achieve goals in life.

Television and the Developing Brain

The growing  brain of a child is especially responsive to environmental and lifestyle  factors, and especially prone to television’s ability to alter the way  the brain thinks and functions. Psychologist Jane Healy is a reading and  learning specialist as well as a published researcher in the area of  television’s effects on the learning brain. She notes: “Scientists are  acutely aware that large doses of any type of experience have shaping  power over the growing brain.”[22] And many children are getting larger doses of television than any other single activity besides sleeping.

Television  cannot compete with books, interaction, and real-life experience when it  comes to learning. Watching letters and numbers fly across the screen  does not transfer as well to the areas of the brain involved in mental  processing, focused attention, writing skills, critical thinking, and  active problem-solving.[23] Also, spending too much time in front of the television can actually  diminish these important skills in adults as well as children.

Through  excessive television watching, children may actually fail to develop  needed circuitry to master critical-thinking skills, while becoming  “over-wired” in the parts of the brain that crave novelty and reward but  don’t demand much thought. With so much of our leisure time spent in  front of the television, this fact alone has profound implications for  the moral, social, and intellectual advancement of our society.

A recent  study in Pediatrics discussing television’s brain effects reported that  “repeated exposure to any stimulus in a child’s environment may forcibly  impact mental and emotional growth by either setting up particular  circuitry (‘habits of mind’) or depriving the brain of other  experiences. This shaping process, which affects brain structure and  function, seems to influence both cellular development and  neurotransmitter regulation.”[24]

Television  is a two-edged challenge for the developing child. There is the  challenge of the brain-altering effects of so much media exposure; but  there is also the disadvantage caused by the displacement of many  beneficial activities because of time spent watching television. Simply  put, there is a lot that isn’t done because of television.

Dimitri  Christakis, a researcher at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical  Center in Seattle, Washington, found that for every hour preschoolers  watch television, there is a 10 percent increased risk of developing  attention problems later.[25] Problems  included difficulty concentrating, restlessness, impulsivity, and being  easily confused. Noting that television may over stimulate and  permanently rewire the developing brain, Dr. Christakis wrote: “There  are lots of reasons for children not to watch television. Other studies  have shown it to be associated with obesity and aggressiveness.”[26]

Television  can be a source of education, information, entertainment, and even  relaxation. Good programs are produced on science, history, nature,  religion, art, and human interest. These types of programs can provide a  nice diversion and stimulate interest in a new area of study, but  higher learning takes place as a result of active mental exertion, which  television generally does not stimulate—it is largely a passive  experience.

Higher  learning could be described as an active process that requires voluntary  rather than forced attention, utilizing active reasoning, mental skill,  and perseverance. In contrast, passive learning relies on rapid,  high-intensity visual and/or auditory stimulation. Passive learning  produces a response in the novelty and fear centers of the brain but  elicits little mental effort and leaves little time for moral  evaluation.

Television and the Neutral Brain

Dr. Antonio  Domasio, head of the Department of Neurology at the University of Iowa  College of Medicine, may have some further insights on how frequent  exposure to violent television and video games numbs the emotions.  According to Dr. Domasio, the risk of emotional neutrality increases as  the brain is barraged with too much input. This is because the  information center of the brain receives and processes data at a much  faster pace than the emotional center.

Domasio  says: “We really have two systems that are totally integrated and work  perfectly well with each other but are very different in their time  constants. One is the emotional system, which is the basic regulatory  system that works very slowly, with timescales of a second or more. Then  you have the cognitive (information) system, which is much faster  because of the way it’s wired and also because a lot of the fiber  systems are totally myelinated, which means they work much faster.”[27]

But nerve  circuits critical for forming attitudes, empathy, emotions, and values  lack this fatty myelin coat and process information more slowly.  High-speed visual input may stimulate novelty and fear centers to grab  and keep attention—but there is no time for more intricate emotional  memory pathways to solidify the experience and assign it a value.

“Events  register faster and faster and more and more remotely,” Domasio says,  “and you’re not even given time to let them sink in. Your feelings for  your wife—my feelings for my wife—those feelings that develop slowly are  still very different; they’re an island of safety. But on the news,  things are shown one after another. No matter how terrifying, images are  shown so briefly that we have no time to sense emotionally the horror  of a particular event.”[28] It  is not uncommon for news programs to air horrific scenes while  displaying basketball scores and stock market figures simultaneously at  the bottom of the screen. The end effect is that the horrific scenes no  longer evoke moral distress; they are simply more information along with  “the rest of the news”!

Television  news, now called “infotainment” by some critics, uses two methods in  packaging the news to arouse its viewers. First, “arousal can be  influenced by story topic or content: violence, disaster, and sex have  been shown to elicit arousal in most viewers.”[29] Second,  lavish and sensational production techniques arouse emotion in the  viewer. They include the use of sound effects, music, flash frames, slow  motion, and the obtrusiveness of the reporter’s tone.[30]

This sensory  overload affects both the body and the emotions. Viewing 14 minutes of  negative television news bulletins increased stress-hormone production  in viewers, as well as personal catastrophizing, worrisome thought,  anxiety, and sad mood.[31]

“The image  of an event or a person can appear in a flash,” Domasio says, “but it  takes seconds to make an emotional marking which means that you could  potentially become ethically less grounded. You’d be in an emotionally  neutral world.”[32]

The danger  of high-speed input, according to Domasio, is that “there will be more  and more people who will have to rely on the cognitive system entirely,  without using their emotional memory, in order to decide what’s good and  what’s evil. They can be told about good and evil, but good and evil  might not stick.”[33]

Forced Attention

In her book  Endangered Minds: Why Children Can’t Learn and What You Can Do About It,  Dr. Jane Healy notes several potential effects of television on the  brain, including forced attention, neural passivity, and addictiveness. [34]

The ability  to pay attention and focus on a task is developed internally. But  television artificially manipulates the brain into paying attention by  violating certain of its natural defenses with flashing images, sudden  close-ups, and invasive sounds (called saliency). Frequent loud noises,  camera zooms, and flashing distorted images alert the novelty, reward,  and fear centers of the brain of impending danger. This keeps you  watching—whether you want to or not. This may contribute to  hyperactivity, frustration, and irritability.[35]

News analyst  Robert MacNeil comments on television’s ability to force attention:  “Television’s variety becomes a narcotic, not a stimulus. Its serial,  kaleidoscopic exposures force us to follow its lead. In short, a lot of  television usurps one of the most precious of all human gifts, the  ability to focus your attention yourself, rather than just passively  surrender it.”[36]

One  researcher who studied the effects of television commented on his own  embarrassing struggle to pay attention during an interview when the  television set was on, even when the conversation was interesting![37] Yale law professor Charles L. Black wrote: “forced feeding on trivial fare is not itself a trivial matter.”[38]

Neural Passivity

According to  Dr. Healy, television may induce “neural passivity” and reduce  “stick-to-it-iveness.” According to Dr. Jennings Bryant of the  University of Alabama, watching lots of fast-paced programming “reduces  vigilance” and diminishes reading and puzzle-solving abilities after  viewing. According to Bryant, young viewers “are not as willing to stay  with the task.” Dr. Bryant, who was on the research and planning  committee for The Electric Company, concluded that such programming “may  have created a child who was so reinforced to go after the excitement,  the blazing stars, etc., that the learning was almost secondary.”[39]

Indeed, the  weight of evidence suggests that television viewing actually stimulates  daydreaming and reduces creative imagination.[40] This is because television largely gains attention through arousal mechanisms rather than stimulation of the intellect.[41]

In addition, television’s rapid visual and auditory stimulus can quickly become a narcotic,[42] quickly tuning out the higher learning, concentration, and motivation centers of the brain.[43] [44]

The  mesmerizing, numbing effect of television is well described by Robert  MacNeil: “The trouble with television is that it discourages  concentration. Almost anything interesting and rewarding in life  requires some constructive, consistently applied effort. But television  encourages us to apply no effort. It sells us instant gratification. It  diverts us only to divert, to make the time pass without pain.”[45]

In early  experiments measuring brain wave activity during television exposure, it  was found that switching from reading to television “instantly produced  a preponderance of slow alpha waves,” which are typically associated  with lack of mental activity.[46] Two  out of three studies confirmed higher levels of more passive alpha  waves while watching television, but higher levels of fast-wave beta  activity during reading.[47] [48] Later it was shown that simple, uninteresting, or confusing reading had the same effect as television on alpha wave levels.[49]

Entertained to Death

In his book,  Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment, psychiatrist Richard Winter  makes the point that in days gone by much of community entertainment  consisted of getting together with neighbors, popping popcorn, and  telling one another stories about themselves and others that kept  important memories alive. Technology has changed all that. Philosopher  Roger Scruton adds: “Television has confined each young person from  childhood onwards before a box of intriguing platitudes. Without  speaking, acting or making himself interesting to others, he  nevertheless receives a full quota of distractions.”[50]

And  distractions we get—to the point of being overwhelmed. It is important  to remember that the object of an exciting program is ratings; ratings  attract advertisers, and advertisers bring revenue. It’s about  advertising, not information—entertainment is the means to accomplish  the all-important bottom line—revenue.

Harvard  economist Juliet Schor has presented research to show that the more a  person watches television, the more he or she spends. She found that  each additional hour of television watched per week led to an additional  $208 of annual spending. Those surveyed watched 11.5 hours of  television per week, enough to cost them more than $2,300 in unplanned,  unnecessary spending.[51] That’s why major corporations will spend as much as $1.7 million for 30 seconds of commercial time.[52]

By the age  of 20, many young adults have seen more than 1 million television  commercials. What do children learn from these commercials? “Children  learn that they are the most important person in the universe, that  impulses should not be denied, that pain should not be tolerated and  that the cure for any kind of pain is a product. They learn a weird mix  of dissatisfaction and entitlement. With the message of ads, we are  socializing our children to be self-centered, impulsive, and addicted.”[53]

Commercials  could have a more substantial impact on personality development than  other media concerns in that they teach self-indulgence as opposed to  contentment, instant satisfaction as opposed to delayed gratification,  and consumerism as opposed to thriftiness. Author Henry Lebalme cites  “an unrealistic upscaling of desire and a distorted sense of the  significance of relatively minor problems.”[54] Does my bathroom really have to look like a curiosity shop? Is thinning  hair really going to cause me to lose my friends? An overload of  stimulation, information, advertising, and entertainment has produced an  unexpected result: boredom.

Dr. Winter  explains: “When stimulation comes at us from every side, we reach a  point where we cannot respond with much depth to anything. Bombarded  with so much that is exciting and demands our attention, we tend to  become unable to discriminate and choose from among the many options.  The result is that we shut down our attention to everything.”[55] Os Guinness describes this state: “The flipside of consumerism is  complacency. The most compulsive of shoppers and channel-surfers move  from feeling good to feeling nothing.”[56]

That is the  very condition that overexposure to entertainment, ads, and non stop  stimulation creates. Fortunately, the body, mind, and brain can be  reconditioned to enjoy less stressful overload and more balance between  getting and waiting; alternatives to hyper- stimulating entertainment  and sensory overload are reviewed in Designer Activities for an Enriched  Life.

Video Games

Playing  video games is not just an isolated passion of children and teenagers.  Electronic gaming, whether on consoles, handheld devices, or PCs has  become a worldwide pastime of all age groups and both sexes. Global  sales of games in 2002 were $17.5 billion, with Americans tipping the  scale at $11 billion in purchases.[57] Of the 60 percent of Americans who play video games, 61 percent are adults, nearly half are women, and the average age is 28.[58] But more of the younger set are logging longer hours in front of computer games.

Video and  computer games are a mixed blessing. They can be entertaining and  provide an occasional diversion. In contrast to television viewing,  interactive computer games require players to participate and develop  strategic skills. Some are creative, but an alarming number are violent  and pornographic. Psychiatrist Richard Winter points out that  “technology seems to act as a giant amplifier of both aspects of the  world—all that is wonderful and good and all that is terrible and evil.”[59]

And there  are increasing problems with addiction and isolation caused by video  games. Ten-year-old boys spend almost 10 hours a week playing video  games.[60] More than 60 percent of children report that they play video games longer than they intended to,[61] perhaps because the very interactive features that attract players may actually promote addiction in frequent users.

Video games  often use a mixture of novelty, reward, violence, and sex to rivet the  attention of their players. The games are designed with built-in reward  systems that lure players to spend hours achieving artificial goals.  Jane Healy describes the “secret weapons” these games employ to attract  and hold the minds of players:

•   feelings of mastery and control by the players.

•   exact calibration of the level of difficulty to the player.

•   immediate and continual reinforcement.

•   escape from the unpredictability of human events and social relationships.

•   demanding, colorful, fast-paced visual formats.[62]

These features combine to increase a risk for addictive behavior in frequent players that is similar to drug dependence.[63] Studies show that video game activity is associated with brain changes in dopamine.[64] Repeated  overstimulation of dopamine-producing reward centers can lead to  addiction, whether it is drugs or highly stimulating activities. The  harsh music and sound effects that provide the backdrop of many games  act to magnify their addictive potential.

Furthermore,  the isolated micro world of highly rewarding game playing does not  transfer well to classroom learning. Real-life learning offers less  power, excitement, immediate reward, and attention-grabbing tricks, but  demands more critical thinking, problem solving, and integration of  multiple skills to achieve results. Just because a child masters a game,  does not mean that the strategies he or she has developed transfer to  real-life skills.

In reality,  intensive gaming and television viewing may have three critical effects  on the learning brain: (1) They may affect the development of language,  reading, and analytical-thinking skills; (2) They may affect information  transfer between the two hemispheres of the brain. (3) They may  discourage attention, organization, and motivational capacities.[65] But despite these facts, what one anonymous author wrote is all too  true: “People will come to love their oppression, to adore the  technologies that undo their capacities to think.”[66]

Addicted to Violence?

Violent  video games have recently been linked to less activity in the brain  areas that control emotions, impulses, and attention. It has not been  shown whether the changes are permanent.[67] In time, it is possible to develop not only an addiction to watching or  simulating violence but also to actual violent behavior.

Neuropsychiatrist  and addiction specialist John Ratey confirms that addiction to anger is  a real problem for some people. “Aggressive people often have under  active frontal lobes, the areas of the brain that restrain impulsive  action and that supply wisdom, and if these are not working correctly or  actively enough, feelings of rage will not be inhibited. Breaking the  cycle of low inhibition and overstimulation, however, is made more  difficult when a person learns that acting on aggressive impulses will  bring a kind of relief. Addiction to aggression as a way to solve  problems and relieve frustration can make it very difficult for the  angry person to change.”[68] Media violence can feed anger addiction.

David  Grossman is a military psychologist who has spent years studying the  methods and psychological effects of training army recruits to  circumvent their natural inhibitions to killing. He served as an expert  witness in the aftermath of several school massacres, and has studied  the effects of violent media on adolescent violence. “More than any  other aspect of these new video games,” Grossman writes, “it’s the  accuracy of the stimulation—the carnage, the blood, the guts—that is so  advanced. Realism is the Holy Grail of the video game industry. And the  latest technology leaves little to the imagination—the stimulation seems  less fake, and therefore more effective.”[69]

“The  interactive quality, the intensity of the violence, the physiological  reactions, all serve to connect the player’s feelings of exhilaration  and accomplishment directly to the violent images. And ‘good’ feelings  keep the player wanting to play.”[70]

He adds: “We  don’t think we have to tell you how deadly the combination can be of  viewing ultraviolent images with the amusement park fun of shooting at  things until they drop.”[71] Add  to that the fact that gaming does improve eye-hand coordination, and we  are faced with the grim probability that these games not only reward  players for participating in gruesomely realistic scenes of violence and  killing but also teach them a deadly accuracy that increases their  ability to maim and kill in real life—and to do it automatically.

But it is  just a game, some say. Dr. Grossman refers to such games as not mere  toys but “killing simulators” that teach conditioned-killing responses,  much the same way that astronauts use simulators to learn to fly to the  moon without ever leaving the earth. His chilling analysis of school  massacres in his book Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill is more than  convincing.

Television  has the same desensitizing effect, conditioning the viewer to enjoy  horrific crimes and sexual exploitation, but without the hands-on  training. By age 18, an American youth will have viewed 16,000 simulated  murders or attempted murders and 200,000 acts of violence. In nearly 75  percent of those violent scenes, the violence is either rewarded or  there is no immediate punishment. Violent television programming is  linked to higher violence, murder, and attempted murder rates in  numerous population studies. Songs with violent lyrics dealing with  suicide, sexual assault, murder, and Satanism are also linked with  aggressive behavior.[72]

Dr. Grossman  explains why we can become immune to violent images and therefore  incapable of generating socially acceptable responses: “To make humans  continue doing something naturally repulsive, you make it fun for them.  This is called classical conditioning. Every day children of all ages  and in all stages of brain and ego development watch vivid pictures of  human suffering and death for fun and come to associate horror with  their favorite soft drink, candy, girlfriend’s perfume, birthday party  celebrations, or comfort in the hospital bed.”[73]

The virtual  explosion of “bloodbath” reality television programs and ultraviolent  video games that combine violence, trauma, sex, and profanity are  creating a culture of dangerously desensitized and addicted children,  youth, and adults. Thirty years of research have confirmed our need to  reevaluate the addicting and mind-shaping power of the media on the  developing and the adult brain. These brain-shaping effects are so  stunning that childhood exposure to media violence predicts young adult  aggressive behavior, according to a new 15-year study.[74]

Television Health Effects

But  television’s effects are far from just being mental. Television viewing  is linked to obesity among young and old. Numerous studies have  concluded that there is a direct relationship between hours of  television watched and added pounds.[75] [76] Television viewers are also more likely to have increased heart disease risk factors.[77] There are several reasons for this. Children and adults who spend more  time in front of the television are less likely to get needed physical  exercise. They are also more likely to respond to the many advertising  cues to consume unhealthful snack foods and drinks—with sugary, fatty  foods topping the list. According to Andrew Prentice, professor of  international nutrition at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical  Medicine, when someone is inactive, controlling appetite is not  instinctive; it is something that must be consciously controlled. The  less activity one has, the more difficult this becomes.[78]

There may be  one more intriguing factor. The resting metabolic rate, or the energy  your body expends at rest, appears to be lower when watching television  than even during rest. This means that excess calories would be turned  to fat more readily while watching TV. In this study of 15 obese and 16  normal weight children, “it was concluded that television viewing has a  fairly profound lowering effect on metabolic rate and may be a mechanism  for the relationship between obesity and amount of television viewing.”[79] More studies are needed to confirm these results.

Too much  TV-induced stimulation causes a rush of stress hormones to flood the  body, and that is not good for the brain, especially a delicate memory  center called the hippocampus. While lack of mental stimulation is  linked to increased dementia, it has been hypothesized that stress  damage from too much television exposure may also play a role in memory  loss.[80]

Violent television overworks the heart by increasing stress hormone production[81]—the  same stress hormones that can damage the memory when throttled too  high. That same overstimulation of the stress system has also been  linked to increased severity and frequency of asthma[82] and weakened immunities[83] in those who watch violent programming.

Finally,  children who viewed television the most frequently were more likely to  injure themselves from accidents than infrequent or nonviewers. It is  thought that children who watch the depiction of distorted reality on  the screen were more likely to imitate dangerous stunts and less able to  cope with stressful situations.[84] Conflict resolutions on television are usually settled quickly or with  force, which fail to teach children how to cope with difficult  situations.

Television Alternatives

One of the  best ways to break television addiction is to resolve that being a  bystander to life is more painful and empty than engaging in meaningful  activities, even at the risk of disappointment. Television brain lock  can be broken; the pleasures of real life can overtake the empty  stimulation of living in a fantasy world.

Closely  follow the steps outlined in chapters 7-9 of this book, and think about  implementing some of the alternatives to television listed in the  special section Designer Activities for an Enriched Life, and watch your  tension—and addiction—melt away!

There you  will find suggested activities that promote fulfillment and can bring  you real joy and lasting pleasure. Pleasure comes in many packages,  including intellectual growth, positive social relationships, the  development of skills and talents, creativity, responsibility, mental  and physical health, and the joy of discovery. These activities will  enrich rather than impoverish you, and enrich your mind and body as you  live in the freedom you were designed to enjoy.

God created  us to enjoy life, experience pleasure, form relationships, and develop  our mental faculties to a height that surpasses any other creature. Real  pleasure, success, happiness, and balance are possible. We can learn to  cope with life, enjoy normal daily routines, achieve new successes, and  develop meaningful social ties. This is not accomplished via satellite,  but by engaging in active learning and relationships.


[1] Are you stressed out? In a daze? You may be watching too much  TELEVISION. Atlanta Constitution, April 30, 1990. (Review of book cited  in note 5).

[2] Statistics from A.C. Nielsen Co, cited on www.csun.edu and www.televisionturnoff.org.

[3] Television in the home: the 1997 Annenberg Survey of Parents and  Children. The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of  Pennsylvania, June 9, 1997.

[4] Healy J. Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can Do  About It. (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1999) p. 196.

[5] Children, adolescents, and the media in the 21st century. Strasburger V, Donnerstein F. Adolesc Med 2000:11(1)51-68.

[6] MacNeil R. The trouble with television. Essay. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1989) p. 2.

[7] Kubey R Csikszentmihalyi M. Television and the Quality of Life: How  Viewing Shapes Everyday Experience. (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc,  1990).

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] The most important unresolved issue in the addictions: conceptual chaos. Shaffer HJ. Substance Use Misuse 1997:32(11)1573.

[12] Home viewers grow addicted to television. Goleman D. New York Times, 1990.

[13] Gabler N. Life, the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999).

[14] Television addiction is no mere metaphor. Kubey R, Csikszentmihalyi M. Scientific American 2002 Feb:77.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Neurogenesis and its implications for regeneration in the adult brain.  Eriksson PS. J Rehabil Med 2003 May:(41 Suppl)17-9. Review.

[17] Neurogenesis in the adult brain. Functional consequences. Gheusi G, Rochefort C. J Soc Biol 2002:196(1)67-76.

[18] Victoroff J. Saving Your Brain. (New York, NY: Bantam Books, 2002).

[19] Ratey J. User’s Guide to the Brain (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2002) pp. 55-6.

[20] Ibid, pp. 141-2.

[21] Ibid, p. 36.

[22] Healy J. Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can Do  About It. (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1999) p. 196.

[23] Healy J. Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can Do About It. (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1999).

[24] Early television exposure and subsequent attention problems in children. Healy J. Pediatrics 2004:113(4)917.

[25] Early television exposure and subsequent attentional problems in children. Christakis D, et al. Pediatrics 2004:113(4)708-13.

[26] Study: TELEVISION may cause attention deficit. AP news interview with Dimitri Christakis, April 2004.

[27] Antonio Domasio’s theory of thinking faster and faster. Discover 2004 May:25(5)49.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Packaging television news: the effects of tabloid on information  processing and evaluative responses. Grabe M, et al. Journal of  Broadcasting and Electronic Media 2000:44(4)581.

[30] Ibid.

[31] The psychological impact of negative TELEVISION news bulletins: the  catastrophizing of personal worries. Johnston WM, Davey GC. Br J Psychol  1997 Feb:88(Pt 1)85-91.

[32] Antonio Domasio’s theory of thinking faster and faster. Discover 2004 May:25(5)49.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Healy J. Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can Do  About It. (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1999) p. 199.

[35] Ibid, p. 200.

[36] MacNeil R. The trouble with television. Essay. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1989) p. 1.

[37] Television addiction is no mere metaphor. Kubey R, Csikszentmihalyi M. Scientific American 2002 Feb:76.

[38] MacNeil R. The trouble with television. Essay. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1989) p. 2.

[39] Healy J. Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can Do  About It. (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1999) pp. 201-2.

[40] Influence of TELEVISION on daydreaming and creative imagination: a  review of research. Valkenburg P, van der Voort T. Psychological  Bulletin 1994:116(2)316-39.

[41] Attention to television: alpha power and its relationship to image  motion and emotional content. Simons R., et al. Media Psychology  2003:5(3)283-301.

[42] MacNeil R. The trouble with television. Essay. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1989) p. 2.

[43] Does television affect learning and school performance? Strasburger VC. Pediatrician 1986:13(2-3)141-7.

[44] Early television exposure and subsequent attention problems in children. Healy J. Pediatrics 2004:113(4)917-8.

[45] MacNeil R. The trouble with television. Essay. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1989) p. 1.

[46] Brain wave measures of media involvement. Krugman H. J Advertis Res 1971:2(1)3.

[47] Healy J. Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can Do About It. (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1999).

[48] Television addiction is no mere metaphor. Kubey R, Csikszentmihalyi M. Scientific American 2002 Feb:76.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Scruton R. An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture. (London:Duckworth, 1998) p. 96.

[51] Labalme H. The Overwatched American. The TELEVISION-free American, Spring, 1998.

[52] Ibid., p. 1.

[53] Winter R. Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment. (Downer’s Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2002) p. 59.

[54] Labalme H. The Overwatched American. The TELEVISION-free American, Spring, 1998.

[55] Winter R. Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment. (Downer’s Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2002) p. 36.

[56] Guinness O. The Call. (Nashville, TN: Word, 1998) p. 149.

[57] Labalme H. The Overwatched American. The TELEVISION-free American, Spring, 1998.

[58] Console wars. The Economist, June 2002.

[59] Winter R. Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment. (Downer’s Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2002) p. 52.

[60] Ibid., p. 40.

[61] Grossman D. Stop Teaching our Kids to Kill. (New York, NY: Crown Publishers, 1999) p. 68.

[62] Healy J. Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can Do  About It. (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1999) p. 207.

[63] Measuring problem video game playing in adolescents. Tejero Salguero R, Moran R. Addiction 2002 Dec:97(12)1601-6.

[64] Evidence for striatal dopamine release during a video game. Koepp M, et al. Nature 1998 May:393(6682)266-8.

[65] Healy J. Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can Do  About It. (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1999) p. 209.

[66] Postman N. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (New York, NY: Penguin, 1985) p. 155.

[67] Report by Vincent Mathews, MD, at the 88th Scientific Assembly and  Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, 2002.  WebMD, 2002.

[68] Ratey J. User’s Guide to the Brain (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2002) pp. 237-8.

[69] Grossman D. Stop Teaching our Kids to Kill. (New York, NY: Crown Publishers, 1999) p. 66.

[70] Ibid., p. 68.

[71] Ibid., pp. 67-8.

[72] Exposure to violent media: the effects of songs with violent lyrics on  aggressive thoughts and feelings. Anderson C, Carnagey N. J Pers Soc  Psychol 2003:84(5)960-71.

[73] Grossman D. Stop Teaching our Kids to Kill. (New York, NY: Crown Publishers, 1999) pp. 62-3.

[74] Longitudinal relations between children’s exposure to TELEVISION  violence and their aggressive and violent behavior in young adulthood:  1977-1992. Huesmann L, et al. Dev Psychol 2003 Mar:39(2)201-21.

[75] Television viewing as a cause of increasing obesity among children in  the United States, 1986-1990. Gortmaker S, et al. Arch Pediatr Adolesc  Med 1996:150:357-362.

[76] Relationship of physical activity and television watching with body  weight and level of fatness among children. Anderson R, et al. JAMA  1998:279(12)959-60.

[77] Television viewing and cardiovascular risk factors in young adults: the  CARDIA study. Sidney S, et al. Ann Epidemiol 1996 Mar:6(2)154-9.

[78] Shell E. The Hungry Gene (New York, NY: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2002) p. 170.

[79] Effects of television on metabolic rate: potential implications for  childhood obesity. Klesges R, et al. Pediatrics 1993 Feb:91(2)281-6.

[80] Does excessive television viewing contribute to the development of dementia? Aronson M. Medical Hypothesis 1993:41:465-6.

[81] Watching TELEVISION violence can overwork your heart. Medical Tribune News Service, 1995.

[82] Review of psychosocial stress and asthma: an integrated biopsychosocial  approach. Wright R. Thorax. 1998 Dec:53(12)1066-74. Review.

[83] Medical Tribune 1995:36(8)21.

[84] Short-term effectiveness of anticipatory guidance to reduce early  childhood risks for subsequent violence. Sege R, et al. Arch Pediatr  Adolesc Med. 1997 Apr:151(4)392-7.


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