Television watching is a passive behaviour with patterns similar to addiction. Wherever television becomes available for a number of hours a day it dominates the leisure time of children, even if the programmes are not such as they would be expected to find interesting; sitting for hours watching TV makes children fat and flabby. Advertising on TV encourages many unhealthy habits and expectations. Television may contribute to antisocial behaviour by triggering off acts of delinquency or reinforcing the importance of violent behaviour in solving human problems. It may teach a potential criminal a new skill.
It is estimated that, in any country where more than a few hours of television is available, an average child of between 6 and 16 years of age spends 500-1,000 hours a year watching television, namely 6,000-12,000 hours during 12 school years. The latter figure is not much different from the amount of time an average child spends at school during those same years. British children on average watch more hours of TV than they have school hours.
It is estimated that the average USA citizen watches the equivalent of 3,000 entire days (nearly 9 years) of television between the ages of 2 and 65: during this time an act of violence is screened every 14 minutes and a killing every 45 minutes. The 1983 daily average family viewing time in the USA was well over 7 hours. This is approximately a 55% increase from 1953, and a 39% increase between 1960 and 1993. Comparable figures are emerging in western Europe where colour, cable and international programming make this form of home entertainment increasingly popular.
The values, knowledge, health and behaviour of television viewers are corrupted by the violence and pornography of which they are passive spectators. Television demeans and trivializes everything and everyone connected with it. As such it is contributing to the decay and downfall of civilization, brought about by the dazzling assault of information on the senses, rather than by any suppression of information. In modern society everything becomes a branch of entertainment since this provides a form of coherence which is not readily achieved in a world characterized by complexity and information overload. Such coherence is found in the endless pursuit of disconnected sights, sounds, images and interesting personalities that offer a pretence of coherence. Television encourages people to avoid dealing with reality directly, distorting ability to deal with complexity, and possibly altering irretrievably any desire to confront reality. It is particularly insidious because, rather than offering a trivial simulation of reality, it has become both a simulation of reality and reality itself. People addicted to TV have shortened attention spans and a lack of reflectiveness. Imaginations atrophy. TV addiction is associated with low achievement in school. As a technology, electronic scanning effectively shuts down the functioning of those parts of the brain that reason and think actively and logically. One consequence of this shutting down is the emotional content of a programme becomes paramount.
Television displaces cognitive activities that shape the mind beneficially, leaving the cognitive faculties unexercised, although highly visually stimulated. Complex linguistic input, and tandem comprehension and language production are missing, leading to attention deficit disorders.
Similar castigation to that earned by television in the 20th century was directed to playing cards in the 13th century. Card playing, chess, hobbies, sports, dancing, novel reading, theatre-going and a host of other recreations could, if carried to excess by enthusiasts, always be said to have a negative effect on something. Any means of family enjoyment could raise the same scruples as those focused on television, and their abuse considered a bad formative influence on children.
Infants as young as 10 months old watching certain kinds of television programmes are helped learn language skills, the ability to perform physical tasks and an understanding that what they are watching is related to the rest of life around them.
Television doesn't make kids stupid, it just channels their intelligence in non-verbal directions.