Psychologist Aric Sigman claims that 90 minutes of television watching per day for children under three might increase their risk of attention-deficit disorder, autism and obesity. He suggests that young children who watch a lot of television may not be able to sustain attention, and may fail to acquire language and social skills within the ‘window’ of the brain’s maximum plasticity. He suggests that television watching causes irregular sleep patterns and alters metabolic rate. He believes the government should issue rationing guidelines, advising that children under three should watch no television at all, and three to seven year olds should watch 30 minutes to an hour each day (a Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesman said the government has no plans to issue such guidelines).
But his ideas haven’t been greeted with universal admiration. As Thomas Sutcliffe writes in the Independent, it’s not so much a question of how much children watch, but what they watch, and the best of children’s television is catered to children’s interests and needs.
There are some wonderful television shows and DVDs which demand action by children and probably parents too – who could watch the Wiggles without dancing and singing along? What better way to learn the alphabet than with Elmo’s gentle guidance? How many parents have tried trickle painting or made crazy icecream sundaes with their children after watching Teletubbies?
As for Sigman’s language anxiety – there must be thousands of families who have seen their children’s language expand exponentially as they learn words and phrases from their favourite shows. Or seen them gradually learning social conventions from examples on screen and then apply them with growing confidence in every day life. It seems strange to me that Aric Sigman is worried about children not having any attention span… because they are paying too much attention to the television! Me, I say embrace the learning and entertainment possibilities that televisual entertainment – particularly DVDs – offers to children.