Weather Forecast


TV Turn-Off's back as media violence targeted

Ellsworth school officials are continuing their campaign against media violence with another TV Turn-Off event beginning late this month.

Curriculum and Instruction Director Leona Johnson told the school board early last week the event will occur shortly before many local students take required statewide tests. Johnson explained studies have shown the left side of the brain, in which logic and decision-making is centered, can lose activity when subjected to violent inputs. Research has determined at least three days must pass without such inputs before the activity returns.

By imposing the voluntary ban on a chief source of media violence just prior to testing, officials hope students' scores will improve, Johnson said.

The schedule of activities for the 10-day event hasn't been finalized, she said, but preliminary plans call for it to include open gym times, open swims at the local pool, family fun and four-square nights, a sock hop and breakfast-with-books, among other attractions intended to be alternatives to electronic viewing of violence. Incentives to turn off TVs involve free cards for several open swims at the Klaas-Jonas Community Swimming Pool for elementary and middle school students who turn in slips to teachers, and free aerobics classes at the pool for high school students who do likewise, as well as their friends.

A presentation for parents entitled "The Dark Side of the Internet: Sexual Predators of Children" by Eric Szatkowski on Tuesday, Oct. 30, from 6:30-8 p.m. at the EHS gym will serve as a kick-off to the event. Opening ceremonies will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 31, at Hillcrest and Prairie View elementaries, and closing ceremonies on Friday, Nov. 9.

The TV Turn-Off is being supported by the Hillcrest and Prairie View parents' clubs, the local Lions club and the Klaas-Jonas pool.

TV's effect on the brain

Information from AWARE (Aid to Women, Men and Children in Abuse and Rape Emergencies), distributed by Johnson at the school board meeting, discusses the effect of television on the brain. It reports these findings:

--The average American child spends more time in front of the TV than doing any other activity besides sleeping.

--During children's shows alone, there are an average of 26 acts of violence every hour.

--The Centers for Disease Control have shown that, wherever TV appears in the world, there is almost always an immediate explosion of violence on the playgrounds of that community.

Watching TV images works the lower brain, but the frontal lobes aren't engaged during these periods of passivity, according to the information. Human brains need to practice social skills, critical thinking and use imagination; if every part of the brain isn't used, it literally won't develop.

Scientific studies by the Surgeon General and others show increasing levels of exposure to media violence may lead to an increase in fear, desensitization and aggression in children, the information states. Until most children are between ages five and seven, they can't tell the difference between fantasy and reality, so care must be taken about what they're watching because what's on the screen is actually happening for them.

Humans have a biological need to watch violence, it states. This helps with learning survival skills and humans are attracted to violence from birth for this reason. Therefore, children usually can't stop watching the violent content on screens even if they're frightened by it. These images are more powerful than words and will have a lasting impression on children. Moreover, a national cable study found 43 percent of the violence on TV is accompanied by humor, implying it's acceptable, funny and entertaining.

Gender rules can be influenced by impressions from the media, the information states. Imitating the behaviors seen on TV, like boys being portrayed as either tough or wimpy, can lead to difficulties. Body image can also be jeopardized, as problems with anorexia and bulimia usually follow wherever TV is introduced.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children under age two shouldn't watch TV at all, it states. The American Medical Association recommends children shouldn't have TV sets in their bedrooms. Parents should carefully choose and discuss what is watched, plus teach children about the health effects of media, as they would with other health issues. Stanford University found that, by teaching elementary school children about the effects of media violence, they were able to decrease school violence by 40 percent and bullying by 50 percent in one semester.

Less TV exposure

The local school district is also distributing to parents a newsletter entitled "SMART Kids, SMART Families," incorporating material from Student Media Awareness to Reduce Television and shared by Johnson. SMART is designed to help children watch less TV and videotapes, and spend less time playing video games.

The newsletter's first issue provides an overview of SMART activities going on in class, as follows:

--The first few lessons will help students realize how much they use television, VCRs and video games.

--In a few weeks, there will be a TV Turn-Off. This event will give kids a chance to see what life is like without television--for 10 whole days.

--Later lessons will motivate students to spend less time in front of the TV or playing video games, and teach them how to make better choices.

The following statistics from "Television in the Home," The Annenberg Public Policy Center, 1998, TV-Free America, are cited:

--Most American kids spend almost 25 hours a week watching television and videotapes.

--Watching 10 or more hours of TV a week has been shown to hurt academic achievement.

--An average child sees 30,000 ads on TV in just one year.

--An average person sees two million ads on TV by the time they're 65-years-old.

--Six million videotapes are rented every day in the U.S. Only half that many books are checked out from libraries every day.

Research that's cited follows:

--Students who watch less TV get better grades in school. They learn to read and write better when they watch less TV.

--The ads on TV make kids want more toys and other things. They feel like what they have is never enough. Advertising is designed to make children feel they need more things.

--Watching violent television shows and movies, and playing violent video games makes children more aggressive and teaches them that violence is a good way to solve problems.

--Children who watch a lot of TV spend less time with other people so they may not learn important social skills.

--The world shown on TV is unrealistic. Children who watch a lot of TV miss chances to learn about the real world themselves.

--Spending too much time watching TV and playing video games can make kids less fit and more overweight.

--TV can make kids feel inadequate because many people on TV are unrealistically attractive, successful and rich.

Reasons given why children watch so much TV are: boredom, although studies show kids actually become more bored when they watch TV; TV is everywhere, with 99 percent of homes having at least one TV set and two-thirds having three or more sets; habit, as watching TV seems easy when a child doesn't know what else to do; and parents, because sometimes they watch a lot of TV, so kids watch TV just to spend time with them (some families always watch TV during meals and some parents use TV to keep their children busy while they take care of other things).