The Dangers of TV (abridged)

* Abbreviated version of The Dangers of TV


...alcohol is the most consumed beverage on prime time television shows.  Television characters drink alcohol twice as often as they drink tea or coffee, 14 times as frequently as soft drinks, and 15 times more often than water.

Each year, students spend $5.5 billion on alcohol - more than they spend on soft-drinks, tea, milk, juice, coffee, and books combined.  Alcohol is implicated in more than 40% of all academic problems and 28% of all dropouts.

On a typical weekend in America, an average of one teenager dies every two hours in a car crash involving alcohol.


In 1993, the average child living in the United States watched 10,000 murders, assaults, and other violent acts on television, and 1997 that number climbed to 12,000 and is still rising.

The Surgeon General’s 2001 report cited statistical links between television watching and violent behavior similar in strength to the evidence linking smoking and lung cancer.


Gene DeWitt, chairman of one of the leading firms selling television advertising time admitted, “There’s no point in moralizing whether this is a good or a bad thing.  Television is a business whose purpose is gathering audience.”

In 1997 the average U.S. child watched television 25 hours a week, he spent 260 full hours (or the equivalent of 6.5 weeks of forty-hour-per-week shifts) just watching commercials.

This is significant when we consider that the most essential product of the advertising industry is hunger. That is, commercials are intended to create a feeling of lack in the viewer, a deep ache that can only be assuaged by purchasing the product. As Dr. Neil Postman, chairman of the Department of Communication Arts at New York University, points out, “What the advertiser needs to know is not what is right about the product but what is wrong about the buyer.“56 So we hand our children over to Madison Avenue to be told, hundreds of hours a year, how hungry, bored, ugly, and unpopular they are and will continue to be until they spend (or persuade their parents to spend) a few more dollars. And then we wonder why our children feel so hungry, bored, ugly, and unpopular, and why they are so needy.

Achievement and Intelligence

Japanese researchers conducted some of the earliest research on the relationship between television and impaired academic achievement. In 1962, they published findings that reading skills declined among Japanese fifth to seventh graders as soon as their family acquired a television set.

Two years later, the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare conducted the first large-scale American study. The survey, covering 650,000 students in 4,000 U.S. schools, included a handful of questions about television viewing patterns. Government officials were surprised to discover that the more television students watched, the lower their achievement scores.

Five Paths to Cognitive Damage

Since our children sit passively while the television dances, their ability to become deeply involved with books, school teachers, and other less frenetic sources of wisdom—their ability to think—atrophies. It should be no wonder that they abandon books, manifest lower intelligence quotients, fail to achieve academically, and have depressed professional aspirations.

A study of gifted fourth, fifth, and sixth graders, included in the Surgeon General’s report, shows that watching a range of television shows - from cartoons to “educational television”—depresses the students’ subsequent creativity scores.

A fifth explanation emerged from the work of Harvard University Professor T. Berry Brazelton. Brazelton hooked newborn babies up to electroencephalographs and then exposed them to a flickering light source similar to a television but with no images. Fifteen minutes into their exposure, the babies stopped crying and produced sleep patterns on the EEG, even though their eyes were still open and observing the light. Brazelton’s experiment revealed that the medium itself, with no content, acts directly on the brain to suppress mental activity. The Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry confirmed Brazelton’s finding in 1982. They reported that the brain waves generated while watching even the most exciting shows were those of low attention states. The researchers found that while subjects viewed television, “output of alpha rhythms increased, indicating they were in a passive state, as if they were just sitting in the dark.”

Social Interaction

Psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim suggests that television retards social skills not just by depriving children of playtime, but also by accustoming them to unrealistically stimulating characters:

Children who have been taught, or conditioned, to listen passively most of the day to the warm verbal communications coming from the TV screen, to the deep emotional appeal of the so-called TV personality, are often unable to respond to real persons because they arouse so much less feeling than the skilled actor.


Television makes children fat. Harvard University researchers discovered that the odds of a child becoming obese rise 12 to 20% for each daily hour of television he watches. Epidemiologists also agree that watching two or more hours of television daily is a global marker for high risk of pediatric hypercholesterolemia.

...the snacks children consume while watching television are overwhelmingly high in fat, cholesterol, salt, and sugar, and low in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. The U.S. Surgeon General attributes these unhealthful snacking habits to the success of television advertising. He writes that the average American child sees 2,500 commercials a year for “high-calorie, high-sugar, low nutrition products.” He also reveals that 70% of food advertisements are for foods high in fat, cholesterol, sugar, and salt, while only 3% are for fruits and vegetables.

Consistent with the Surgeon General’s theory, epidemiologists at the University of Minnesota surveying children’s Saturday morning television recently discovered that 56.5% of all commercials on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and Nickelodeon advertised food products, and the most frequently advertised product was high-sugar cereal. Comparing the food products advertised on TV with the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommendations for pediatric diet, the researchers found that “the diet depicted in Saturday morning television programming is the antithesis of what is recommended for healthful eating for children.” They further observed that children see a food commercial about every five minutes on Saturday morning TV, and that the main explicit messages used to sell food products are taste and the promise of a free toy.

Attention Deficit Disorder

...Then came the report from the Yale University Family Television Research and Consultation Center: “Sesame Street creates a psychological orientation in children that leads to a shortened attention span, a lack of reflectiveness, and an expectation of rapid change in the broader environment.” The Yale researchers warned that “well intentioned parents who allow their children to watch nothing but Sesame Street…might actually be encouraging over-stimulation and frenetic behavior.”

by  Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen
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