By Josh Lockhart, PHEc
Did you see the headlines Feb. 18? That TV and antisocial behaviour are linked? There was avid attention garnered by this recent study released from New Zealand that was published in Pediatrics. This study linked “excessive” television watching to antisocial and criminal behaviour.
What is impressive about this study is that it involved a large number of participants, 1,037 to be exact. All participants were born in New Zealand in 1972 and 1973. Even more impressive is that the participants were followed for five to 15 years tracking their TV watching hours.
So while this longitudinal study is bulging at the seams with data, is impressive with its duration, and does have many plusses to it, it also has limitations like any other study. In any stats 101 class, it is typically covered that you cannot generalize one population over another, because no two populations, demographics, or people are alike. While again, the findings are of statistical significance, they were from New Zealand and conducted on those born between 1972 and 1973. Technology use and acceptance of its use has changed dramatically since the time this cohort was a teenager. It is difficult to compare teens from the 1980s to teens of the 2010s. It is also difficult to compare New Zealand to Canada despite media globalization.
What is also often overlooked in these studies when they are reported is that these are correlations, not a direct causal link. New headings across North America made it sound like “excessive” TV watching causes socially unacceptable behaviours, which is not completely true. It may be the other way around, that the only way to calm a socially unacceptable individual is to place them in front of the TV. Or as is often the case, there are other factors at play, such as family dynamics, socioeconomic status, education, mental illness, parenting, and so on that are not completely accounted for.
I often find these types of studies are used to shame parents, to make them feel guilty and shameful about the amount of time their child spends in front of the TV. Especially since in the entire media release, there was no mention to how many hours is excessive. This vagueness and ambiguity around the term only causes more confusion and guilt.
I realize I am probably just as guilty though at shaming TV use. I have probably done it within this column several times before. And for that I have erred, my intention was to encourage selective choice TV programming and other TV use. I know that the TV has its place. It can serve as an educator through shows like Sesame Street and Magic School Bus. The TV can also be a time when people come together and spend time with one another. I know families that pop a bag of popcorn and have a TV night to break from the busy schedule.
And let’s be real, nobody is a perfect parent; and there are times when your child will be watching TV so that house work can be done, a meal can be made, or some alone time for mom and dad. Sometimes I feel we use the TV as a scapegoat for society’s problems instead of actually addressing the core.
I believe we also underestimate some children’s ability to regulate. If we treat the TV as a forbidden fruit, it will be lusted after. But if we treat it as an instrument for learning, gathering information, socializing, and in low doses as an escape, we have begun to put healthy boundaries around TV use and our children will soon follow suit.
Josh Lockhart works for the College of the Rockies in Kimberley BC. He is also a columnist with the Battleford’s News Optimist and a Co-Author with Notes On Parenting. Josh is currently a counselling graduate student at Gonzaga University.