The dangers of our children becoming couch potatoes

Back in 1996-1997, the first year that statistics were collected on Greek children’s television viewing habits, it was found that 4- to 14-year-olds watched an average of 148 minutes of television a day. Within just a decade, that figure had risen by 17 minutes, according to AGB data for 2005-2006. As for their preferred viewing, the most recent figures indicate that this is not restricted to children’s programs, but includes Greek comedy series, game shows, light entertainment and reality shows, as well as Greek and Latin American soap operas. Not only the length of time spent in front of the tube is worrying but also the fact that many children also sit for hours in front of a screen playing computer games or watching DVDs, hours not recorded on any survey. Television is as attractive and addictive as chocolate, according to Dr Aric Sigman of the British Psychological Society, who has lectured and written a large number of articles on what he sees as the greatest threat of our time to public health, particularly for children. His book, «Remotely Controlled – How Television is Damaging our Lives» published in Britain in 2005, caused widespread debate, but it was an article he published this year in the journal Biologist, titled «Visual Voodoo: The Biological Impact of Watching TV,» that caused the greatest stir. He outlined 15 significant health risks linked to watching television during childhood. While his article is based on scientific bibliography, his book refers to examples from his experience as a father of small children who grew up without television (watching only selected children’s DVDs on weekends), and as a traveler to many parts of Asia and Africa. His main observation is that everywhere addiction to television is on the increase. «Television is a cultural force that from the historical point of view is only comparable to religion,» he says. «Television is the main element in a society’s infrastructure, our culture’s central nervous system. That is why its impact transcends the division between Left and Right, conservatism and progress.» Obesity, premature puberty (particularly among girls), weakened immune systems, heart disease, attention deficit disorder, learning difficulties, sleep disorders, Alzheimer’s, myopia, a slowed metabolic rate, autism, Type A diabetes, hormonal disturbances, reduced sex drive and changes to skin cells are just some of the diseases brought about later in life by extended viewing during childhood. Other research results confirming Sigman’s fears have been snowballing, including articles in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine and in the journal Pediatrics. Even passive viewing, that is, the presence of a television turned on in a room, can cause sleep disturbances in children aged 5-6. Sigman’s purpose is to get people to understand that television has replaced many positive things that make people happy; children are hearing stories not from their parents or grandparents but a group of companies with something to sell. Television has become a member of the family. If we ourselves don’t raise our children, says Sigman, then someone on a screen will, «and it probably won’t be Mary Poppins.»