Elisha Avshalom, a musician and Waldorf educator, spoke with WholeFamily Parent Center Director Ruth Mason about the influence of television on children. Here's what he had to say:
When thinking about television and children, it's important to consider factors beyond program content. The content is actually the most superficial part of television; there are deeper considerations.
It's not just the content of television programs that may be harmful to our children; the very process of watching may be harmful as well.
When a child reads a book or is told a story, he has to use his imagination to create the images he hears or reads about. But when he watches TV, his imagination lies dormant; it does not need to work. He receives ready-made stimulation. This passivity is comfortable and it's easy to see why it is appealing to a child. But if a child is exposed to a lot of television, over time he becomes passive in his ability to "see" things internally.
Kids who Watch TV and Kids who Don't are Different Kids
We see this with the children in our Waldorf nurseries and kindergartens. We see a great difference in the creative and imaginative capabilities of children who watch a lot of television and those who watch a little or none at all.
The older the child, the less the damage. If you observe a young child, say at the age of three, you'll notice that she is constantly in motion. Passivity at that age is not a natural state of affairs. Unless she is in front of a television, you will never see a three-year-old sitting passively and looking in one direction for a half hour. A young child is not only physically very active but also mentally active because that is how she needs to be in order to develop in as healthy a way as possible. Too much television-watching limits the opportunities young children have to exercise these crucial faculties.
TV Makes Kids Crave Action
On a deeper level, television brings about a distortion in children's sense of space and time. In a television program, everything is always interesting. Say the program shows someone leaving the house. He immediately arrives at his destination; we don't see the 15 minutes of walking from place to place in which nothing much external is happening. Life isn't like that; there is more going on internally. Children who are heavy television watchers get used to this non-stop activity. They begin to look for constant action in life too.
You may also notice that younger children may get cranky after an hour or two of television watching. This is because when the TV goes off, the viewers suddenly fall back into "regular" time, which is far less externally stimulating and interesting. This is also why you might notice more of a tendency toward aggression and hyperactivity in heavy television watchers.
The same principle applies to space. In normal life, our eyes are constantly in motion. The eyeball moves from side to side and the pupil dilates and contracts with variations in light. This is a natural state of affairs. Television changes and limits the motion of the eye. The amount of light and the size of what we're looking at remain constant. With excessive watching the eyes tend to become passive.
To sum up, it's not just the content of television programs that may be harmful to our children; the very process of watching may be harmful as well.