Are TV and video switching off kids’ minds?

In the wake of the Bulger murder, the argument about the effect violent images have on children continues to rage. But new research suggests television itself could be harmful to young kids. Stephen Naysmith investigates.

Children are the victims of a crime wave, and television is in the dock. With evidence mounting that the box hinders development, encourages violence, damages learning and possibly even incites murder, it adds up to a pretty intimidating rap sheet.

When toddler James Bulger’s body was found beside the railway line. violent videos were seized on by hysterical politicians and press as the root cause. A report by Elizabeth Newson of Nottingham University argued that psychologists had been ‘naive‘ in dismissing the effects of television violence. The report was widely criticised for being thin on research and supporting evidence. However, even ifthe hysteria surrounding such extreme examples of behavioural problems is ignored, there remains a steady undercurrent of anxiety that doesn't look like going away.

Teachers in particular have long been voicing fears about the effect of all kinds of entertainment media on children. An investigation into the impact of videos and computer games was released by the Professional Association of Teachers last year. It concluded they were reSponsible for tiredness, poor concentration, bad language and inappropriate behaviour in class. However PAT spokeswoman Jackie Miller points out that it is not always easy to gather hard evidence of these links.



Bart Simpson says believe the hype: TV can be bad tor your children

‘Behavioural psychologists hold a touching beliefthat you can have a control group and determine exactly what influences behaviour.‘ Miller says. ‘They seem to think you can determine that if a child wipes his nose on a Thursday it is because he watched a video on Monday.’ Behaviour is influenced by a whole range ofstirnuli and a control group simply can’t take account of every factor, she argues.

But many teachers are in no doubt that computer games have become a widespread obsession, though Miller stops short of calling this an addiction. ‘lt is a huge phenomenon which is still growing and is particularly marked among boys,’ she says. ‘()ur concem is with the attitudes which many games express that violence is an acceptable way to work out interpersonal difficulties, for example. That becomes a real problem when it is reinforced by other media such as films and television.‘

‘Our concern is with the attitudes which many games express - that

violence is an acceptable way to work out interpersonal difficulties, for example.’

Concerns don‘t only centre on the content of horror movies and blood- soaked games like Mortal Kornbat, however. The sheer amount of time kids are spending playing games and watching television is also alarming educationalists. ‘Children's leisure activities have never been so sedentary,’ says Miller. though she concedes that some parents may feel that video games are ultimately safer than allowing children to play in the street.

While the high-profile debates about children and television have tended to focus on violent images, a conference in Edinburgh next month looks at the effect television has on attention-span

and concentration problems. ‘Half an Hour a Day’. organised by campaigning charity Children in Scotland, will examine startling new evidence that toddlers who haven‘t yet learned to speak could already be suffering from the effects of too much television.

After ten years of research, Dr Sally Ward, a speech therapist with the Central Manchester Healthcare Trust. has discovered that children are being harmed simply from being in the same room as a switched-on television. The conference’s title is based on the idea that parents should set aside at least halfan hour each day to give children their undivided attention. For some parents. this may seem self-evident, but Ward reckons that many children are denied this sort of ‘quality tirne'. ‘Often parents don‘t realise that there is an enormous difference between being with an infant in a quiet room and having the noise and distraction of the television.’ she says.

The Manchester research shows that language development is delayed in households where the television reigns and this isn't a class issue as people might imagine. "The effect was evident in leafy Surrey too it‘s a problem everywhere,‘ she says. ‘Television is increasingly used as a kind of babysitter.‘

Ward has developed a test to screen for listening problems that can be caused by at children growing up in a noisy environment, and half an hour of undivided attention was shown to have a dramatic effect. ‘We have had children with delayed development who have accelerated past their peers within four months,’ she says. ‘Before now, listening problems weren‘t getting picked up until kids were in school. It all takes a lot longer to put right ifyou leave it until then.’

Hit/fun Hour (1 Day is (m 4 April in lirlinburg/i. Details from Children in Scotland on 013 l 228’ 8484.


I Charity theatrics Big names currently appearing in Scottish theatres are lending their support to Oxfam’s Act For Africa campaign. Derek Jacobi, star of I Claudius and appearing in Hadrian VII at Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre, is pledging support. Terry Neason. appearing in Wild 'N' We! Ones at Glasgow’s Citizens’ Theatre, is also helping in the effort to raise £4000 for a seed bank scheme in Angola. ‘Togethcr we can support people in Africa in their struggle against poverty.‘ said Neason. See Theatre listings for performance dates.

I Synchronised juggling RNIB Scotland is attempting to set a world record for the largest amount of objects juggled simultaneously and raise cash to help visually impaired children. On Thursday 30 March at 7pm, in more than 40 pubs and clubs throughout Edinburgh. Lothian, the Borders and Fife, arnateurjugglers will show what they are made of. The event will be broadcast live on Max AM, Radio Borders and Central FM’s Tom Bell Show. RNIB is still recruiting for the synchronised event and free juggling balls are being offered to beginners. If you want to juggle for cash, contact RNlB Jugglin’, 28 Craighall Crescent, Edinburgh EH6 4R2.

I Turning Viennese Increasing awareness of gay. lesbian and bisexual issues, Pride Scotland‘s first major fundraising event is to be a classic. Titled A Viennese Evening, the concert at the Queen‘s Hall, Edinburgh will feature music by composers including Mozart and Strauss. An invitation orchestra, with soloists Anne Heavens and Graham Bruce, will be conducted by David Lyle. Tickets priced £5 (£4) are available from the Queen's Hall box' office, 0131 668 2019, or Ticketline, 0131 220 4349. For information on Pride Scotland and how to get involved in events, contact the organisation at 58a Broughton Street. Edinburgh, EH1 38A. 556 8822.

I Sex trade debate Spotlighting the sex industries and the furious debate surrounding them is a discussion led by June Taylor from SHlVA. The Leith- based aid and advice centre for sex workers witnesses the effects of an industry where women workers are at constant risk of prosecution and punters are regarded as acting illegally. Taylor argues the exploitation of women will only be reduced when sex work is decriminalised. Hear her talk at this Engender-organised event at 8pm, Monday 3 April at the Traverse Theatre, Cambridge Street, Edinburgh. Tickets are £3.50 (£2.50), available from the Traverse Box Office, or by calling 0131 228 1404.

I Pollok Free State At the Pollok Estate protest campsite in Glasgow’s south side. those fighting against the building ofthe M77 motorway are taking time out to welcome sympathetic visitors. Organisers are urging anyone interested in protesting to go to the camp at Barrhead Road, Pollok. Ongoing events include non- violent direct action training workshops, climbing lessons, poetry afternoons, music sessions and social and Scottish history lessons. For more information, contact the camp on 0860 728244.

The List 24 Mar-6 Apr 1995 5