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Television and Kids

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From birth on, a child enters a rapid state of growth both physically and mentally in terms of brain function and neurological developmen.

From birth on, a child enters a rapid state of growth both physically and mentally in terms of brain function and neurological development. Certain factors promote this growth such as proper nourishment, additional supplementation with minerals and vitamins, regular exercise, reading, and age appropriate play.

Other factors can hinder and even degrade proper growth and development such as environmental toxins, a lack of stimulation and as a recent study shows-television!

A study published in the April 2004 issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, found that for each hour of television that preschoolers watched per day, their risk of developing later childhood attention problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (AD(H)D) and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) increased by almost 10 percent. In fact, it was found that the more television children watch between the ages of one and three, the greater their risk of having attention problems at age seven-the age when AD(H)D is typically first diagnosed. These findings are significant as the early years of brain development are critical to proper neurological development. According to a recent report appearing in Time magazine (January 2004), Stephen Hinshaw from the University of California stated, "We know that the frontal lobes, which manage both feeling and thought, don't fully mature until age 30."

When you are in an alert, active, and attentive state, the brain normally functions using beta waves. In a matter of 30 seconds of watching television, your brain waves switch from beta waves to alpha waves. Alpha wave activity is indicative of a lack of attention and focus and below the threshold of consciousness. Unfortunately, in recent years, we have entered what I refer to as a "Nintendo era" where children are sitting longer than ever before in front of the computer or television. Consider some of the following statistics:

  • The Department of Education states that children in the United States watch an average of three to five hours of television every day.
  • At age one, children watch an average of 2.2 hours daily. At age three, this rises to an average of 3.6 hours daily.
  • Thirty percent of children have televisions in their rooms.

How Prevalent is AD(H)D?

The number of young children diagnosed with AD(H)D is growing at an alarming rate. In the past twenty years, AD(H)D has become North America's leading childhood psychiatric disorder. The diagnosis has grown from 500,000 in 1985 to between five and seven million today. AD(H)D is diagnosed four times more frequently in boys than girls and can even occur in the adult population.

The first line of treatment typically chosen by the allopathic model is to treat AD(H)D with the stimulant drug called methylphenidate, otherwise known as Ritalin. Up to 90 percent of children diagnosed with AD(H)D receive a prescription for Ritalin. Ritalin is a class II narcotic drug, which means it is in the same category as cocaine and potent barbiturates and opiates. Class II narcotics have the greatest potential for addiction and abuse. Along with the increase in diagnosis of AD(H)D, the prescriptions of Ritalin have also risen dramatically. Use of Ritalin has increased by 700 percent since 1990 and 90 percent of the world's Ritalin is used in North America.

What is a Parent to Do?

Due to the addictive nature and significant side effects of Ritalin, including anorexia and insomnia, its use should be saved as a last resort. One should first look at their child's potential environmental irritants, school-based problems, food allergies, poor nutrition, or deficiencies in vital fats and minerals.

The key is also to focus on prevention by providing the right supplements and food choices and by monitoring television-viewing hours. Consider some of the following steps parents can take for children at any age:

  • Supplement your children with an omega-3 essential fatty acid supplement (i.e., enteric-coated fish oil capsules), which provides the building blocks for healthy development of neurological tissue and proper brain function. In fact, current research shows that children who suffer from AD(H)D may be deficient in linolenic acid (omega-3) and its derivative DHA. Supplementation should begin from birth on. Breastfeeding mothers and pregnant women can take the supplement themselves to ensure they are passing on enough of this precious fat to their developing baby.
  • Ensure your children eat a variety of wholesome foods including fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and essential fat foods. Eliminate hydrogenated fats (a.k.a partially hydrogenated fats) from the diet completely. If possible, switch to organic produce.
  • Eliminate any potential food allergens from your child's diet with the most common being cow's milk, gluten, wheat, and soy. In addition, eliminate processed foods such as white flour, sugary foods, food dyes, and preservatives.
  • Limit television time and remove televisions and computers from a child's bedroom. Focus on other developmental and fun activities such as reading, outdoor play, exercise, family time, and arts and crafts. Save videos or television as a special treat.
  • Encourage your children to socialize and play with other children (team sports, activity centres, parks etc.) Socialization plays a critical role in proper neurological development.
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