Suzanne Fields

"We know from studies of newborn rats that if you expose them to different levels of visual stimuli ... the architecture of the brain looks very different," says Dr. Dimitri Christakis, the lead author for the research published in the April issue of Pediatrics magazine. The newborn human brain develops rapidly during the first two to three years of life, and overstimulation "can create habits of the mind that are ultimately deleterious."

This research is preliminary research, and will require replication before it becomes accepted fact, but as research it raises important questions. Most of the criticism of children put at the mercy of television focuses on content that could affect a child's emotional life.

The new research suggests that the "wiring" of the brain can be affected, too. For three decades we've had an epidemic of diagnoses for attention disorders. While research amply demonstrates genetic components in the cause of these disorders and drugs have become the treatment of choice, cultural critics have been tenacious in asking whether the environment also plays a part. Obesity and violence have also been linked to excessive television viewing by children.

The larger the environment to explore, however, the rougher the scientific instruments on which to draw persuasive conclusions. It's difficult to determine whether those children with attention disorders gravitate to watching more television, or whether the disorder develops as the result of watching television. Do the parents of children who watch a lot of television interact less with their children than parents of those who don't permit television viewing?

Five years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics warned parents that allowing children under 2 to watch television could adversely affect brain growth and social, emotional and cognitive skills. Many families have ignored the challenge. Children between 1 and 3 watch an average of two to three hours of television a day. Nearly one-third of all children have a television set in their bedrooms.

Harmful consequences can grow like weeds in an unattended garden. Many of our children are living in that garden choked by weeds.

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Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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