Unplug or Drug – Critical Factors in Child Development

Dear Globe and Mail Editor, March 15, 2008

Please find below my editorial submission. As you have printed numerous articles recently regarding childhood mental disorders requiring medication, I thought your readers would benefit from the following information considering eliminating a causal culprit, TV and videogames. I’ve written three previously unpublished Letters to the Editor regarding this subject, and request a response if your department chooses not publish this submission. Cited research studies are listed below.

Cris Rowan, BScOT, BScBi, SIPT
Pediatric Occupational Therapist and Certified Sensory Specialist
6840 Seaview Rd.
Sechelt, BC V0N3A4
604-885-0986 office, 604-885-0389 fax, 604-740-2264 cell

Editorial Submission

Editorial Title: To Unplug or Drug – Critical Decisions for the 21st Century

Alternate Title #1: Unplug or Drug – Critical Factors in Child Development

Alternate Title #2: Sedating Children – TV, Videogames and Ritalin

Movement, touch and human connection are all critical factors for normal child development, and are essential elements for attaining optimal physical and mental health. Unfortunately, North American children use an average of 6.5 hours per day of TV and videogames, and over 50% have TV’s in their bedrooms. Busy parents are spending an average 3.5 minutes per week in meaningful conversation with their children – shocking by any standards. Today’s TV and videogame addicted child is essentially deprived of movement, touch and human connection, resulting in a host of physical and mental disorders the health and education systems are just beginning to detect, much less understand.

In reaction to the rise in childhood mental disorders (ADHD, Autism, anxiety, bi-polar, depression, ADHD), the Psychiatric and Medical professions are actively assigning adult diagnoses and prescribing adult medications to children as young as 2 years of age, with limited knowledge regarding dosage specifications and long term effects. Many of the medications for psychiatric disorders are actually ‘neurotoxic’, causing the disappearance of essential neurotransmitter receptors and resulting in the need for administration of additional medications. For example, 50% of children taking Ritalin are clinically depressed, thus requiring administration of an additional anti-depressant medication.

Could there be a link between TV and videogame addictions in children, with physical and mental wellness? Let’s look at the research. In the 1970′s childhood psychiatric diagnoses were virtually unheard of, while now 15% of elementary children are taking some form of psychotropic medication (Ritalin, anti-anxiety, anti-depressants, Lithium). The past 20 years has seen an explosion of numerous forms of technology, all resulting in a sedentary and isolated child, hard wired for high speed stimulation. These children are movement and touch deprived, lacking essential connections with themselves, others and nature. Young children are visually motivated, and often cannot distinguish themselves from screen images, thus failing to establish their own identity and connection with themselves. Physical play with others is the integral ingredient for socialization and motor skill development – and no, Wii is not ‘physical play’. Due largely to perceptions of safety, Nature Deficit in today’s child is profound.

Numerous studies report causal correlation between TV and videogame use and increases in obesity, Diabetes, attention difficulties, learning problems, poor academic performance, early sexuality, sleep disorders, family conflict, addictions, and aggression, gravely impacting on childhood mental and physical health. Yet we see limited reporting of these studies by the media, with accompanying subsequent limited strategic application of this important information by parents and teachers. Why is this? Is media actually being silenced by the giants of technology (Nintendo, CBC, NBS, Apple, Microsoft), or is media possibly in denial regarding their own technology addictions, and thus not wanting to address a situation that is a bit too ‘close to home’?

What can we as a well meaning society concerned about the future of our children do? Media can help by accurately and adequately reporting the research regarding the detrimental effects of TV and videogames on children’s mental and physical health. Medical professionals can help by requiring that all children with psychiatric and mental health problems discontinue all forms of technology for three months prior to administration of any psychotropic medication. Teachers and parents can help by not playing School Yard Drug Pushers to the health professions where they plead for medication to ‘quiet’ their children. Universities and Governments can help through research and training of teachers and parents regarding strategies for TV and videogame reduction, as well as strategies on how to manage subsequent developmental delays. Remember when we used to play outside all day…running, jumping, building forts, climbing trees, riding bikes till dark? Our children have the right to a safe and healthy lifestyle too.

Children are our future, and we are destroying everyone’s future by drugging children with TV, videogames and Ritalin.

Supporting Research Literature

American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Communications (2006) Children, Adolescents, and Advertising. Pediatrics Vol 118 No 6, 2562-2569. This paper points out that exposure of children to TV advertising correlates with obesity, poor nutrition, and cigarette and alcohol use.

American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Public Education (2001) Children, Adolescents, and Television. Pediatrics Vol 107(2), 423-426. This policy statement describes the negative effects of television viewing as violent or aggressive behavior, substance use, sexual activity, obesity, poor body image, and decreased school performance. This statement recommends no TV or videogames for toddlers under the age of 2, and a limit of 1-2 hours per day for children.

Burdette, H and Whitaker R (2005) A National Study of Neighborhood Safety, Outdoor Play, Television Viewing, and Obesity in Preschool Children. Pediatrics Vol 116, 657-662. This study reports that mother’s perceptions of safety was related to their children’s TV viewing time.

Christakis D and Zimmerman F (2007) Violent Television During Preschool Is Associated With Antisocial Behavioural During School Age. Pediatrics Vol 120, 993-999. This study concluded that violent television programming was associated with an increased risk for antisocial behaviour for boys, but not for girls.

Christakis D, Zimmerman F, DiGiuseppe and McCarty C (2004) Early Television Exposure and Subsequent Attentional Problems in Children. Pediatrics Vol 113, 708-713. This study reports that for every one hour of television watched per day, there is a 10% increase in attention problems by the age of 7 years.

Hancox R, Milne B and Poulton R (2005) Association of Television During Childhood With Poor Educational Achievement. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine Vol 159 No 7, 614-618. This study concluded that television viewing in childhood and adolescence is associated with poor educational achievement by 26 years of age.

Healy J (1999) Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can Do About It. Simon and Schuster Publishing Company.

Healy J (1998) Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds – For Better or For Worse. Simon and Schuster Publishing Company.

Horvath C (2004) Measuring Television Addiction. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media Vol 48(3), 378-398. Information from this paper was used in the design of the Zone’in “TVVG Help Module for Parents and Teachers”.

Jordan A, Hersey J, McDivitt J and Heitzler C (2006) Reducing Children’s Television-Viewing Time: A Qualitative Study of Parents and Their Children. Pediatrics Vol 118, 1303-1310. This study profiles barriers to reducing TV viewing time such as parents using TV as a safe and affordable distraction, parent’s own heavy TV viewing patterns, the prominent role TV plays in the family’s day to day routine, and a belief that children should spend their leisure time as they wish.

Landhuis C, Poulton R, Welch D and Hancox R (2007) Does Childhood Television Viewing Lead to Attention Problems in Adolescence? Pediatrics Vol 120, 532-537. This study found that not only does childhood television viewing contribute to attention problems in adolescence, but that these effects may be long lasting.

Mistry K, Minkovitz, Strobino D and Borzekowski D (2007) Children’s Television Exposure and Behavioural and Social Outcomes at 5.5 Years: Does Timing of Exposure Matter? Pediatrics Vol 120, 762-769. This study reports that by the age of 5.5 years 41% of children had televisions in their bedrooms, and that television exposure was associated with fewer social skills, and poor sleep.

Mukaddes N, Bilge S, Alyanak B, Kora M (2000) Clinical Characteristics and Treatment Responses in Cases Diagnosed as Reactive Attachment Disorder. Child Psychiatry and Human Development Vol 30(4), 273-287. This study was conducted on 15 children with RAD who were misdiagnosed with PDD, and found that 66.6% of RAD children were exposed to 7.26 hours of TV use per day with age of onset at 7.16 months, and conclude that “excessive TV exposure might be a form of neglect that is specific for RAD patients”.

Murray J, Liotti M, Ingmundson P, Mayberg H, Pu Y, Zamarripa f, Liu Y, Woldorff M. Gao J, and Fox P (2006) Children’s Brain Activations While Viewing Televised Violence Revealed by fMRI. Media Psychology Vol 8 No 1, 25-37. fMRI’s of eight children showed that TV violence viewing recruits a network of brain regions involved in the regulation of emotion, arousal and attention, episodic memory encoding and retrieval, and reports that extensive TV violence viewing may result in a large number of aggressive scripts stored in long-term memory in the posterior cingulated, which facilitates rapid recall of aggressive scenes that serve as a guide for overt social behavior.

Nelson M, Neumark-Stzainer D, Hannan P, Sirard J and Story M (2006) Longitudinal and Secular Trends in Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior During Adolescence. Pediatrics Vol 118 No 6 1627-1634. This study documents increased computer use correlates with decreased physical activity.

Paavonen E, Pennonen M and Roine M (2006) Passive Exposure to TV Linked to Sleep Problems in Children. Journal of Sleep Research Vol 15, 154-161. This study documents that active TV viewing was correlated with sleep-wake transition disorders.

Rideout V, Vandewater E and Wartella E (2003) Zero To Six: Electronic Media In The Lives of Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers. The Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation Report, California. This report documents the recent explosion of electronic media targeted at the very youngest of children 0-6 years of age, and states that 99% of homes have a TV, 36% have a TV in their bedrooms, 50% have a videogame player, and 73% have a computer. Despite the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends toddlers under the age of 2 years should not use ANY electronic media, 68% use electronic media daily, 25% have TV’s in their bedrooms and average use is 2 hours 5 minutes per day. Regarding extent of TV usage, children are less likely to read in high use homes, TV use is not income dependent, but that there is less usage in homes where one parent holds a college degree.

Roberts D, Foehr U, Rideout V, Brodie M (1999) Kids and Media at the New Millennium: A Comprehensive National Analysis of Children’s Media Use. The Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation Report, California. This report documents that children spend on average 6.5 hours per day of combined media use (TV, videogames, computers), and 32% of 2-7 year olds and 65% of 8-18 year olds have TV’s in their bedrooms.

Thakkar R, Garrison M and Christakis D (2006) A Systematic Review for the Effects of Television Viewing by Infants and Preschoolers. Pediatrics Vol 118, 2025-2031. This study points out that although viewing educational programs broadens young children’s knowledge, viewing of cartoon content has a negative effect on children’s attentional abilities.

Thompson, D and Christakis D (2005) The Association Between Television Viewing and Irregular Sleep Schedules Among Children Less Than 3 Years of Age. Pediatrics Vol 116, 851-856. This study reports that the total number of hours of TV watched per day was associated with irregular nap and bedtime schedules.

Vandewater E, Lee J and Shim M (2005) Family Conflict and Violent Electronic Media Use in School-Aged Children. Media Psychology Vol 7 No 1, 73-86. This research showed that family conflict is positively related to violent electronic media use, and that family tensions will be reflected in children’s interest in media with violent content.

Waldman M, Nicholson S and Adilov N (2006) Does Television Cause Autism? Cornell University, New York. This study showed that heavy TV use prior to age 3 years positively correlates to increase in prevalence of Autism.

Zimmerman F, Christakis D and Meltzoff A (2007) Television and DVD/Video Viewing in Children Younger Than 2 Years. Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine Vol 161 No 5, 473-479. This study showed that by 3 months of age, 40% of children regularly watched television, DVD’s or videos, and by 24 months 90%. Average duration rose form 1 hour per day for children less than one year old to 1.5 hours by 24 months.

Zimmerman F and Christakis D (2007) Associations Between Content Types of Early Media Exposure and Subsequent Attentional Problems. Pediatrics Vol 120, 986-992. This study showed that viewing of television prior to age 3 was significantly associated with attention problems.