To Watch Or Not To Watch Essay

, Research Paper

To Watch or Not To Watch

In the 1950 s only 10% of American homes had a television. By 1960 s the percentage had grown to 90%, states Matt Richtel s article in The New York Times. Televisions, video games, and computers dominate today s marketplace. “Over the next eighteen to twenty four months, consumers will be barraged with a host of gadgets and media outlets attempting to redefine television, the web, and leisure time,” states James Karney in this year s April issue of The Internet World Magazine. Cable operators, television networks and video game publishers target children and their parents, as part of the consumer base. Today 99% of homes in America have a television, more families own a television than a phone.(Richtel, NYT)

In the new millennium, the children are going to be targeted with more electronic media than ever in history. Children will not be able to escape electronic media and in the future may be drawn more and more toward it. The media world in the new millennium may be wonderful in many ways, but it worsens traditional education. If children spend their time watching TV and playing video games, they are not spending any time reading and writing.

Statistics that were collected, by the U. S. National Center for Educational Statistics(NCES), show that student achievements in both reading and writing have been declining in the past few years. The NCES 1998 Report Card(Writing) states that 16% of fourth and eighth graders, and almost 22% of twelfth graders have not mastered the basic writing skills.(NCES, March 1999) The NCES 1998 Report Card(Reading) shows that no more than 40% of students in grades four to twelve, achieved the “proficient” level of reading. Only 7% of fourth graders, 3% of eighth graders, and 6% of twelfth graders could read at the “advanced” level. (NCES, March 1999)

“A typical American student is not a proficient writer. Instead, students show only partial mastery of the knowledge and skills needed for solid academic performance in writing,” said Gary W. Phillips, Acting NCES Commissioner in a press release after the 1998 Report Card report was issued.

It is clearly seen that student achievement is going in the wrong direction. In order to become a good reader and writer, children need to practice reading and writing. There is a popular theory of learning the language, called a schema theory . This idea contends that children develop separate opinions from the experiences they have had and then apply these experiences to situations that may occur later. Literacy is achieved when children apply the experiences they have on a regular basis to what they are reading or writing. (Ruddell, 145) Ruddell points out that “congruence between home and school language; and literacy routines and expectations increases the likelihood for success in learning to read and write.”(Ruddell, 137) He states and previous research has shown that high-achieving children had more books available for reading, and more verbal interaction with parents than low achievers.

Basically, the students who read the best are those that spend their non-school hours reading and writing. Parents that value literacy and push their children to read have kids that excel in this area. Children develop and revise their schema throughout their life in school. As schema changes, knowledge of that child will increase. The theory states that the child will become more literate and well-rounded. But, what if there are no books in the household? In a household where literacy is not valued, but instead a television set is made readily available. What kind of literacy routine is the child developing? These children spend more time learning about life through media than in any other manner. It is the parents, not TV sets, who choose to let their children sit in front of the television for hours. It is the parents who do not intervene and replace their child s television time with quality family time. If children spend their time mostly watching TV and playing video games, then the NCES statistics make some sense.

Watching television is a passive experience. The viewer simply sits on the couch and stares at the screen. There is little thought and little physical movement. When discussions of how television affects children arise, it often centers around what is being watched and if it is watched at the right age. “Again and again parents describe . . . the trancelike nature of their children’s television watching. The child’s facial expression is transformed. The jaw is relaxed and hangs open slightly; the tongue rests on the front teeth. The eyes have a glazed, vacuous look. There is certainly little indication that the child is active and alert mentally,” states Marie Winn in her book, The Plug-In Drug.

When a child learns to read and write, he must access the opinions developed in his brain. As he reads, the child creates pictures in his mind and uses imagination and points of reference to put the story together. “Television images do not go through a complex symbolic transformation. The mind does not have to decode and manipulate during the television experience.”(Winn, Pg.43) Watching television and playing video games do not force ca child to develop skills in word recognition, decoding, vocabulary, spelling or high-level thinking. Winn makes a direct connection between television watching and inadequate writing skills. She notes that reading and writing are simply ignored by a generation raised on television.

A study released in November of 1999 revealed that most children between the age of two and eighteen years old are exposed to an average of six and a half hours of daily media exposure, of which television is the most dominant. The average child spends about twenty eight hours a week watching television, which is twice as much time as they spend in school. The study, sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation, shows that 88% of all U.S. households have two or more television sets; and 53% of all children have a TV set in their room. “Today’s youth have access to more media with more channels or outlets within each medium. This offers more content, more vivid than even the most ‘outlandish’ mid-century science fiction novels once predicted,” states the Kaiser report.( Roberts, Pg.31)

The Kaiser Foundation report also notes that while the average child spends six and a half hours each day with some type of electronic media, exposure to print is extremely low. On the average, two to four year olds and eight to thirteen year olds spend around fifty minutes a day reading. Children fourteen to eighteen years old spend only thirteen minutes a day with print.

Parents should pay more attention to how their children spend their free time. There is a relationship between reading, writing, and how much time children spend doing these activities. Overall, children should be happier when they are involved with doing something other than simply watching TV. The television set controls the household, not the other way around. Do children come home from school and do their homework, or just play video games with their friends all night? How much time, today, do most children spend on their homework or on being creative? If the problem is too much media in children’s lives, then what can be done?

It should be understood, that shutting out the media is impossible. The world in the new millennium and beyond is one of video screens and computers. In the age of hyper-media, reading and writing skills are suffering.

“In the television experience a viewer is carried along by the exigencies of a mechanical device, unable to bring into play his most highly developed mental abilities or to fulfill his individual emotional needs,” explains Winn in her book. Children lose something valuable and personal when they don’t read. As Winn supports in her book, children are interacting with a video machine and not with themselves. This is something parents can control.

Parents are the only answer to solving this problem. Children read and write in school, however, when they leave school they become rulers of the video world. “American youth spend more time with media than with any single activity other than sleeping,” stated the Kaiser report. Parents must learn to control the house s intake of media and support reading, drawing and quiet activities. For the most part, parents may be unaware of how the large amount of media exposure effects their child. In order to change the decrease in reading and writing skills, parents may have to do radical things such as turning off the TV. Television is medium by which the corporate universe programs us to become something that we most probably will not be able to become for another decade or two.


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