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TV: Sex, Guns, and Frito-Lays

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This is your brain on TV.

Upon high-school graduation, the average American student will have spent more hours watching TV than in the classroom. What might this mean? Let’s think about things these kids are not doing while they’re watching TV. They are not studying, moving their bodies, interacting with real live human beings, or getting any sense of what real life will be like when they graduate.

So what does happen when you watch TV? Here we need to get into the waves. Brain waves, that is. Remember this from science class? The brain is an electrochemical organ, discharging electrical currents that are measured in waves, such as Beta and Alpha waves.

Beta waves mean the brain is active and engaged. They happen when you’re working and talking. Alpha waves mean you’re chilling out. In the Alpha state you are relaxed, unfocused, and suggestible. Low Alpha waves represent a condition that some describe as “mind fog.”

TV has an amazing ability to shift your brain waves from Beta to Alpha; in fact it happens within the first minute of viewing. I imagine this can be good -- I have a friend who says that, after a day of dealing with work, the two kids, the dog, and the husband, she needs a few minutes of TV to unwind or she can’t fall asleep. I get it.

But shouldn’t it come with a warning label? “Surgeon General’s warning: watching television may cause mind fog, difficulty concentrating, an urge to shop, and increased symptoms of ADD and ADHD.”

Remember when people believed there were split-second subliminal ads on TV and in movies? Not necessary. Advertisers figured out another benefit of Alpha waves a long time ago: you are a sitting duck for their ads. Your brain on TV is already in a passive, receptive state, ready to absorb suggestions and believe that buying something from Brand X will make you happy. In fact, thanks to the miracles of “product placement,” Brand X is not just for ads anymore. Your favorite soap opera starlet will not only make sure you can see her can of Diet Coke; she might even have an argument with her sister about Coke versus Pepsi.

I’m sure you think you’re smarter than that, and maybe you are, but we’re talking physiology here, not intelligence. And even if you can apply critical thinking to the ads on TV, your kids probably can’t.

But wait, there’s more! Don’t forget the Sex, Drugs, and Rock’n’Roll factor. Or more pertinently, Sex, Guns, and Frito-Lays.

Sex

TV sexuality is (usually) pretty casual and free of consequences. Condoms and HPV are not popular topics for the sitcom set. Here’s some headline news for you: “Exposure to TV Sex May Hasten the Initiation of Sexual Activity Among Teens.”


Guns

Kids who see violent acts on the screen are more likely to show aggressive behavior. They also are more afraid that something bad will happen to them. Duh. There are thousands of horrifying stories of children emulating violent behavior, but I can’t help remembering the seven-year old boy from Dallas who, in July of 1999, killed his three-year old brother by imitating a wrestling move called “the clothesline” that he saw in televised professional wrestling.

Frito-Lays

What do potato chips have to do with it? Kids snack while they watch. Childhood obesity is now the number one chronic childhood disease. The percentage of children who are obese (30%) has tripled since 1980. Coincidence? I think not. Here’s my favorite “expert opinion,” from Dr. Irene Berman-Levine:

“My solution is to create TVs that only work if your feet are peddling to create the necessary electricity, and you have to sit on a bike which requires you to hang on for dear life (so you can't use your hands to eat at the same time).”

And more …

Let’s not leave out the booze. Just this summer, thanks to researchers in Canada and the Netherlands, we have our first experimental study to determine whether booze on TV makes you drink. Can you guess? "The results were straightforward and substantial: those who watched both the alcoholic film and commercials drank more than those who watched the non-alcoholic film and commercials.”

As far as TV-related problems, body image is a big one … I mean a thin one. Take for example the nation of Fiji. Their islands didn’t have TV until 1995. Imagine that! Before that, Fiji didn’t have a body image problem. Their culture traditionally valued “fuller figures.” By 1998, though, 78% of teen girls surveyed said they were too fat, and anorexia and bulimia had come to town.

Even though there’s no warning label, former Surgeon General Steven K. Galson, M.D., M.P.H. did pitch in to a National Institutes of Health report intended to reduce screen time, saying “Kids are spending more time sitting in front of screens every day than they do anything else except perhaps sleeping.” That same report tells us in no uncertain terms that for every hour of screen-time we see increases in obesity, drug and alcohol abuse, smoking, risky and early sexual activity, lower grades, violence , etc.

You get the point. I’m not going to tell you to kill your television. I’m a pacifist. But how about a little habit changing? Just push that little button on your remote that says “off.”

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