Endangered Minds

Have you noticed how hard it is to get a child to really think?

Have you ever wondered about the effects of television, computers and video games on thinking?  Have you wondered if these things are beneficial or harmful to a child’s education?  Sadly, there have been almost zero scientific studies on the effects of television and computer and video games.  Businesses and families may not be  particularly interested in finding out the answers to such a study.  It would be very comforting to think that the effects of video games and television are not particularly harmful.

Although there are only a few real studies, there have been a few of very good quality. There is one particular study from Leiden University in the Netherlands that shows that television has negative effects on reading skills. Among the study’s other conclusions they stated that television:

  • Displaces leisure reading and inhibits the growth of reading skills
  • Requires less mental effort than reading
  • May shorten the time children are willing to spend on finding an answer to intellectual problems they are set to solve

It is becoming easier and easier to study how people think.   We just paste non-invasive electrodes on a person’s head to study brain waves. The recent television and video game studies have been done this way.  Three effects on learning abilities have been suggested by these types of studies:

  1. Some television and video programming artificially manipulate the brain into paying attention by violating certain of its natural defenses with frequent visual and auditory changes.
  2. Television induces neural passivity and reduces “stick-to-it-iveness”.
  3. Television may have a hypnotic and possibly neurologically addictive effect on the brain by changing the frequency of its electrical impulses in ways that block active mental processing.

Television advertisers know that the best way to get viewers to pay attention is to capitalize on the brain’s instinctive responses to danger.  Sudden close-ups and pans alert the brain because they violate the reflex needed to maintain a predictable personal space.  Bright colors, quick movements or sudden noises get attention because the brain is programmed to changes that might predict danger.

Carefully planned manipulations separate the natural responses of the brain and the body.  Although the brain is alerted there is no need to respond physically.  Children thus stimulated without an outlet for the normal physical response could develop frustrations, irritability and hyperactivity.  Also children become habituated to surprise and a circus like environment.

You may enjoy reading Endangered Minds by Jane Healy. She writes, “We care deeply about the ‘smartness’ of our children, but our culture lacks patience with the slow, time-consuming handwork by which intellects are woven.  The quiet spaces of childhood have been disrupted by media assault and instant sensory gratification.”

So what does all this mean for homeschool parents?  Well, consider the very subtle effects of how you are allowing your children to spend their time.  How they spend their time may be altering their ability to learn and to get along with others. Just think about it.


Randi St. Denis is an educator, popular homeschool speaker, and a seasoned homeschooling mom. Randi works as a consultant to public, private, and homeschool families; providing teaching expertise and assistance for all types of children. You can visit her website at ChicagoHomeschoolExpo.com.

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