Influencers that Teach our Children

Mark Twain Quote

Compassion or Violence? What are the influencers affecting your children?

During my years working in the anti-human trafficking arena, and speaking to bring education and mobilization to communities across the country, I was able to glean much data from inquisitive researchers, university and medical studies, and the like. Great respect is due to all those wonderful souls who spend time conducting evidence-based research on topics that affect our lives and the lives of our children.

These studies proved invaluable when I became a writer of children’s books. My goal was to be able to compare through some of these studies, the real value of reading to these little kiddies; to reach beyond reading as a means solely to balance our check books, read traffic signs, and shop.

Before beginning this quest, I asked myself some questions. How does reading affect us socially? Does it really make a difference in our interactions with others? Mark Twain once said, The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them. Okay, I agree with that, but there must be more to reading than just giving us knowledge.

I already knew that watching too much television affects us adversely. And after comparing studies that address the merits (or pitfalls) of reading vs watching television, I felt it was worth condensing into a singular blog post so you, the reader, can make an educated conclusion as to how these two issues affect your child’s development. So, ask yourself these three questions:

1. How many hours a day does your child spend watching TV?
2. How many hours a day does your child spend reading books (homework not included)?
3. How many minutes a day do you spend reading to or with your child?

There are a multitude of studies proving the positive power of reading as opposed to the negative power of watching television on children—and adults—but, let’s focus on your kiddies!

In a blog post titled, Reading Fiction Improves Brain Connectivity and Function: Reading a novel has the power to reshape your brain and improve theory of mind, written by Christopher Bergland, The Athlete’s Way, published in 2014, the author gives us some tremendous insight into reading novels.

Researchers found that becoming engrossed in a novel enhances connectivity in the brain and improves brain function. Interestingly, reading fiction was found to improve the reader’s ability to put themselves in another person’s shoes and flex the imagination in a way that is similar to the visualization of a muscle memory in sports.

Bergland concludes after reading numerous studies that readers of novels generally put themselves in the role of the protagonist and that act alone helps develop our ability to become compassionate and understanding towards others.

The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes through embodied cognition is key to improving theory of mind and also the ability to be compassionate. Although this study does not directly draw these conclusions, it seems like common sense that if we encourage our children to read—as opposed to tuning out through television—theory of mind and the ability to be compassionate to another person’s suffering will improve.

He states—read the article. It’s quite interesting—that encouraging our children to read is a no brainer. I agree! Now let’s look at benefits of watching television as opposed to reading.

A November 22, 2013 article released by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in their publication EurekAlert titled, Preschoolers Exposure to Television Can Stall Their Cognitive Development: Children with TVs in the bedroom linked to weak understanding of mental states, offers strong data that suggests negative aspects to TV exposure.

Many studies have investigated the effects of children’s TV exposure on social behaviors, without examining if TV exposure affects the neuropsychological function that underlies social behavior, and without taking theory of mind into consideration. This study shows that TV exposure may impair children’s theory of mind development, and this impairment may be partly responsible for disruptive social behaviors. Also, an article worth reading. 

And a third article, Why Read 20 Minutes a Day, on k12reader.com, expresses strong merit for the value of parent’s reading to or with their children daily. This one activity improves listening skills, early literacy skills, academic performance, develops good habits, and improves relationships.

Because we are busy it is difficult to have “quality” one-on-one time with our children without distractions. Building 20 minutes into each day for reading together provides this important bonding time. There is nothing more wonderful than snuggling a young child on your lap while reading a few storybooks aloud. Even if your child is beyond the “snuggling” stage, spending 20 minutes reading independently provides you with quiet, uninterrupted time together engaged in the same activity. 

The following important article addresses violence due to media. The Impact of Media Violence on Children and Adolescents: Opportunities for Clinical Interventions, by Eugene V Beresin, M.D., Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Residency Training, Massachusetts General Hospital and McLean Hospital, is reprinted with permission, in my book, Slaves of a Different Kind: Unshackling Our Soul to Heal America.

Studies reveal that children watch approximately 28 hours of television a week, more time than they spend in school. The typical American child will view more than 200,000 acts of violence, including more than 16,000 murders before age 18. Television programs display 812 violent acts per hour; children’s programming, particularly cartoons, displays up to 20 violent acts hourly.

Some researchers have demonstrated that very young children will imitate aggressive acts on TV in their play with peers. Before age 4, children are unable to distinguish between fact and fantasy and may view violence as an ordinary occurrence. In general, violence on television and in movies often conveys a model of conflict resolution. It is efficient, frequent, and inconsequential. Heroes are violent, and, as such, are rewarded for their behavior. They become role models for youth.

I’ve given you 4 exceptionally good articles, 2 discussing the merits of reading and 2 discussing disadvantages of watching too much television, in hopes that this little bit of education can inspire some to replace watching television with reading. Remember, just add that 20 minutes a day to reading and gauge for yourself the benefits to your child’s development.