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By Vision Reporter

Added 7th October 2008 03:00 AM


ANIMALS talking, swords flashing, blood splashing, little girls flying, inane laughter and ridiculous chit-chat are all I have heard and seen for the last two hours. I am spending the afternoon with Donald, a 13-year-old boy who is


ANIMALS talking, swords flashing, blood splashing, little girls flying, inane laughter and ridiculous chit-chat are all I have heard and seen for the last two hours. I am spending the afternoon with Donald, a 13-year-old boy who is



ANIMALS talking, swords flashing, blood splashing, little girls flying, inane laughter and ridiculous chit-chat are all I have heard and seen for the last two hours. I am spending the afternoon with Donald, a 13-year-old boy who is in day school. As he animatedly narrates one of his favourite programmes, I am struck by how much detail he puts in.

“My favourite at the moment is Avatar: the last Airbender. A boy called Aang is the new Avatar and his mission is to defeat the Fire Nation. He uses a glider and has a flying bicen to help him on his missions….. I like Avatar best because it has a lot of action; it is very exciting.”

Donald’s typical weekend at home involves watching TV for the most part and maybe an hour or two of books to catch up on his homework. He says he loves TV because it is exciting and has very interesting programmes. He has fallen asleep in front of the telly more times than he can recall. His best programmes are cartoons. The Disney Channel and Cartoon Network are his favourite channels. He also knows all the latest songs on MTV and Channel O.

What is you child up to?
Does your children identify with Donald? Is TV becoming a vital part of your children’s life? Are your children spending more time watching TV than with you? Do you regulate what your children watch? Do you even know what is on that television that your children are constantly glued to? Are you relaxed because your children are watching cartoons; so they must be safe?

All these are questions that parents today need to ask themselves. The television does not hold the slang name ‘Idiot Box’ for no reason. In USA, a study showed that the average child watches at least four hours of TV everyday. Donald says he watches about six hours of TV daily except when he is at school.

More and more people are acquiring TV sets today and we can no longer ignore the fact that it is the largest form of entertainment in many homes. With the coming of pay TV and the existence of more than one local TV station, the competition to keep audiences tuned in has grown and so has the type of programming. Should our children be watching so much TV?

Teachers’ angle
Teachers interact with children more than parents, especially in boarding school. Mukasa Lusambu, the headteacher of St. Peter’s Primary School Nsambya, says TV can be both helpful and harmful. “When children watch TV under parental guidance, they can benefit from educational programmes that build their knowledge,” he says, adding that on the other hand, because modern children watch too much TV, they forget to do their homework.

Language skills also suffer because reading and face-to-face interaction are limited when children watch TV, Lusambu says.

Children who watch a lot of TV take longer to learn to read, speak and write. Lusambu says boarding school children are better off because they only watch TV on weekends and even then, it is regulated by the teachers.

Alice Nakagiri, the Busabala Primary School headteacher, says children who watch plenty of TV are usually absent-minded in class. “What they watch remains in their minds and instead of engaging in sports; they huddle in groups during break and discuss what is running on TV, exchange video games and movies.

Because children who watch a lot of TV have little time to sleep, they usually doze in class, Nakagiri says.

Molly, a Primary Five teacher, says many of her pupils use coarse language and have aggressive behaviour, which she believes they get from watching TV.
American research done in the USA on the effects of television on children shows that the average American child will see 200,000 violent acts on television by age 18. With many of our programmes coming from America, how safe are our children? TV violence sometimes begs for imitation, because violence is often demonstrated and promoted as a fun and effective way to get what you want. Children who view violent events, such as a kidnapping or murder, are also more likely to believe that the world is scary and that something bad will happen to them.

Sexuality is another common theme on television today, even on programmes meant for children.

Adult programming is filled with so much sexual content, it is unbelievable; yet children also have access to these programmes because there is no one to regulate what they watch. Isabella, who is at university, says her little sister and brother watch the same movies that the adults in the family watch, yet they are only in primary school. They also have unlimited access to DStv because they are at home alone with the maid, who is always busy doing chores and is not bothered about what they watch. Studies show that teens who watch lots of sexual content on TV are more likely to initiate intercourse or participate in other sexual activities earlier than peers who do not watch sexually explicit shows.

Cartoons and Animations
Gone are the days when cartoons were silly and downright ridiculous. No more Tom and Jerry, Cow and Chicken, Pooh the Bear, Ed, Edd and Eddy, Pink Panther, Pinkie and the Brain and so on. What was once innocent childlike imitations have taken on a whole different connotation. Animations and cartoons today portray adult themes like violence, sexuality, consumerism, substance abuse and the like. Violence is the most popular theme on children programmes. Popular animations like Samurai X, Johnny Bravo, and Avatar have violence as the main theme. All the shows that Donald narrates have a hero who saves the day by killing or fighting off the bad guys.

There are many adult cartoons today like South Park, the Simpsons and Family Guy. In the USA, such cartoon series are showed on a different channel called Adult Swim, a spin-off of Cartoon Network. But how is a parent or child in Uganda supposed to differentiate these when they are all showed on the same channel? Eddie Kayemba at EDZ Videos in Wandegeya says they rent out such animations to both children and adults.

In a nutshell
While TV can be useful when parents and teachers guide children on what to watch, it can also have detrimental effects.


Many children’s advocates are for no TV at all. They advise parents to control the use of TV and to teach children that it is for occasional entertainment, not for constant escapism.

Matoya says one hour of television in a day is enough for children.

Parents should also set an example by limiting their own TV viewing. That is why it is very important for you to monitor the content of TV programming and set viewing limits to ensure that your child does not spend time watching TV that should be spent on other activities, such as scrabble, riding bikes, playing with friends, exercising and reading. She advises parents to tailor their homes to be child-friendly so that they have other activities to engage in.

Matoya says the best thing is to watch these programmes with the children so as to explain anything that they may have questions about.

As a parent, you should find other sources of recreation for the children so that television is not the only thing they get entertainment from. They should be allowed to play with other children and to play on open grounds so they can run around freely; to exercise and be creative with their time.

Counsellors’ views on TV’s effects on children
Ruth Matoya, a psychologist with Healing Talk, says television is a very powerful tool. It has both negative and positive effects on children, but the positives cannot be measured against the negatives. She says that too much TV affects a child’s mental, physical and social development.

Many children are left alone or with little supervision in the home because the parents have to go off to work. The TV too remains behind. Flora Ntanda, a parent, says she cannot honestly tell you what her children watch. She has no interest in TV herself and often leaves home early to get to the office. Her three children are aged between five and 12 years of age. Are the programmes they watch having any effect on their lives? I ask her. She is clueless because she does not even know what they watch.

Kate is a mother of three and she says she almost had a heart attack when she found her two youngsters kissing each other on the lips. Trying not to panic, she sat them down and explained that siblings do not kiss like that and it is only for adults. They said they had seen people kissing on TV.

Stay-at-home mom of three Joan says she did not think an hour of TV after school did any harm. “But I have noticed that since our pay TV subscription run out, the boys are a lot calmer and composed. I am considering holding the renewal for sometime,” she says.

Matoya says children tend to adopt mannerisms that they are exposed to a lot because they are most impressionable at that stage. Children who are just beginning to talk should not be exposed to too much TV, because they will adopt the talking and mannerisms of the TV characters. At that age, they should be interacting with other children and people in general. She also says children who spend a lot of time on TV do not get to exercise and this can be detrimental to the development of their bodies. It can also lead to obesity in some children.

She attributes the loss of creativity to too much television. Children who spend all their time watching TV and not interacting with others or doing other activities like reading and playing lack creativity and have a low imagination, she says.

TV also spoils children’s hand and eye coordination, because the hands are not used as much. “Children’s writing skills become poor; they are weak at any activity that requires them to use their hands,” says Matoya. She adds that children learn or are exposed to certain things like sexuality, obscene language and substance abuse, especially when there is no adult supervision. Many programmes on TV are of Western origin; even the local programmes have adopted similar themes to keep people tuned in. With no one to look out, children are watching these programmes and getting spoilt.

Violence is another danger to children who watch a lot of TV. Power Rangers was one of the most popular TV series that used to run on WBS TV some years back. This is one of Donald’s favourites. In a survey conducted in the USA in the late 90s, more than 90% of teachers thought that Power Rangers led to increased violence among the children they taught.

Moses, a father of two, says he was called to his son’s kindergarten to pick him up because he had broken his arm in a fight. Some of the boys had started a game of wrestling and Moses’ son had been thrown down a flight of stairs. Matoya says violence has a great impact on children, and it will be reflected in their lives as they grow; through aggressiveness.


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