(Abridged version of an article to appear in the book Awaken to Child Health (Hawthorne Press Stroud, UK, 2008).
DR RAOUL GOLDBERG, BSC (MED), MB CHB, CEDH (HOM) practises anthroposophical medicine in his general family practice in Cape Town. He has been a school doctor in the Waldorf school movement for many years and has lectured widely on many subjects related to child development and health. His work is inspired by the knowledge that the foundations for a healthy life are laid down in childhood.
Is the worldwide media controlling the human mind?
Part 4 in the series on addiction looks at the effects on our children, the most at-risk sector of society.
For the majority of people, television has become one of the dominant symbols of modern life and something they cannot do without.1 It is the world in your living room and an answer to many needs: it is excellent company, it gives pleasure and comfort, it can make one feel internationally informed, locally connected, and empowered as a global citizen, and it is highly entertaining. For whenever one wishes, in the comfort of one’s home and at the press of a button, one has access to a selection of home entertainment, and an even wider selection if one owns a video or DVD player. Even the poorest can feel they are part of the bigger world, participating in their fantasy with sensational stories of life. For most children and adolescents it has become an indispensable part of living.
Yet while it connects and empowers outwardly, inwardly it can disconnect and disempower people from their own inner self, leading to various levels of dependency and addiction. And children and youth more than any other sector of society are at risk of weakening their creative power and their connection to life through the seductive nature of the world entertainment media, especially TV.
CAN YOU RECALL HOW CHILDREN AND TEENAGERS WATCH TV?
Most young children who enter a room with the TV on will be immediately mesmerised by the sounds and images on the screen and it will be difficult to draw their attention away from it. Even the adult eye and ear are involuntarily drawn there, and it needs an effort of will to stay ‘unplugged’. Children, who at this age live so strongly in the world of the senses, cannot do this unless they have other more interesting objects to distract them. TV with its short sound bites and rapid-firing picture images is specifically designed to capture the viewer’s attention. Teenagers who are bored and have nothing better to do will tend to slouch on the sofa and watch whatever is on the screen without discernment, sometimes for hours on end, perhaps switching from one programme to another. Those who are more inwardly disciplined or who have other interests can curtail the time spent viewing; others who have less self control become caught up in this world of make-believe. A significant portion of these youth will become addicted to it, meeting clinical criteria for substance abuse, namely they spend a great deal of time using electronic entertainment media, more time than they intend; they think about reducing this time or make unsuccessful attempts to reduce it; they give up important social or other activities for these pastimes; and they experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop the habit.
HOOKED ON ENTERTAINMENT
In previous articles in this series on addictive behaviour in children and adolescents, attention was drawn to the ever-increasing body-mind dependency of children and youth on some substance or activity.2 At the core of all dependency and addiction, there will invariably be real needs that have not been fully satisfied, leading to the search and adoption of a substitutive answer to appease the pain of unfulfilled needs. An addictive partnership is thereby established between a compelling force that provides gratification, and the needy person who becomes captive to this gratification.
One of these compelling forces in the culture of our times is the entertainment media.
Children and youth with unsatisfied needs, who by their developmental nature lack the ability to protect themselves from such forces, can easily become dependent on this compelling force.
Today television has become a member of the family and it seems we want it to stay that way. In the USA, 99% of children have a TV set in their homes, one-third of children from birth to 6 years of age live in homes where the TV is on almost all the time, 1 in 5 children under 2 years of age has a set in the bedroom, and 50% of homes have 3 or more TV sets. Eighty per cent of children under age 6 watch TV, play video games or use the computer for an average of 2 hours daily. Ninety-five per cent live in homes with at least 1 video or DVD player. The average child watches 4 hours of TV daily. This is the tendency in all developed and developing countries.
We may well ask about the nature of this force that fosters this addictive behaviour and compels many children and teenagers to spend more time watching TV than all other activities apart from school life and sleeping.
We all experience this compelling force. Is it in the box or in us? Study this and you will see that television is only compelling because the viewer finds it compelling. If one day everyone were to find TV banal and boring, this medium would quickly disappear into the archives of technological history. TV only exists because some part of the human psyche wants it to exist, wants what it provides, and finds pleasure in what it offers. Some clever social scientists and psychologists have recognised the needs of this part of the human psyche and together with highly creative programme designers, they have discovered ingenious ways of connecting with and holding its attention. For it is the magical power of this medium to hold the attention of the viewer so completely, that keeps the psyche spellbound.
The other side of the partnership is of course that part of the human soul that needs this nourishment and devours the food provided. What is its nature? The entertainment media, like an active compelling partner, engages with and stimulates certain aspects of the human psyche that behave like a passive, submissive partner, namely the sensing soul that sees and hears, the will that desires and craves for sensation and stimulation, and the feelings that are played on passively like a musical instrument. The thinking organ is used only to cognise and give meaning to what has been perceived and experienced.
Children and youth who become dependent on TV and other entertainment media have an overwhelming need to be entertained, stimulated and excited by the fantasy life of show business because their real life is either too boring or too uncomfortable. In both cases they are unhappy with whom they are or where they are, and are doing their best to get away from themselves. Remember that disposition referred to in Part two that would draw us away from the earth and our own physical bodies, allowing us to become more spiritual, artistic, creative, desiring, sensuous and wilful, seeking out sensation and excitement.2,3 A cosmic child in pain who lives more strongly in her soul and spirit would naturally and effortlessly be drawn into this illusory world of make-believe. An earthly child in pain who lives more strongly in his body would enjoy the opportunity to get away from his body as often as possible. The entertainment media is the perfect nourishment to satisfy this longing to be free of the heaviness of life.
WHAT WE CAN DO
How do we as guardians of our children and youth, living in a modern world, help those who are vulnerable to or who have succumbed to the compelling power of the entertainment media?
When one considers firstly that the healthy foundations for the child’s physical, psychological and spiritual life are laid down in the first 10 – 12 years, secondly that the child by its nature is vulnerable in these years to any hostile environmental effects, and thirdly the potential damage that current research suggests TV may be causing children, then it would seem moral and logical to prevent children, as far as possible, from watching electronic screens. In most urban families this is practically impossible. However, with a little effort this can and should be done for as long as possible, but at least for the first 3 years of life; thereafter TV should be strictly controlled by measures that can easily be applied where there is insight and goodwill.
1. Many committed parents with children choose not to have a TV, video or DVD in the home.
2. If one chooses to have electronic media, every effort should be made to place the equipment in a room that children do not enter frequently or in a concealed cabinet.
3. Every effort should be made to provide healthy interactive activities for children. Children who do not grow up with TV are generally more social, creative, nature-loving and healthy, and make better playmates
4. Parents who do not believe that banning of TV after age 3 is necessary or who are not able to enforce it after this time should:
- Restrict it to a minimum.
- Control what programmes are watched. As far as possible
- non-commercial programmes should be selected. In Sweden a ban on TV advertising aimed at children is currently being debated.
- Watch the programme with your child in order to monitor content, explain and correct realities, point out manipulation, and discuss issues and points of view according to the age and needs of the child. Many studies suggest that positive benefits may accrue from watching educational programmes.
- Engage with neighbours and the parents of your children’s friends to agree on similar rules.
In situations of entertainment addiction, the approach is fundamentally the same as that outlined in Part one2 for any addiction, based on the fact that the underlying cause lies in real needs that have not been satisfied. However the addiction to entertainment media will require certain modifications.
In 1918 Rudolph Steiner made several predictions that if humanity fails to find the right ideas to further human evolution, several events would occur. One of these was that if we fail to find truth in our lives, there will develop a universal mind control of humanity. We are witnessing today the power of the worldwide media to control human minds. It is not Orwell’s dark prophesy of 1984, where Big Brother controls individual freedom by overt oppressive power, but rather Aldous
Huxley’s Brave New World that has found fulfillment in today’s world. Ours is a Brave New World where humanity chooses to be controlled by technology, entertainment and amusement, believing that this reality is more true for us than our own life reality.4 If we wish to protect our children from these mind-compelling forces we will need to find the right ideas to create environments for our children that meet their sense of innate truth and goodness.
Patzlaff R. Medienmagie und die Herrscaft Ueber die Sinne (Magic of the Media, Tyranny over the Senses). Stuttgart: Verlag Freies Geistesleben, 1988.
Goldberg R. Addictive Behaviour in Children and Adolescents, parts 1 – 3. South African Journal of Natural Medicine, issues 28 – 30.
Postman N. The Disappearance of Childhood. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.
Postman N. Amusing Ourselves to Death. London: Heinemann, 1986.