Over the last few decades, parents, teachers, legislators, and mental health professionals have wanted to understand the impact of television programmes and media that depicts harmful intent expressed towards another person, particularly on children. Of special concern has been the depiction of violence, given the tendency of children to imitate what they see.

The Nigerian Communications Commission in its ‘Study on young children and digital technology: A survey across Nigeria’ said the average Nigerian child spends an average of three to 10 hours per day in front of a screen.

Through watching television, playing video games or surfing the Internet, the Nigerian child on average can amass screen time for lengths of up to three hours per day.

In extreme cases some children clock up to 10 hours or more screen time per day verging on addiction disorder.

The survey included children between four and 10 years and 11 and 16 years old.

Modeled after the Canadian Report, the Nigerian Report Card showed that 90.9 percent of Nigerian children and youth in the urban and rural areas spend over three hours on screen time daily. Television viewing is 90.7 percent.

Exposure to violent media by preschool-aged (two to six-year-olds) children especially has received little attention, although viewing habits in this age group have increased dramatically over the past decade, raising concerns for parents, paediatricians and researchers.In the past, some research suggests that the effects of media violence on child well-being are negligible.

For example, in 2009, a meta-analytic review of 25 published studies found the effects of violent media on aggressive behaviour to be modest at best. But this was a study on adults and children from several age groups.

Now, more recent studies provide strong evidence that viewing violent television by preschool-aged children can lead to later risks of psychological and academic impairment. This preschool age is a particularly critical time in brain development.The study is published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.Dr Olubukola Salam, consultant family physician at UCH, Ibadan, said definitely, the finding is true because exposure of children, including those at preschool age, to anything violent, maybe on TV, video games or in the environment can make them to have a wrong perspective about what is happening around them.

According to her, “There psychology is still forming and they need to be guided. If they are watching just anything and you don›t guide them to know what is right or good, they might see it as the norm and behave the same way.“Parents should not just monitor their exposure to violence; they also must monitor their exposure to abusive words, bullying and social vices like smoking, dressing behaviour and drinking alcohol that can influence their behaviours, even as a toddler,” she added.

Dr Haleem Abdulrahman, a consultant psychiatrist at University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, in a remark on the study’s finding stated that exposing children to violence either in shows, in movies or cartoons, is indirectly providing a modelling for the children and they are likely to imbibe a lot of violence into their behaviour.He declared: “Such children who are exposed to constant movies with violence they tend to grow up thinking that violence is the solution to everything. They grow up thinking that violence is a valid and justifiable means to get their rights or to exert their influence. And so in such instances, such children may grow up to become very irritable, prone to violence and fighting, and that can significantly affect their outlook in life.“Children less than age 18 are still growing and so will imbibe anything they are exposed to. If they are exposed to movies about mathematics, for instance, they are likely to be more mathematical savvy and if they are exposed to movies about nature, they may end up as great thinkers.”

In a remark by Dr Jibril Abdulmalik, also a consultant psychiatrist at the University College Hospital (UCH), said such children stand a higher risk of being psychologically impaired and as such the importance of screening what young people watch on TV or in the social media.Dr Abdulmalik said that repeated exposure to violence can make children have emotional problems later in life. There can be problems with self-esteem, interpersonal relationships, anger management and coping strategies with time. It does not mean that they will run mad, but they may have psychological impairment.“Preschool children tend to identify with characters on TV and treat everything they see as real,” she said. If they are the type that watch wrestling a lot, for instance, you will see them climbing the chair and jumping. They will want to copy what they see.“They see that if somebody does something that you don’t like, you hit them on TV. So they go to school and they start fighting. They see that in the movie when you are angry, you will break plates. So when they too are angry they start doing that. And they grow with that mindset.”

“And because they have grown up with this mind-set, they will have problems with anger management, emotional regulation, interpersonal relationships, learning to be patient with other people, learning to be forgiven when other people offend them. These are all things that ultimately will lead to poor emotional functioning in adulthood and poor relationships with people.”To do the study, the researchers Université de Montréal examined the violent screen content that parents reported their children viewing between ages of three-and-a-half and four-and-a-half, and then conducted a follow-up when the children reached 12.These were children born in 1997 or 1998 who are part of the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development.Two reports were taken. At the follow-up, two reports were taken: first, of what teachers said they observed, and second, of what the children themselves, now at the end of Grade six, described as their psychological and academic progress.Compared to their same-sex peers who were not exposed to violent screen content, boys and girls who were exposed to typical violent content on television were more likely to experience subsequent increases in emotional distress.They also experienced decreases in classroom engagement, academic achievement and academic motivation by the end of the sixth grade.

@ Nigerian Tribune

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