Remotely Controlled – How television is damaging our lives

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remotely

by Dr Aric Sigman

Vermillion £8.99

As a parent, this book is definitely an unwelcome, yet an incredibly enlightening and important read. Unfortunately for me, the familiar feeling of relief when my toddler sat in front of the television and gave me ten minutes of peace has been turned very firmly on its head.

Remotely Controlled is a real polemic, and Dr Sigman has a good old rant about the numerous harmful effects of television throughout the book, of which there are far too many to mention in this review. There is no doubt that the book is well researched and excellently argued, although the evidence of some chapters did seem quite anecdotal. However, the chapter on how TV is affecting our children is littered with references to legitimate and often very large studies in peer-reviewed academic journals and publications, and the results of this huge body of research are alarming, and have been sufficient for me to restrict my toddler’s TV-viewing until she’s a little older.

Television interrupts the natural processes that need to occur in our children’s brains in the first few years of life to enable them to form a sense of reality in which they will then be able to function. The interruption occurs when the ‘attention’ centre of the brain, the frontal lobe, is distorted by the excessive stimulation that TV provides, making it permanently less effective and conditioning it with unrealistic expectations – in short, real life becomes boring. This can be one of the causes of attention deficit disorders, amongst other problems. Children really need social interaction to develop this part of their brain properly, and TV hinders this in many ways. What is even more frightening than the results of this research is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to carry out further scientific research to test these negative effects, as there are almost no children left in the world who have not been exposed to TV to use as a control group.

For adults too, the results of the collective research are no less gloomy. Even watching a small amount of television, such as one hour per day, has been linked to increased anxiety, depression and poor mental health, violence, obesity, lowered libido, poor brain function and attention problems. The average UK household watches for four hours per day. 

Dr Sigman laments the distortion of family relationships shown on TV in soaps, dramas and even reality TV, in particular the portrayal of mothers. He says that ‘Full-time mothers are now often portrayed as unfulfilled, killing time until they can get back to work and do something really worthwhile… the full-time mother who derives a subtle, more enduring form of reward and satisfaction and a deeper contentment lacks televisual excitement and an immediacy. Contentment is hard to capture on camera. It lasts considerably longer than 24.6 minutes, so it never even makes it to the casting couch.’ He continues to argue that eroding the status of the full-time mother in this way naturally results in underplaying the importance of children in society.

It is not just the image of motherhood that is negatively affected by our television addiction, a broad sweep of social problems are in part caused by it; television presents us with role models not of our choosing, which in turn breeds dissatisfaction; it encourages excessive individualism and a sense of entitlement which is a particular problem for the younger generations. All these things (and many more) are the opposite of those which are known through wisdom and research to make us happy – solid values, a sense of community, even simple respect for our fellow humans, to name a few. And sadly, these negative effects are now apparent in almost all cultures as TV has become accessible worldwide.

What really won me over to Dr Sigman’s cause in this book, however, were the revelations about how corrupt the media are in preventing this knowledge reaching us. The lengths to which even reputable organisations such as the BBC have gone to withhold and downplay the vast quantities of evidence is shocking. The book is worth a read for this alone if nothing else.

There are so many books out there telling us how to bring up our children, what is right and wrong, and usually I try and avoid them. For me, this book is an exception. It does preach, but I think you’ll be hard-pressed not to see the common sense in Dr Sigman’s arguments. ‘Remotely Controlled’ will make you stop and think, and whether or not you turn your TV off, you won’t watch it with an uncritical eye again. I strongly recommend it.

Laura Boon

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