British children are the unhappiest in the West, according to a UNICEF study covering 21 of the most industrialized countries. The United States is a runner-up. A study funded by the British government proved that the number of children with psychiatric illnesses has doubled in the last 30 years. One in ten children suffers from disorders such as depression, anorexia, anxiety, or antisocial behavior.
Paradoxically, in more "advanced" Western societies, there is a hyper-protective political and cultural climate of child rights. The result, however, is that we are creating a generation of spoiled children and youth who are tyrants at home and socially unviable. Other educational bodies, such as teachers, are incapable of setting limits and exercising their authority over spoiled youth and children.
This is the alarming yet firmly backed complaint made by Dr. Aric Sigman, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine and the British Psychological Society, father of four children, who often intervenes in national media for issues on education and the family. Sigman has already published Remotely Controlled: How Television is Damaging Our Lives.
With a dynamic, colorful, and colloquial language - in some cases very colloquial- and an abundance of scientific data and statistics, the author presents the causes of this situation. Overworked and tired parents can barely spend time with their children. There are more broken and “blended” families in which children learn to emotionally blackmail their parents who feel guilty. There is a cultural climate that homogenizes the role of father and mother, thus confusing the psychology of children regarding the need of complementary roles and not "two mothers" (one owner and another assistant).The value of fatherhood is diminishing in modern society. A great deal of external child care is employed due to the working conditions of society. The parents who uncritically absorb a libertarian educational philosophy become confused as to their role as educators.
The bulk of the book develops these factors. I will focus on a few relevant points regarding the “media factor”, having in mind the interests of the readers of our site.
The media factor
A separate chapter is dedicated to the “media factor”, whose influence is both driven by and amplifies the preceding factors. One of the researchers on the influence of the media world's well-respected, George Gerbner, suitably cited in the book, affirms: “For the first time in human history, most of the stories are told to most of the children not by their parents, their school or their church, but by a group of distant corporations that have something to sell”
“In Freudian terms –says Sigman-, modern, compelling media stimulates our child’s id, the department of instant gratification and pleasure-seeking impulses and basement of the three-tier structure of our personality. But in doing so, they turn their inclinations into expectations and distort their development” (p. 118). Freud aside, recent studies show that neuronal activity in the frontal lobe of the brain, linked to decision-making, impulse control, and behavior, decreases in those who watch more violent scenes on TV. This impacts aggressive behavior, especially in young people diagnosed with DBD (disruptive behavior disorder).
The brain areas related to empathy, which is crucially important for understanding others' emotions and thus for the social life is not stimulated when surfing the Web (p. 121). In turn, the areas related to the simultaneous attention are stimulated, favoring the so-called "multitasking."
It is noted that overall, as early as the year 2000, people spend more time in the virtual world than engaging in real relationships with others. We ignore the consequences that this may bear on children’s behavior and development. They will certainly be different. Whether or not the eyes are the windows of the soul, as the saying goes, the truth is that " they are window to the emotional brain," according to a study by the School of Medicine of the University of San Diego in California: “We know that the eye-to-eye communication –which is affected by oxytocin –is critical to intimate emotional communication for all kinds of emotions –love, fear, trust, anxiety.” (p. 128)
Dining together and mental health
Finally, among the studies, I will highlight some statistical data that speaks to common sense. A study by Columbia University (New York) reports that “having at least one parent at dinner with their child regularly was found to prevent depression, anxiety and substance abuse in children, who also achieve higher grades in school, compared to those children who dine on their own”. Similar results show up in related studies (pp. 125 et seq.)
It might seem like discovering hot water. Wiser cultures have understood without empirical studies that eating together-and well if possible, in a human and civilized fashion, is an expression of civility and it forms culture. In any case, if the statistic also gives us another reason to turn off the television while the family is at the table, that statistic is surely welcomed.
Speaking of food and the media, I would like to emphasize an interesting argument posed by Sigman in his book. No parent in their right mind would put a refrigerator in their child’s bedroom so that they could manage their own diet. Many parents nevertheless delegate the decision regarding their “media diet” to their children. A television or a computer connected to the Internet is to be found in their room at their command.
The book, inspiring and entertaining, without philosophical or scholarly pretentions, is highly recommended for family counselors and scholars on their area of the family. It revolves around a simple idea and a proposal. Authority in the family must be restored, so that the parents resume their role as educators. Only then will young people be prepared to be socially viable. The diagnosis is not just for the Western industrial societies, where the author bases his observations