French broadcasting authorities have moved to discourage children under three from seeing television there and some experts in Ireland believe it is time a similar stand was taken here.
The move in France comes amid growing evidence that exposure to television too early delays intellectual and emotional development in young children with potentially lifelong consequences — even when the programmes are made specifically with babies and toddlers in mind.
Owen Connolly, a psychologist and family therapist, followed the discussion in the build-up to the decision in France and finds himself in agreement with the conclusion reached there.
“They’re saying that exposure of children under the age of three to television effectively stops their own development. They have done scans on children which show it’s almost like their brain flatlines when watching these programmes.
“We like to believe these shows stimulate children’s thinking and imagination, but in fact the evidence shows it actually retards them in terms of their curiosity and exploration,” he said.
It sounds then like the French have made a bold move with noble intentions, but their plan to save the minds of the next generation may be trickier to execute than to argue.
They have banned French channels from promoting programmes for the under-threes so broadcasters will have to rethink how they schedule and market shows. That should make it too much trouble to make new pre-school programmes and given that showing any children’s programme at 10am could be construed as targeting the very young, they are likely to get squeezed out altogether.
But France, like Ireland, buys in foreign programmes and the best the French authorities seem able to do is insist on a warning being shown beforehand, telling parents that watching them may harm their child’s development. More problematic is the satellite TV providers with domestic authorities able to exert little control.
The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland says that would be the main stumbling block to imposing restrictions here.
“You don’t have much control because it’s the country of origin standards that apply,” spokeswoman Aoife Clabby explained.
Not that it is an issue here where the emphasis is on policing the content of programmes aimed at children — ensuring they don’t include sex or violence or condone antisocial behaviour — rather than the general principle of broadcasting to children.
“There has never been consideration of imposing restrictions here. It’s not something we have legislative power to do,” said Ms Clabby.
Besides, broadcasting commission programming codes stress the importance of parental responsibility, stating that the codes are there to support parents rather than supplant them.