Couch potato habits
Teenagers who spend most of their leisure time in front of a television are more likely to be socially maladjusted, with a poor sense of self-esteem, than those who don't, according to a survey of more than 20,000 young people by the University of Wales.
Researchers at Trinity College, Camarthen, found significant differences between the responses of those who were adjudged to be "telly addicts" - watching more than four hours of tele-vision a night - and those who watched less.
The study group was composed of 14 and 15-year-olds from 100 schools throughout England and Wales with a fairly equal number of boys and girls. They were each asked questions which ranged from background, social class and academic aspirations to religious beliefs, sexual morality and personal well-being.
The responses from the self-confessed addict are far from reassuring. They suggest that hand-in-glove with prolonged viewing go such socially undesirable traits as lack of academic aspiration, neuroticism and a disposition to depression, suicidal thoughts and an obsession with the occult (for example, 35 per cent believed it was possible to contact the spirits of the dead and 24 per cent believed in black magic, although they had similar levels of faith in horoscopes as their non-addict peers).
The composite picture is of a teenager more likely to be unhappy at school and with fewer aspirations of achieving academic success, who comes from a socially disadvantaged background. They are inclined to be more cynical about politics, but would opt for the Labour Party rather than the Conservatives.
Violence on television is not likely to bother them as much as non-addicts, nor is pollution, Third World poverty or nuclear war. When asked to agree or disagree with the statement "There is nothing I can do to help solve the world's problems", 30 per cent of addicts agreed, as opposed to 19 per cent of non-addicts.
This assumption of powerlessness is reinforced by a lower sense of self-worth and a lack of purpose, with non-addicts more likely to feel life is worth living. The TV addict's social deviance is emphasised by attitudes to crime and substance abuse. Twice as many feel that there is nothing wrong with shop lifting, for example. While using heroin or sniffing glue gives less cause for opprobrium.
Interestingly, both groups voiced similar levels of concern about their sex lives with 18 per cent of each admitting this was a cause of worry. The addicts, perhaps surprisingly, were more satisfied about their attractiveness to members of the opposite sex and less inclined to worry about how they get on with other people.
The author of the study, Revd Professor Leslie Francis, says, "I recognise the limitations of the research and I am sure there needs to be a renewed investigation into the consequences of excessive viewing. Part of the responsibility of the media should be to respond and welcome further study. "
While he admits that there is little point in trying to change young people's viewing habits, either in the amount of time they spend in front of a television or what they choose to watch, he believes that the onus is on curriculum planners to make sure children are taught critical awareness at an early stage and will then be better placed to mitigate the negative effects of what they watch.