Consider this scenario: A child is playing in her living room, or strapped into a car seat en route to a daycare. She hears a dramatic introduction to a TV or radio newscast - which is deliberately engineered to impact our senses - and gives it her full attention. The parent, distracted in preparing a meal or driving a car through busy traffic, hasn't even noticed the newscast has begun.
The newscast leads with a sensationalized story about a violent act - e.g. a murder, a plane crash, a terrorist bombing (one or maybe even all three) - and the child watches or hears the full news story.
What happens at that time in this toddler's brain is quite astounding, potentially traumatizing in fact. But for us to truly grok this we need to understand the nature of the brain of a young child.
The brain of a 3-year old child is a unique organ in the body - it's not a miniaturized version of an adult brain but it is still undergoing development, a process that will continue for many years. One of its foremost activities at this age is seeking to make sense of the world through its auditory and visual senses (i.e. eyes and ears), especially.
Violent events seen or heard, such as that profiled in a sensationalized TV or radio newscast, trigger a cascading, emergency reaction in the brain and body like when a mega-alarm system is activated. Think flashing lights, LOUD pulsing buzzers or sirens, and spiking stress while trying to retain bearings amidst chaos.
This happens in a few seconds.
Inside a toddler's body, their alarm system from the fright of perceived violence near-instantly pumps complex neurochemicals like adrenaline and cortisol into the blood. This response arises from an endocrine system that is one of the first to develop in a growing human, and a throwback to our predecessors who had to react near-instantaneously to real dangers lurking in their world.
The neurochemicals jolt the heart to pump faster and send more oxygen to main muscle groups. At this time, an adult brain would register a similar response but it would also have the wherewithal - gained through developmental maturity - to choose to fight, flee, freeze, or change the channel. A toddler, on the other hand, would likely be overwhelmed by the chaos that has exploded in their body and just seek to be comforted by a parent or caregiver.
Brain functioning may return to normal if the child is soothed and assisted in stabilizing. But new neural pathways will have been developed as a result of the experience. And if these pathways are re-energized by another violent newscast, the pathway will be reinforced and may be established, along with the corrosive reaction throughout the body, as a new normal'.
Lingering effects from 'wiring' a developing brain in this way can include symptoms of heightened anxiety such as night terrors, attachment anxiety, and general fear that can lead to depression or emotional disregulation. Some of these symptoms will cause much discomfort to the growing child and may continue to impair healthy development for years. Their lives and the health of our society is assuredly degraded by such actions, and yet this scenario is playing out today, every hour on the hour, when sensationalized, violent newscasts stream into the brains of our children.
Pediatric science is quite clear that the characteristics that most enable healthy child development are loving parents and caregivers and a reasonably stable and healthy environment primed with a little stress. The jolt of stress that comes from a child inadvertently 'consuming' a violent newscast is clearly counterproductive to healthy development.
It's time to change the channel, and reduce the violent content of TV and radio newscasts to better protect our children. Help send this message by signing the ChooseNews petition to the CRTC and Canadian Broadcasters, today.