“The term ‘TV addiction’ is imprecise and laden with value judgments, but it captures the essence of a very real phenomenon. Psychologists and psychiatrists formally define substance dependence as a disorder characterized by criteria that include spending a great deal of time using the substance; using it more often than one intends; thinking about reducing use or making repeated unsuccessful efforts to reduce use; giving up important social, family, or occupational activities to use it; and reporting withdrawal symptoms when one stops using it.
All these criteria can apply to people who watch a lot of television. That does not mean that watching television, per se, is problematic. Television can teach and amuse; it can reach aesthetic heights; it can provide much needed distraction and escape. The difficulty arises when people strongly sense that they ought not to watch as much as they do and yet find themselves strangely unable to reduce their viewing. Some knowledge of how the medium exerts its pull may help heavy viewers gain better control over their lives.”
From “Television Addiction Is No Mere Metaphor,” in the current issue of Scientific American (February 2002). The cover story, written by Robert Kubey, the director of the Center for Media Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the C.S. and D.J. Davidson professor of psychology at Clarement Graduate University in California, is accompanied by a list of the authors’ suggestions for ways families can limit or control the amount of time spent watching TV.
A version of this article appeared in the February 27, 2002 edition of Education Week