Television: Reducing the Negative Impact

Television has a tremendous influence on how children view our world. Children spend more hours watching TV from birth to age 18 than they spend in the classroom. A positive aspect of TV viewing is the opportunity to see different lifestyles and cultures. Children today are entering school more knowledgeable than children before the era of TV. In addition, TV has great entertainment value. While TV can be a good teacher, many children watch TV excessively and experience some of the negative consequences described below.

What are the harmful aspects of TV?

  1. TV displaces active types of recreation.

    It decreases time spent playing with peers. A child has less time for self-directed daydreaming and thinking. It takes away time for participating in sports, music, art, or other activities that require practice to achieve competence.

  2. TV interferes with conversation and discussion time.

    It reduces social interactions with family and friends.

  3. TV discourages reading.

    Reading requires much more thinking than television. Reading improves a child's vocabulary. A decrease in reading scores may be related to too much time in front of the TV.

  4. Heavy TV viewing (more than 4 hours a day) definitely reduces school performance.

    This much TV interferes with study, reading, and thinking time. If children do not get enough sleep because they are watching TV, they will not be alert enough to learn well on the following day.

  5. TV discourages exercise.

    An inactive lifestyle leads to poor physical fitness. If accompanied by frequent snacking, watching TV may contribute to weight problems.

  6. TV advertising encourages a demand for material possessions.

    Young children will pressure their parents to buy the toys they see advertised.

  7. TV violence can affect how a child feels toward life and other people.

    Viewing excessive violence may cause a child to be overly fearful about personal safety and the future. TV violence may numb the sympathy a child normally feels toward victims of human suffering. Young children may be more aggressive in their play after seeing violent television shows. While TV violence does not increase aggressive behavior toward people in most children, it may do so in impulsive children.

How do I prevent TV addiction?

  1. Encourage active recreation.

    Help your child become interested in sports, games, hobbies, and music. Occasionally turn off the television and take a walk or play a game with your child.

  2. Read to your children.

    Begin reading to your child by 1 year of age and encourage him to read on his own as he becomes older. Some parents help children earn TV or video game time by doing the same amount of reading time. Help your child improve his conversational skills by spending more of your time talking with him.

  3. Limit TV time to 2 hours a day or less.

    A reasonable limit is 1 hour on school nights and 2 or 3 hours a day on weekends. Occasionally you may want to allow extra viewing time for special educational programs. The limits are for TV and video game time combined.

  4. Don't use TV as a distraction or a baby sitter for preschool children.

    Preschooler's viewing should be limited to special TV shows and videos that are produced for young children. Because the difference between fantasy and reality is not clear for this age group, regular TV shows may cause fears.

  5. If your child is doing poorly in school, limit TV time to 1 half hour each day.

    Make a rule that your child must finish homework and chores before watching television. If your child's favorite show is on before the work can be done, consider recording the show for later viewing.

  6. Set a bedtime for your child that is not altered by TV shows that interest your child.

    Children who are allowed to stay up late to watch television are usually too tired the following day to remember what they were taught in school. Do not put a TV in your child's bedroom because this stops you from controlling TV viewing.

  7. Turn off the TV set during meals.

    Family time is too precious to be squandered on TV shows. In addition, don't have the television always on as a background sound in your house. If you don't like a quiet house, try to listen to music without lyrics.

  8. Teach critical viewing.

    Turn the TV on for specific programs only. Don't turn it on at random and scan for something interesting. Teach your child to look first in the TV program guide.

  9. Teach your child to turn off the TV set at the end of a show.

    If the TV stays on, your child will probably become interested in the following show and then it will be more difficult for your child to stop watching TV.

  10. Encourage your child to watch some shows that are educational or teach human values.

    Encourage watching documentaries, or real-life dramas. If your child does see a program that includes love, sex, family disputes, drinking, or drugs, use it as a way to begin family discussions on these difficult topics.

  11. Forbid violent TV shows.

    This means you have to know what your child is watching and turn off the TV set when you don't approve of the program. This may even include news programs.

    Develop separate lists of programs that are OK for older children and for younger kids to watch. Make your older children responsible for keeping the younger ones out of the TV room when they are watching programs not allowed for the younger children. If they don't keep them out, the show must be turned off.

    The availability of cable television, videos, and DVDs means that any child of any age has access to the uncut versions of R-rated films. Many children under the age of 13 years develop daytime fears and nightmares because they have been allowed to watch these movies.

    Most television programs are now rated. The TV ratings are:

    • Y (made for all children)
    • Y-7 (made for children 7+)
    • Y-7-FV (made for children 7+, includes fantasy violence)
    • G (general audience, appropriate for all ages)
    • PG (parental guidance suggested, may be inappropriate for young children)
    • TV-14 (parents strongly cautioned, may be inappropriate for children under 14)
    • TV-MA (mature audience only, may be unsuitable for children under 17)

    Most newer television sets include a V-Chip so that you can block out TV shows with certain ratings. But remember, ratings are just guidelines. They cannot replace your good judgment. An educational animal show may have the same rating as a violent cartoon.

  12. Discuss the consequences of violence if you allow your older child to watch violent shows.

    Point out how violence hurts both the victim and the victim's family. Be sure to discuss any program that upsets your child.

  13. Discuss commercials with your children.

    Help your children identify high-pressure selling and exaggerated claims. If your child wants a toy that is a look-alike version of a TV character, ask how he or she would use the toy at home. The response will probably convince you that the toy will be added to a collection rather than become something used for active play.

  14. Discuss the differences between reality and make-believe.

    This type of clarification can help your child enjoy a show and yet realize that what is happening may not happen in real life.

  15. Set a good example.

    If you watch a lot of TV, you can be sure your child will also. In addition, the types of programs you watch send a clear message to your child.

Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick”, American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-06-04
Last reviewed: 2010-06-02
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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