Busy parents are often desperate for a break, and television can be a quick and easy way to get a few minutes to themselves. Most children love television, so parents don't have to feel guilty when they park their kids in front of the TV for a few minutes. But too much television is believed to harm children in a variety of ways, and watching any television at all could be bad for very young children.
How Much Is Too Much?
Parents' definitions of too much television can vary wildly, so the American Academy of Pediatrics has established specific recommendations for television viewing by age. According to the organization, children under 2 years of age should not watch television. For older children, one to two hours of television per day is acceptable, but the AAP advises that parents should watch TV with their kids and avoid age-inappropriate programs and graphic violence.
What's Wrong With Watching?
When something becomes a common part of everyday life, it's easy to view it as harmless. After all, it's just one show (or two, or three). Some problems with television include:
- Television takes children away from more beneficial activities, such as playing with parents, reading, learning about the computer, or spending time with friends.
- Time spent watching television is time that children are not engaged in active learning.
- Television often reinforces stereotypes about race, class, and gender.
- Commercials targeting children encourage them to want more than they need and can contribute to a culture of constant demands for more toys.
- Television sometimes gives children inaccurate information, and very young children struggle to understand the difference between fantasy and reality.
- Television can model socially inappropriate behavior.
- Television encourages children to sit still, and this behavior can become a habit, interfering with exercise and health.
- Television requires no special effort to watch and thrives on instant gratification. This, in turn, can teach children to value instantly gratifying activities over activities such as building a Lego tower, writing a computer program, or putting in the effort to establish a new friendship.
Possible Link to Violence
Researchers continue to debate the effects of violent television on children, with some claiming a direct correlation between violent programming and violent behavior, and others emphasizing no such connection. Regardless of the long-term effects on behavior, however, violent programming can scare young children, cause nightmares, and result in anxiety. It can also be confusing to children who are too young to understand the distinction between fantasy and reality. Moreover, the amount of violence, both in programs and on commercials, is daunting. One study, for example, found that children witness about 200,000 violent acts and 16,000 murders on television by the age of 18.
What About Educational Television?
With the advent of educational programs, many parents have grown to believe that television might not be so bad after all. But there's little evidence that educational television actually does what it claims to, and the American Academy of Pediatrics makes no exceptions for educational television. While children might pick up a few vocabulary words or colors from educational television, they learn much more from interacting with parents, caregivers, and family members. Numerous studies have demonstrated that children learn best through active learning. Thus, even time spent watching educational television is time that a child doesn't get access to better educational tools.
- How TV affects your child. (n.d.). KidsHealth. Retrieved from http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/family/tv_affects_child.html
- Rochman, B., & Rochman, B. (2011, October 18). Educational TV for babies? It doesn't exist. Time. Retrieved from http://healthland.time.com/2011/10/18/why-educational-tv-for-babies-doesnt-exist/
- Television and children. (n.d.). University of Michigan Health System. Retrieved from http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/tv.htm
- Where we stand: TV viewing time. (n.d.). HealthyChildren.org. Retrieved from http://www.healthychildren.org/english/family-life/media/pages/Where-We-Stand-TV-Viewing-Time.aspx