Does Television Affect Children's Health?

Sick and tired of your kids sitting in front of the 'boob tube?' Learn how excessive time in front of the television can affect your children and what you can do to counter its effects.


If you ever thought that your children watch too much television you may be right to worry. Research shows that TV has a number of detrimental effects on health such as: promoting obesity, undermining family life, hampering education, promoting violence and unhealthy lifestyles, promoting unrealistic sexual attitudes and promoting excessive commercialism.

The average child between the ages of 2 and 17 watches 19 hours and 40 minutes of TV per week. It's time that consider the effects of television viewing and allow children opportunities to live life rather than to watch life.

Physical Effects of Viewing Television

The most obvious effect television has towards the physical health of children is to promote a sedentary lifestyle that contributes to obesity. Obesity, in turn, is linked to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. "The easiest way to reduce inactivity is to turn off the TV set," says obesity expert Dr. William Dietz. Television commercials also encourage consumption of foods high in fat, high in sugar and high in salt, which lead to increases in blood cholesterol.

Developing brains are largely shaped by surroundings and environment. A child's response to these experiences shapes the physical structure of the brain by forming neuronal connections. Television differs from other activities in that it is two-dimensional. This type of activity can alter brain waves, reduce critical eye movements, and immobilize the hands and the body. Children watching TV are not actively playing, so neither muscle coordination nor senses are being developed. This is especially important for preschool children who, on average, watch 6 hours of TV per day. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of two watch no TV.

Children having a steady diet of fast paced, attention grabbing programming like Sesame Street and commercials may be more likely to have lower attention spans and develop Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). While many parents put children in front of the TV as a sort of down time or rest, TV's hyper-fast format and loud noises actually stimulate the child, possibly leading to a sort of addiction to over stimulation.

Many children do not get adequate sleep because they stay up late at night to watch TV. This makes them tired and irritable during the day, which affects schoolwork and life in general. Dreams or nightmares that surface after watching TV may also disrupt sleep.
Social Effects of TV

Consider that TV may promote violence, unrealistic sexual attitudes and substance abuse. Children incorporate the images they see on TV into their own behavior patterns and may become desensitized to acts of violence. Today, the average child sees 200,000 acts of violence on TV by the time they are 18 years old. Infants, as young as fourteen months, are known to imitate violent behavior they see on television, including cartoons. These children can become "desensitized" and are then less likely to respond appropriately to real-life violence. This violent imagery can also lead to the belief that the world is dangerous and mean, making children feel threatened and anxious. Besides imitating violence, do you want your children to behave in a similar manner as most children on TV sitcoms?

Children learn sexual behavior and attitudes from TV as well. Researchers have found that young women who are more active viewers of the sexual content of television programs are more likely to regard sex as a recreation. Television viewing creates a heightened expectation regarding sex that may lead to further problems.

Television typically does not demonstrate safe sexual practices either. One study found that pregnant adolescent girls were not inclined to think that their favorite soap opera characters would use birth control. Are they imitating that behavior?

American children view between 1,000 and 2,000 beer and liquor commercial per year. Many of these commercials glorify the use of alcohol making it appear as if those who drink alcohol are more sophisticated and sexy. One study found that teens who watch more television are more likely to start drinking alcohol.

Because of the passivity of watching television and its lack of human interaction, it tends to cause sensory overload in children as well as giving them a feeling that their existence is inconsequential or without effect. This results in behavior problems that may include hostility, aggressiveness, physical violence and screaming.

Academic Effects of TV Watching

Several major studies have found that television viewing is detrimental to academic achievement. The very nature of TV prevents us from focusing on any one subject for too long: problems tend to be resolved in 30 to 60 minute time blocks, few concentration skills are necessary to understand a TV show, while watching TV children develop a trance-like state, and TV vocabulary tends toward being elementary. Together, these activities make reading a book or solving a problem seem boring. Television is actually a disincentive to read. Many children spend so much time watching television that there is no time left over in the evening for reading. This can carry over to academic problems in school.

Because of the intense and ready-made imagery of television, children do not develop the ability to fill their minds with their own imaginative scenes. A strong imagination is part of the human spirit and a necessary skill for problem solving. Educational Psychologist Dr. Jane Healy, author of "Endangered Minds" states that although children today who watch television may be more informed and sophisticated about the world, they have shorter attention spans and are less able to express themselves in speech and writing.

Moral and Psychological Implications of TV

TV is similar to a drug in that it causes dependency. In some homes, the TV is constantly turned on whether one is watching a show or not. With the average child watching almost 20 hours a week of TV, television is the single most substantial source of values to which the young are exposed. This is probably more than the time that they spend in class and more time than they spend talking to their parents. The average American youngster will also see about 500,000 television commercials during childhood, making them prime audiences for marketing.

Most importantly, watching television takes up valuable time that children could use for more important activities, including being bored enough to get to know themselves better and developing both interpersonal and intrapersonal skills. Furthermore, according to TV Turnoff Network, television harms the environment by promoting consumerism, keeping us from experiencing and thus appreciating nature; it is a tool for civic disengagement.

TV Turnoff Week - An Opportunity

Have you ever thought of turning your television set off for one whole week? TV Turnoff Network sponsors TV Turnoff Week annually. This year, TV-Turnoff week is April 23-29. Consider organizing TV-Turnoff week in your community, school or church. Start now to rally up interest in the project by having incentives and activities during that week. TV-Turnoff Network can provide you with information on how to organize a TV-Turnoff event. This year, give your children an opportunity to escape the negative effects of TV and tune into life.

For additional information of TV-Turnoff contact:

TV-Turnoff Network (www.tvturnoff.org)
1611 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Ste. 3A
Washington, DC 20009

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