Without a doubt, the television is a double-edged sword. Yes, there are benefits, but too much TV can also be a liability. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that young children should spend less than two hours watching television. Moreover, children younger than 2 should have no screen time.
According to a study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, the AAP guidelines are not strictly implemented. Children ages 0 to 35 months are exposed to too much television. To be specific, 17% of 0- to 11-month-olds, 48% of 12- to 23-month-olds, and 41% of 24- to 35-month-olds were watching more TV than is recommended by the AAP.
The same goes for children in Canada; they spend around 14 hours a week watching TV. By graduation time, the average teen will have watched TV for more hours than he has spent on various activities in school. Exposure to television depends on economic background, race, culture, and education. Unfortunately, excessive exposure to television is rampant in the most underprivileged demographics.
If you don’t take action, these viewing habits could persist beyond your child’s growing years. Again, not all TV shows are bad, but constantly seeing violence and sexual content can have negative effects. Eventually, the line between reality and fantasy gets blurry. Some children begin to think that the world on TV is the same as the real world.
The List of Negative Effects
In a 1961 speech, Newton N. Minow, the Federal Communications Commission chairman, mentioned that U.S. TV shows are a “vast wasteland.” Since then, television has been slowly changing societal norms and shaping our children’s vulnerable minds.
One might argue there’s no direct link between screen time and actual violent behavior. But consider this: According to the Journal of Adolescent Health Care, an average American spends seven years of their lives watching TV. By the time they have spent 15,000 hours eyeing the screen, they will have witnesses about 180,000 murders, robberies, rapes, and other horrendous acts.
Researchers have pointed out the three main responses to violence in children:
- Heightened fear — Children may not understand what they see. Most of them would believe the violence illustrated on television, especially if it is portrayed realistically. For them, the world is indeed a scary place to live in.
- Actual violence — When children are exposed to violence, it may influence real-life violence on a smaller scale. Whether it’s in a petty way or not, that is still violence.
- Increased aggressive behavior — There is a clear connection between violent media and aggression because children who tend to be aggressive watch more violent content. This could trigger their aggression.
To make matters worse, the growing suicide rate is attributed to the plethora of suicides seen on television. Yes, you read it right! People tend to imitate the suicide scenes they see in mass media. Whether it’s on the television or in the newspaper, children are vulnerable to these storylines, and according to The Impact of Suicide in Television Movies, this may have significant imitative effects.
Too much exposure to television can also lead to behavioral difficulties such as difficulty paying attention, poor academic performance, sedentary or inactive lifestyle behaviors, and many more.
- TV can contribute to obesity. Children and adults alike are prone to giving in to the marketing ploys by the junk food industry. In a 2010 study, four out of five commercials on TV promoted foods with poor nutritional content. The U.S. fast-food industry spends billions promoting these foods on the television.
- There is a direct correlation between the hours spent in front of the TV and an increase in obesity among children. In fact, one study found that watching TV can slow down a child’s metabolism.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that children who spend more than four hours watching TV each day tend to be more overweight compared to physically active children. Sadly, obesity is NOT the only problem that could occur; there is also a chance of developing diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
- Nowadays, children are getting a lot of sexual messages from television. (Plus, there’s the internet!) More often than not, there is no mention of the possible consequences of participating in promiscuous or sexual activity.
- In a 2011 study, it was confirmed that the television was the medium where children and teens first encounter sexual content.
These are just some of the negative effects of too much exposure to television. It may sound extreme, but as parents, it is extremely important for us to limit our children’s TV time.
And, when we do allow them to watch TV, we need to help them understand what’s real and what’s not. We need to use the content they do view as opportunities to educate them about the world.
And with all the free time they’ll get by turning off the TV, encourage more physical activities. A child’s free time should be spent playing outside, learning new skills, exploring the great outdoors, and feeding her curious mind!