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The Debilitating Effects of TV on Children

The Debilitating Effects of TV on ChildrenMost of us are generally aware that television isn’t the healthiest of activities. Yet, like cigarette smoking in the 1970s, it’s one of those harms we continue to whitewash or worse — exposing our children to it as though it were as innocent as playing with Tinkertoys.

Yet as today’s Boston Globe reminds us, TV is not this passive device you sit your children in front of with no ill effects. Decades worth of research have shown the harmful effects of TV on your child’s development. Most child psychologists and child development experts recommend no TV whatsoever for a child before the age of 2 or 3. None. Yet a whopping 43 percent of parents plop their toddler down in front of the television set, apparently blind to the consequence of their actions.

But don’t take my word for it. Look at the research:

Countless studies have documented the inverse link between devotion to the boob tube and achievement in school. Researchers at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons concluded in 2007, for example, that 14-year-olds who watched one or more hours of television daily “were at elevated risk for poor homework completion, negative attitudes toward school, poor grades, and long-term academic failure.’’ Those who watched three or more hours a day were at even greater risk for “subsequent attention and learning difficulties,’’ and were the least likely to go to college.

In 2005, a study published in the American Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that the harm caused by TV watching shows up even after correcting the data to account for students’ intelligence, family conditions, and prior behavioral problems. The bottom line: “Increased time spent watching television during childhood and adolescence was associated with a lower level of educational attainment by early adulthood.’’

The baleful effects of TV aren’t limited to education. The University of Michigan Health System notes on its extensive website that kids who watch TV are more likely to smoke, to be overweight, to suffer from sleep difficulties, and to have high cholesterol.

There are also the studies that show that teens who watch more sexual content on TV are twice as likely to be involved in a pregnancy over the next three years than their peers. Imagine an illicit drug was resulting in twice the amount of teen pregnancies and how quickly parents would be an uproar to stop the peddling of that drug in their neighborhood.

“Ah,” but you argue, “I grew up on TV and I came out okay!” Sure, personal anecdotes and analogies are great, but not a great way to inform public policy or carry on a serious public health debate. What works for a single individual at a single point of time in a single household doesn’t carry the same weight as a scientific study that examines data across families and neighborhoods, studies that were carried out over time and with attention to possible alternative explanations (such as the fact that maybe in your household, TV time was more strictly limited than you remember, or the content in the programs themselves was very different than today’s content).

The upshot — we Americans watch way too much TV and we raise our children on TV, somewhat oblivious to its negative effects on our children’s development. While TV isn’t evil, it is a powerful media that has a well-understood impact on a child’s or teen’s development. Like the Internet, it should be allowed with clear rules and conditions, and time doing it should be monitored and limited. What the “right” number for you and your family will vary, but it should not be “whenever they want” and “as much as they want.”

Read the full article: Silence that idiot box!

The Debilitating Effects of TV on Children

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). The Debilitating Effects of TV on Children. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 27 Sep 2009)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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