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Television & Kids – Part 1

497294952_c06a81d93b_mSubmitted by Danny G., Seattle, WA

If I asked you to list your three favorite shows from when you were a kid, you probably wouldn’t have to think too long.  What if I asked about the affect that viewing had on your activity level, development, or general wellbeing?  That question is a little harder to answer.  Most parents have probably watched their Kids in front of the television and wondered what was happening to them.  A lot of studies have been done to answer that question, and while some answers remain illusive, other findings are consistent across much of the research.

Family Behavior

Although children under the age of 2 do not watch as much television as other age groups, they are the most affected.  Children under 2 watch nearly 90 minutes of television a day even though there is no programming targeting this age group which has any educational value.  One study found that nearly half of children in this age range was watching television by 3 months with 90% watching by 24 months.  This is a problem because before the age of 3 the brain develops rapidly.  Environmental factors such as television are known to influence this development.  Throughout these studies, parents stated that they like to have their children watch TV because of the educational potential, because it relaxes the child, and because it gives the parents time to get things done around the house.

On an average day, more than 8 in 10 children under age 6 use screen media.  Shows like Sesame Street and Blues Clues are targeted at children from 3 to 5 years of age and have proven educational value when viewed appropriately by that age group.  Children from 2 to 6 years old watch an average of 2 hours of television or videos per day.  Even though educational shows are targeted at this age group, several studies found that much of the viewing done by this age group is non-educational.

During meal time the television is usually on in about one third of homes.  By age 6, 43% of children will have a TV in their bedroom.  The reasons parents gave as to why TVs are placed in children's bedrooms ranged from helping children fall asleep to rewarding good behavior.

Specific Affects on Children


The language included in baby DVDs/Videos is limited.  Most merely include short scenes of children and flashy screen images which could lead to habits of the mind which impede language learning.   In this study, which measured language learning based on a 90 word list, the researchers found that in children aged 8 to 16 months for every hour of television viewed per day, 6 to 8 words were not learned.  In contrast, reading to the children once or more per day increased the number of words known.  The researchers went on to say that heavy television viewing before age 3 has been associated with attention problems and decreased reading and mathematical proficiency.


Watching television and eating is something that occurred in one study about a third of the time.  There are several problems with eating while watching television.  Children's viewing habits are reinforced when they are allowed to eat.  In this study, researchers also tested the effect that rules about eating meals in front of the TV had on children.  The children with rules had a decreased likelihood of watching TV for more than 2 hours per day.  In broader terms, not allowing TV viewing during mealtimes is a reflection of how the family values interaction.  In addition to strategies which limit eating in front of the television, an emphasis on physical activity is also extremely important in raising healthy children.


Next week, we will focus in detail on strategies to reduce TV viewing for our kids.  Stay Tuned.


Sources for Article:

    1. Article 1 - Reducing Children’s Television-Viewing Time: A Qualitative Study of Parents and Their Children.  Amy B. Jordan, James C. Hersey, Judith A. McDivitt and Carrie D. Heitzler.
    2. Article 2 – Association of Family Environment with Children’s Television Viewing and with Low Level of Physical Activity.  Jo Salmon, Anna Timperio, Amanda Telford, Alison Carver, and David Crawford.
    3. Article 3 – News Release: New Study Shows How Kids’ Media Use Helps Parents Cope. Kaiser Family Foundation
    4. Article 4 – News Briefs: Television and Videos for Children Under 2 May Not Influence Skill Development.
    5. Article 5 – Children’s Television Viewing and Cognitive Outcomes: A Longitudinal Analysis of National Data. Frederick J. Zimmerman, PhD; Dimitri A. Christakis, MD, MPH.
    6. Article 6 – Associations between Media Viewing and Language Development in Children Under Age 2 Years. Frederick J. Zimmerman, PhD; Dimitri A. Christakis, MD, MPH, and Andrew N. Meltzoff, PhD.
    7. Article 7 – Television and DVD/Video Viewing in Children Younger Than 2 Years. Frederick J. Zimmerman, PhD; Dimitri A. Christakis, MD, MPH, and Andrew N. Meltzoff, PhD.
    8. Article 8 – Helpful Ways to Reduce Screen Time. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.


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