American kids watch way too much TV, nearly an average of four hours of TV, DVDs and videos per day. Half of American households have their TV on "most of the time," and two thirds have it on during mealtimes. This issue is worsened by the two thirds of kids ages 8 to 18 who have a TV in their bedroom, which increases TV viewing an average of one to two hours per day.
Q: My 10 year old son wants to have a TV in his bedroom. I think he already watches too much TV and it is bad for him. Any advice?
A: I think it is a bad idea for kids to have TVs in their bedrooms, so stick to your guns on this one.
American kids watch way too much TV, nearly an average of four hours of TV, DVDs and videos per day. Half of American households have their TV on "most of the time," and two thirds have it on during mealtimes.
This issue is worsened by the two thirds of kids ages 8 to 18 who have a TV in their bedroom, which increases TV viewing an average of one to two hours per day. When kids have a TV in their bedroom it is also harder for parents to monitor what they are watching.
Too much TV has significant potential negative health, behavioral, social and educational effects on children.
There have been many studies showing increased TV viewing correlates with an increased risk of childhood (and subsequent adult) obesity. This is likely due to multiple factors, including decreased physical activity, decreased metabolism, increased snacking and other factors. The 20,000 TV ads for food and snacks an average child sees each year are also contributory.
Children who watch more TV also have increased rates of smoking and drinking, and at younger ages. They also have more sleep problems and an increased risk of injuries (maybe from copying dangerous activities they see on TV).
Thousands of studies have concluded there is a link between exposure to TV violence and behavior issues. With an average American child seeing more than 200,000 acts of violence and 16,000 murders on TV by age 18, and two thirds of all TV shows containing at least some violence, it should not be surprising that this "desensitization" results in more aggressive and/or violent behavior.
An analysis supported by the National Institute of Mental Health found that both males and females who were heavy viewers of violent TV as children - independent of their social status or other confounding factors - were twice as likely to behave violently toward their spouse. Heavier viewing of TV violence during childhood triples the risk of being convicted of criminal behavior by age 20.
Furthermore, children who watch more TV are more likely to bully other kids in school.
We all know there are a lot of sexual references and sex on TV. In fact, more than 70 percent of the most popular TV shows watched by teenagers have sexual content. Fifteen percent show sexual encounters between people who have just met. It is no wonder that heavy TV viewing increases the rates of sexual promiscuity, especially at younger ages.
Many TV shows present stereotypes about race, male/female roles, socioeconomic status and more, and about half of TV stories about children involve crime. Hopefully, these are not a true representation of American society and are not the core values parents want their children to learn.
Children, especially young children, can be scared and/or traumatized by things they see on TV. It can make them feel unsafe (will this happen to me?) and can affect their social interactions.
Kids who watch more TV have an increased risk of dropping out of school and a decreased chance of graduating college; increased TV viewing at earlier ages has the biggest negative affects.
Some studies have questioned whether too much TV early in life inhibits cognitive development. Watching more than two to three hours of TV per day in early childhood has been shown to increase attention problems, including ADHD, during adolescence.
So, what can a parent do?
- Keep TVs out of your child's bedroom. This will not only limit the total amount of TV they view, but will also enable you to monitor the types of shows they watch.
- Set TV rules - such as no TV during mealtimes, no TV until homework and chores are completed, and limiting total TV viewing to one to two hours per day or less (possibly allowing a little more on weekends).
- Monitor the types of shows your child watches (consider the V-chip if needed) and watch shows with them (to enable you to discuss the shows and enhance the positive learning).
- Do not use TV as a reward or punishment.
- Set a good example.
TV is a reality of our society. Parents need to moderate the influence this prevalent media has on their children, and minimize the negative affects it has.
Massachusetts-based Jeff Hersh, Ph.D., M.D., F.A.A.P., F.A.C.P., F.A.A.E.P., can be reached at DrHersh@juno.com.