Watching television is a common form of entertainment for children, and parents understandably approve of this activity because it keeps children occupied and out of trouble.
Despite the convenience of television, watching too much of it comes with a variety of consequences and can negatively impact your child’s physical, cognitive, and emotional well-being.
Television and Physical Health
A 2007 study found that preschoolers who watched more than two hours of television per day were more likely to be overweight, and they had more body fat.(1)
There are two different ways that TV viewing may increase your child’s body weight: through a reduction in physical activity and a promotion of unhealthy eating habits.
In addition to reducing physical activity, time spent watching TV can expose children to commercials that promote unhealthy foods.
Researchers for a 2007 study in the journal Appetite showed children two types of advertisements: food and non-food.(3)
They then offered the children snack foods and found that after watching food advertisements, the children consumed significantly more food than they did after watching non-food advertisements.
Similarly, a 2007 study in Social Science and Medicine found that children who watched TV more often and viewed more commercials had more positive attitudes toward junk foods, and they consumed more junk foods. (4)
Impact on Cognitive Development and School Achievement
Children who watch too much TV might display deficits in cognitive functioning.
A study in a 2011 edition of Pediatrics found that when children watched just 9 minutes of a fast-paced cartoon, they then performed worse on tests that measured cognitive abilities like self-regulation and working memory.(5)
TV viewing can also negatively affect language development.
In 2007, researchers for The Journal of Pediatrics found that babies age 8-16 months who watched more baby videos scored lower on tests of language development. (6)
The way children learn language can explain the relationship between TV and stalled language development.
Researchers for a 2007 publication of the Journal of Media Psychology found that toddlers were able to learn new words from adults speaking directly to them, but not from a children’s television program.(7)
Unfortunately, the effects of TV on early cognitive development can be lasting.
A 2010 study in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that children who watched more TV at the age of 29 months were less engaged at school and had lower math achievement at 10 years of age.(8)
Current TV watching during adolescence can also impact school performance.
Results of a 2007 study in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine showed that teens who watched at least an hour of TV per day were more likely to have negative attitudes toward school, and they were at risk for poor grades and academic failure. (9)
TV and Emotional Health
Children who watch too much television can also experience problems with mental and emotional health.
A 2009 study in Pediatrics found that children who watched more than 2.7 hours of TV per day scored 24 percent higher on tests that measure psychological distress.(10)
A 2011 study in Preventive Medicine yielded similar results. Researchers found that adolescents who had the most “screen time” were more likely to be depressed, anxious, and dissatisfied with school.(11)
You can protect your child from mental health complications and other negative impacts of excessive television watching by encouraging physical activity, outdoor play, and reading.
Physical activity may be especially protective; in the 2011 study in Preventive Medicine, adolescents who engaged in vigorous physical activity were less likely to be depressed or dissatisfied with school.(11)
Ensure that your child has plenty of opportunity for physical exercise and limit TV to special occasions or one show per day to keep him healthy.
(1) Gomez, L. F., Parra, D. C., Lobelo, F., Samper, B., Moreno, J., Jacoby, E., … Borda, C. (2007). Television viewing and its association with overweight in Colombian children: results from the 2005 National Nutrition Survey: A cross sectional study. The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 4, 41. http://doi.org/10.1186/1479-5868-4-41
(2) Tremblay, M. S., LeBlanc, A. G., Kho, M. E., Saunders, T. J., Larouche, R., Colley, R. C.,Gorber, S. C. (2011). Systematic review of sedentary behaviour and health indicators in school-aged children and youth. The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 8, 98. http://doi.org/10.1186/1479-5868-8-98
(3) Jason C.G. Halford, Emma J. Boyland, Georgina Hughes, Lorraine P. Oliveira, Terence M. Dovey,Beyond-brand effect of television (TV) food advertisements/commercials on caloric intake and food choice of 5–7-year-old children, Appetite,Volume 49, Issue 1,2007,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2006.12.003.
(4) Helen G. Dixon, Maree L. Scully, Melanie A. Wakefield, Victoria M. White, David A. Crawford,The effects of television advertisements for junk food versus nutritious food on children’s food attitudes and preferences, Social Science & Medicine,Volume 65, Issue 7,2007,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.05.011.
(5) Published By American Academy of Pediatrics Published online September 30, 2011 Pediatrics Vol. 128 No. 4 October 01, 2011 doi: 10.1542/peds.2010-1919
(6) Frederick J. Zimmerman, Dimitri A. Christakis, Andrew N. Meltzoff,Associations between Media Viewing and Language Development in Children Under Age 2 Years,The Journal of Pediatrics,Volume 151, Issue 4, 2007,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpeds.2007.04.071.
(7) Marina Krcmar, Bernard Grela & Kirsten Lin (2007) Can Toddlers Learn Vocabulary from Television? An Experimental Approach, Media Psychology, 10:1, 41-63, DOI: 10.1080/15213260701300931
(8) Pagani LS, Fitzpatrick C, Barnett TA, Dubow E. Prospective Associations Between Early Childhood Television Exposure and Academic, Psychosocial, and Physical Well-being by Middle Childhood. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2010;164(5):425–431. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2010.50
(9) Johnson JG, Cohen P, Kasen S, Brook JS. Extensive Television Viewing and the Development of Attention and Learning Difficulties During Adolescence. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007;161(5):480–486. doi:10.1001/archpedi.161.5.480
(10) Psychological Distress, Television Viewing, and Physical Activity in Children Aged 4 to 12 Years Mark Hamer, Emmanuel Stamatakis, Gita Mishra Pediatrics May 2009, 123 (5) 1263-1268; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2008-1523
(11) Hui Cao, Qingwen Qian, Tingting Weng, Changjiang Yuan, Ying Sun, Hui Wang, Fangbiao Tao,Screen time, physical activity and mental health among urban adolescents in China,Preventive Medicine,Volume 53, Issues 4–5, 2011,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2011.09.002.