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What do We Know about Television's Effect on Children?


Parents are often torn between letting their children watch television and keeping the TV turned off. Kids are usually quiet when they're watching television, and sometimes putting them in front of the screen seems like a good way to give yourself a chunk of time to take care of necessary tasks.

Nobody should go on a guilt trip about allowing their child to watch television, but parents need to know that the more you look at the research, the more it seems clear that the less television kids watch, the better.

Sleep difficulties

The most recent research has shown that watching television can have an impact on children's sleep. This study questioned the families of 297 children about the time they spent watching television, the types of shows children saw and whether the kids and their parents watched the shows together. The researchers also took into account the time when the television was on but the children were not paying much attention to it-called "passive watching."

The children who watched the most adult television shows and who experienced the most passive television watching had the most difficulty sleeping. The research also showed that watching television at bedtime and watching it alone caused sleep disturbances.

The more passive television watching children engaged in, the more trouble they had sleeping. Kids who spent the most time in passive viewing had three times more trouble sleeping than the children who spent the least time in passive viewing. Clearly, background television should be limited. If the television's on and nobody's watching it, it's best to turn it off.

Less time spent with people

The more time children spend watching television, the less time they're spending with family and friends. There are many activities that are more important than watching television, including reading, playing and deepening relationships with family.

Poorer nutrition

Research has shown that children who watch television are more likely to be overweight. There are several possible reasons for this. First, watching television requires little physical exertion. Few calories are burned. Second, children are more likely to snack when they're watching television. And finally, many television commercials advertise foods that aren't particularly healthy. Kids often try to persuade their parents to buy these foods.

Learning ability

Studies show that high-quality educational television shows can help pre-school and older children, but before age two, it's more important to learn from interacting with other children and adults. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend television at all for children under two. For those older than that, no more than one or two hours of television per day are recommended.

Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics; The Journal of Sleep Research, June 2006
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