(WebMD) — The average child in the United States spends about 25 hours a week in front of the television (including the use of VCR), according to the latest annual Media in the Home survey, conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center — a number significantly exceeding the maximum limit suggested by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). In 1990, the AAP issued a recommendation that children watch no more than one to two hours of “quality” television a day. Just two weeks ago, the AAP came out with stricter guidelines, published in the August issue of Pediatrics: Children under age 2, they say, should not watch television at all, and older kids should not have televisions in their bedrooms.
Why such seemingly tight limitations? Over the past several decades a number of studies have shown that there are several ways that television can be harmful to the mental and physical health of children. That’s not to say that all television is bad for kids. In fact, a number of quality children’s shows — such as the popular preschool show “Blue’s Clues” and, of course, “Sesame Street” — engage kids in positive ways. However, when children watch television frequently and indiscriminately, the effects can be detrimental.
TV viewing and poor school performance
Only a handful of programs teach children important skills such as math, reading, science or problem solving. Most of the shows on television, including cartoons, are noneducational. More time spent watching these shows is linked with poorer school performance overall and decreased scores on standardized tests. This makes sense when you consider that more time spent in front of a television means less time spent on homework or having stimulating interactions with adults or other children. In addition, late-night TV watching tires kids out so that they can’t pay attention in school. Also, television hands kids all the answers, promoting passive learning and short attention spans. As a result, kids have difficulty concentrating and working hard to solve a problem.
TV violence affects kids
In many instances, TV programming promotes negative behavior. Perhaps the most prevalent example of this is violence. Even shows designed for children are not necessarily violence-free. The Media in the Home survey found that 28 percent of all children’s shows contained four-or-more incidents of violence per show — a number that media experts consider high. Several studies have shown that a child is more likely to display violent or antisocial behavior depending on the degree of violence and the total number of violent programs he or she watches.
Heavy TV viewing, heavy kids
There appears to be a strong relationship between time spent in front of the television and being overweight. In fact, this past March the American Medical Association held a special briefing in New York City to alert parents about the well-proven link between TV viewing and obesity. This well-known “couch-potato” syndrome is probably the result of taking in too many calories (junk food — which is advertised on television — stuffed in unconciously as kids stare at the screen) and not burning up enough calories (sitting still rather than running around and playing). But the effects are reversible: Three studies have demonstrated that overweight children lost weight as they decreased their TV viewing.
Late-night television leads to daytime sleepiness
TV watching (especially late-night and violent shows) has been connected with poor sleep patterns in children. The emotional stress caused by the shows could be preventing children from getting to sleep and cause nightmares. In turn, abnormal sleep patterns can cause children to be less alert during the day, also contributing to poor school performance.
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There are things that parents can do to help their children get the maximum benefit from television, while avoiding the ill effects:
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