Is TV good or bad for kids today?

What's Good and Bad About TV

Chances are that when you were a kid, television was limited to a few hours a week of shows like Sesame Street and Saturday morning cartoons. With the advent of channels like The Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, kids can watch TV 24-7. With all of these options, today's parents have a much tougher job than ours did. The question for most parents isn't Should we or shouldn't we? but How much is too much and how guilty should I feel? Here are the pros and cons of television and how to make peace with it in your house.

What's good about TV

  • TV can encourage reading. On shows like Sesame Street, books are heavily promoted, notes Daniel Anderson, PhD, professor of psychology at University of Massachusetts. Plus, a child gets interested in a character like Arthur, and he wants to read books about him too.
  • Kids who watch educational shows may do better in school. One study found that kids who watched Sesame Street in the '80s did better academically in high school than kids who didn't. Anderson speculates that these kids entered first grade with some basic knowledge, which made them enthusiastic and confident about school. Getting off to a good start had a positive effect on their entire academic experience.
  • TV provides a window into world. For example, if your child has never seen an elephant or a lion, watching a nature show about wild animals is a very effective way of learning about them, notes Anderson.

What's bad about TV

  • It stifles creativity. Kids who watch too much TV are less able to use their own mind to create something out of nothing, says Jane Healy, PhD, author of Endangered Minds: Why Children Don't Think -- and What We Can Do About It. When they play make-believe, the play tends to be based on their favorite shows.
  • It inhibits language development. Even the better shows rely on visuals at the expense of talk, says Healy. When kids start school, they're expected to pay attention and process information without the benefit of dancing Muppets. Kids who are used to TV may have a hard time making the transition.
  • TV is addictive. The average American child watches three hours a day of TV. Time spent watching TV is time robbed from other important activities like reading, make-believe play, and interacting with parents.
  • The things kids learn on TV do not translate into academic success. Frank Vespe, executive director of the TV TurnOff Network, points out that according to a study conducted by the National Association of Educational Programs, kids who watched the least TV did the best on standardized tests in fourth grade.

What Experts and Moms Have to Say

Expert opinion differs as to whether TV is a valuable tool or not, but there are some points that most experts agree on.

  • Ideally, kids should watch no more than one hour a day.
  • Kids should only watch educational programming. In other words, Blues Clues is fine; Power Rangers is not.
  • The bulk of children's time should be spent doing hands-on activities, interacting with parents and playmates.

In an informal, completely unscientific poll of moms, most agreed that it was not good for kids to watch more than two or three shows a day on a regular basis. But the reality is that TV is what parents use to sleep in on Saturday morning, read the paper, and get dinner on the table. Adults are as reliant on TV for its babysitting features as kids are for its entertainment value.

In other words, two shows a day sounds like a worthwhile goal, but not always workable. Says Margrit Freundlich of Montclair, New Jersey, "I'm not going to get in a twist if my boys watch more than an hour on a given day. The other day my 3-year-old woke up at 5:30 in the morning. My choice was to get up and read books with him or plunk him in front of a video. It wasn't a hard decision."

For Ann Cropper, mother of three, the challenge is having other activities ready when her kids ask to watch TV. She keeps a list titled "Things to Do Instead of Watching TV," which includes projects like making a fort and drawing with sidewalk chalk. When those ideas start seeming stale, her kids help brainstorm new possibilities.

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

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