The effects of television on children is a subject that has been studied many times over. Because of the worry about its link with aggression and obesity in children, many researchers have scrutinized this topic. In this day and age there are more than ten screens in any given household with television sets, computers, and hand held devices. In these fast-paced times it becomes too easy for parents to plop their children in front of the television to keep them occupied while they are busy.
However, the American Academy of Pediatrics warns that children under the age of two should have no more than zero hours of TV time. A study done by Frederick J. Zimmerman at the University of Washing ton tested the effects of tv watching for infants. He used the CDI (MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory), a survey used by developmental psychologists to test language abilities in young children.
The results shown a seventeen point decrease in language skills on average for every hour the infants watched TV. To make this even scarier, he studied only infants who watched programming directed for infants. Those that watched other programming he threw out of the study.
By contrast, those who engaged in other activities such as listening to their parents read to them at least once everyday had nearly a seven point increase on the CDI.
Television isn’t all bad though. For children over the age of two educational programming, such as shows like Sesame Street, can be beneficial to language aquisition and other knowledge in math and social studies. According to The New York Times, Dr. Georgene Troseth at Peabody College at Vanderbuilt University states that school age children can learn things from the media but can learn them a lot faster from experiences in real life.
When it comes to infants and toddlers, however, Dr. Troseth says that they “just have no idea what’s going on” on the TV screen. That is why the AAP states there are no educational benefits for children under the age of two.
Although some experts say there are no long-term developmental problems from watching TV, there has been enough correlation between television and poor brain develop for the AAP to recommend limiting TV time for children over the age of two to no more than two hours per day.
Another reason to do so is because of the link to childhood obesity as researchers from the University of Michigan found that having the TV on in the room, even if the children aren’t paying a lot of attention to it, increases the risk of being overweight by age three. One explanation for this is that food commercials make up two thirds of the commercials children see each year. Another factor is that it can keep children from engaging in physical activities such as going outside and playing.
Despite the AAP’s limits on the amount of time children should spend watching TV, it’s not all about how much they watch — it’s also about the content, according to Deborah Linebarger, assistant professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Think of their media use as you would the kinds of foods they eat,” Linebarger stated to Discovery News. “Help them develop good, ‘nutritious’ habits.” Linebarger believes there are many benefits to be gained from engaging in television watching but that parents should monitor the content of the programming and if possible watch TV with their children to help further their language learning and communication skills.