This article first appeared in the Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter Supplement.
Television viewing is a major activity and influence on most children and adolescents. Children in the United States watch an average of three to four hours of television a day. By the time of high school graduation, they will have spent more time watching television than they have in the classroom.
While television can entertain, inform, and keep our children company, it may also influence them in undesirable ways.
American children watch an average
of four hours of television daily. Television can be a powerful
influence in developing value systems and shaping behavior.
Unfortunately, much of today’s television programming is violent.
Hundreds of studies of the effects of TV violence on children and
teenagers have found that children may become “immune” or numb to the
horror of violence, gradually accept violence as a way to solve
problems, imitate the violence they observe on television, and identify
with certain characters, victims and/or victimizers.Extensive
viewing of television violence by children causes greater
aggressiveness. Sometimes, watching a single violent program can
increase aggressiveness. Children who view shows in which violence is
very realistic, frequently repeated, or unpunished, are more likely to
imitate what they see.
Children with emotional, behavioral, learning, or
impulse control problems may be more easily influenced by TV violence.
The impact of TV violence may be immediately evident in the child’s
behavior or may surface years later. Young people can even be affected
when the family atmosphere shows no tendency toward violence.While TV violence is not the only cause of aggressive or violent behavior, it is clearly a significant factor.Parents can protect children from excessive TV violence in the following ways:
Time spent watching television takes away from important activities such as reading, school work, playing, exercise, family interaction, and social development. Children also learn information from television that may be inappropriate or incorrect. They often cannot tell the difference between the fantasy presented on television and reality.
They are influenced by the thousands of commercials seen each year, many of which are for alcohol, junk food, fast foods, and toys. Children who watch a lot of television are likely to have lower grades in school, read fewer books, exercise less, and be overweight.
Violence, sexuality, race and gender stereotypes, drug and alcohol abuse are common themes of television programs. Young children are impressionable and may assume that what they see on television is typical, safe, and acceptable. As a result, television also exposes children to behaviors and attitudes that may be overwhelming and difficult to understand.
Seeing and hearing about local and world events, such as natural disasters, catastrophic events, and crime reports, may cause children to experience stress, anxiety, and fears. There have also been several changes in how news is reported that have given rise to the increased potential for children to experience negative effects.
These changes include television channels and Internet services and sites which report the news 24 hours a day; television channels broadcasting live events as they are unfolding, in “real time”; increased reporting of the details of the private lives of public figures and role models; pressure to get news to the public as part of the competitive nature of the entertainment industry; and detailed and repetitive visual coverage of natural disasters and violent acts.While there has been great public debate about providing television ratings to warn parents about violence and sex in regular programming, news shows have only recently been added to these discussions.
Active parenting can ensure that children have a positive experience with television. Parents can help by:
In addition, parents can help by doing the following:
With proper guidance, your child can learn to use television in a healthy and positive way.