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Television watching

Watching television is something most children and adults do. It is convenient, inexpensive, available, and appealing. Television can be very entertaining for children and can teach them some things. But too often it is used as a substitute for other activities.

Studies show that many children watch more television than the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends. The group recommends no TV for children under 2, and fewer than 2 hours per day for older children.

Too much television watching may cause some of the following problems:

  • Television often takes the place of physical exercise. Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and children's bodies need exercise to grow normally.
  • Watching television may take the place of social interaction with friends and family. Children who watch too much television may not talk as much about their ideas and feelings. This can prevent parents from learning more about their kids.
  • Television may take the place of reading as part of a child's day. This may contribute to poor school performance and delay the ability to read.
  • Seeing violence on television may upset children, and may lead to more aggressive behavior.
  • Television watching has been linked to higher rates of attention problems in children.

Below are some tips for setting up appropriate television watching by your children:

  • Encourage other activities, especially physical activity.
  • Turn the television off during mealtimes, homework time, and other times of the day when social interaction and learning are going on.
  • Read to -- and with -- your children.
  • Set limits on television time, especially on school nights. Allow children to select the shows that they really want to watch. This will encourage them to really think about their television habits.
  • By watching television with your kids, you may help them understand what they're seeing, resist the messages in ads, and feel comfortable discussing issues with you.
  • Set a good example by limiting your own viewing.
  • Get more information about television and kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics website is a good place to start -- www.aap.org.
  • One way to limit television viewing is to require children to earn "chore points" before they can watch television. This approach can teach children to have household responsibilities and to limit their own television watching.

References

Augustyn M, Zuckerman B. Impact of violence on children. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW III, et al., eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 36.

Committee on Public Education. Children, adolescents, and television. Pediatrics. 2001;107:423-426.

Feigelman S. Language, cognition, and play. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW III, et al., eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 10.

Feigelman S. The second year. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW III, et al., eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 9.

Johnson JG, Cohen P, Kasen S, Brook JS. Extensive television viewing and the development of attention and learning difficulties during adolescence. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007;161: 480-486.

Kimmel SR, Ratliff-Schaub K. Growth and development. In: Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 23.

Thakkar RR, Garrison MM, and Christakis DA. A systematic review for the effects of television viewing by infants and preschoolers. Pediatrics. 2006;118:2025-2031.

Update Date: 5/14/2014

Updated by: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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