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The Harmful Effects of Watching Television for Children

Children are very impressionable and it is important to control what their minds are exposed to. While television can entertain, inform, and keep our children company, it may also influence them in undesirable ways. Health experts recommend the following guidelines for parents:

The Harmful Effects of Watching Television for Children

Television viewing plays a major role and influence in our children's lives.

Television viewing plays a major role and influence in our children's lives. While television can entertain, inform, and keep our children company, it may also influence them in undesirable 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 versus reality. They are influenced by the thousands of commercials seen each year, many of which are for alcohol, junk food, fast foods, and toys.

Television characters are often exaggerated stereotypes that can distort children's expectations of people in day-to-day life. They may develop distorted views of society because, although television has changed over the years, women, young people, and the elderly still do not appear on the screen as often as they do in real life. Topics such as drug abuse, alcoholism, and sex may also be brought to the child's attention sooner than necessary. In addition, children often have trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality on TV.

Although there are potential benefits from viewing some television shows, such as learning positive aspects of social behavior many negative health effects can also result. Research shows primary negative health effects on aggressive behavior; sexuality; academic performance; body concept and self-image; nutrition, dieting, and obesity; and substance abuse. Children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the messages conveyed through television, which influence what they think and how they behave. Kids see their favorite characters smoking, drinking, and involved in sexual situations and other risky behaviors in the shows and movies they watch on TV.

Violence on the screen

People have blamed the television for children throwing themselves off the roofs and risking their lives doing dangerous stunts in an attempt to copy superheroes and models in advertisements. Some even believe that brutality on television could be the direct cause for juvenile crime. Programs that show huge wrestlers fighting with each other to excite a screaming public and even seemingly innocuous cartoons like Tom and Jerry where they are seen constantly bashing each other send certain messages to children. Through such violent programs children get the idea that violence is a means to power. The three major effects of viewing TV violence are:
  • Children may become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others.
  • Children may be more fearful of the world around them.
  • Children may be more likely to behave in aggressive or harmful ways toward others.

Parents can limit the effects of violence:
  • View TV together and discuss the violence with the child. Talk about why the violence happened and how painful it is. Ask the child how conflicts can be solved without violence.
  • Explain to your child how violence on an entertainment programs is actually fake.
  • Restrict violent videos.
  • Encourage your child to watch programs with characters that cooperate, help, and care for each other. These programs have been shown to have a positive influence on children.
  • Read to your child rather than watch television. Children's stories, written by thoughtful authors, portray conflict in a more realistic and constructive manner.

Monitoring television viewing

Children are very impressionable and it is important to control what their minds are exposed to. Health experts recommend the following guidelines for parents:

  • Limit the amount of time children spend in watching TV to no more than 1 to 2 hours of quality programming per day.
  • Remove television sets from children's bedrooms.
  • Discourage television viewing for children younger than 2 years, and encourage more interactive activities, such as talking, playing, singing, and reading together.
  • Monitor the shows children and adolescents are viewing. Most programs should be informational, educational, and nonviolent or programs which demonstrate helping, caring and cooperation.
  • View television programs along with children, and discuss the content.
  • Set a weekly viewing limit. At the beginning of the week, have your child select programs you approve of from television schedules.
  • Rule out TV at certain times such as meal times and sleeping hours.
  • Remember that children learn from their parents. If you watch a lot of TV, chances are your child will also.
  • Parents should work out a timetable for watching television with their children.
  • Discuss with your child what is real and what is make-believe on TV. Explain how television uses stunt actors, camera zooms, dream sequences and animation to create fantasy.


There is evidence that children younger than 6 or even 8 years of age do not understand that the purpose of advertising is to sell a product. Also, children have trouble distinguishing between ads and programs. Children are easily influenced by the advertisements on TV and are often keen to buy the products that are flashed on the screen. You will have to work out your own strategy on handling this. It would be a good idea to discuss the health of the family and the balancing of the domestic budget with children. They will appreciate being able to make informed decisions and not just be passive recipients of goods. The task requires patient parenting and it is a continuing responsibility. It is important that you tell your children that the purpose of advertising is to sell products to as many viewers as possible only.

Disclaimer: This content including advice provides generic information only. It is in no way a substitute for qualified medical opinion. Always consult a specialist or your own doctor for more information. NDTV does not claim responsibility for this information.
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