Ever since the invention of the television, the world has become accustomed to it as a basic fixture of human life. Television has influenced many generations in the past and those yet to come. Its influence has been primarily defined by the fact that television programs are an indispensable form of entertainment for many people. In this regard, many children have grown up watching television programs that have a positive or negative impact on their cognitive development.
Because of this fact, many parents, children advocates and educationists are already raising concerns over the amount of time children spend watching television and the kind of materials they watch in the first place.
In the developed world, children have been known to spend more than five hours a day staring at television screens and even more time is feared to be lost watching television programs instead of engaging in more productive activities. The Kaiser Foundation cited in (Nemours Foundation, 2010) affirms that:
“two-thirds of infants and toddlers watch a screen an average of 2 hours a day; kids under age 6 watch an average of about 2 hours of screen media a day (primarily TV and videos or DVDs). Kids and teens 8 to 18 years spend nearly 4 hours a day in front of a TV screen and almost 2 additional hours on the computer (outside of schoolwork) and playing video games”. (p. 1)
With such statistics in mind, proponents and critics of television exposure have often clashed about the possible advantages and disadvantages of watching television.
Currently, there are numerous volumes of literature on the subject and more are still being developed. However, this study seeks to comprehensively cover all the functional areas of a child’s growth which are affected by television exposure. From this understanding, this study will encompass aspects such as lifestyle, appetite, health, the learning process and such like factors. These elements will primarily encompass the overall growth of children.
From this perspective, this study will carry out a comprehensive analysis of the effects of television programming on children development and since television programming is an unavoidable element in the society, this study will seek to establish whether television programming generally compliments children growth or not.
Usually, most people are unaware that children are hooked onto television programs even before they enter schools. Since children are already hooked to television at an early age, many concerned individuals and institutions have tried to strike a balance to try and minimize the negative effects of television (Nemours Foundation, 2010, p. 3).
According to the American Department of Pediatrics (cited in Nemours Foundation, 2010, p. 4), children under 2 years should not be allowed to watch television at all. However, children above the age of two should only be required to watch only one hour of constructive television programs (Nemours Foundation, 2010, p. 1).
This recommendation is upheld by many researchers because the first two years of a human being’s life is usually important in a child’s growth and television can come in the way of a child’s ability to explore, play and interact with children, parents or objects in the natural environment (Lee, 2010, p. 2). Researchers note that if children are allowed to watch TV at an early age, they may develop some form of impairment in their social, psychological or physical development (Amin, 2000, p. 200).
For children above the age of two, researchers have pointed out that television normally affects their ability to develop health wise, socially and through similar parameters. Many have however recommended that television ought to be watched in moderation to avert any detrimental effects brought about by prolonged exposures to television. Nemours Foundation (2010) affirms that:
“Preschoolers can get help learning the alphabet on public television, grade schoolers can learn about wildlife on nature shows, and parents can keep up with current events on the evening news. No doubt about it — TV can be an excellent educator and entertainers”. (p. 4).
This therefore implies that television has its pros and cons.
Even though television has its positive side, research studies are skewed to depict that it has more negative than positive effects. It is no doubt therefore that children who watch too much television develop health problems like being overweight or ultimately develop complications such as high blood pressure, heart complications and the likes.
Such conditions are known to lead to increased chances of children being obese because as they are watching television, they are essentially inactive and most often than not, a good number eat snacks while staring at the screens. Health experts have warned that this kind of trend is likely to cause significant health problems for children in future (Nemours Foundation, 2010, p. 2).
Some television programs make the situation much worse because they promote the consumption of junk foods such as Sodas and the likes through the casual depiction of actors consuming such produce. To affirm the negative effects of television, research studies have shown that decreased exposure to television leads to decreased instances of weight gain and an emergence of a population group with a lower Body Mass Index (BMI) (Nemours Foundation, 2010, p. 2).
It is also confirmed that children who watch too much television (especially violent programs) are likely to be more aggressive and develop psychological problems in future. Violence for example is often exposed as a fun way of getting what one wants and therefore when faced with tricky life situations, children are bound to be insensitive to the vice; thereby perpetrating the wrong perceptions often exhibited by the media (Nevid, 2008, p. 361).
It is even more unfortunate that children often develop a liking for certain characters in television programs and are therefore likely to think that whatever their star characters do is the appropriate way of handling conflicts. Nemours Foundation (2010) affirms that:
“Even though kids are taught by their parents that it’s not right to hit, television says it’s OK to bite, hit, or kick if you’re the good guy. This can lead to confusion when kids try to understand the difference between right and wrong. And even the “bad guys” on TV aren’t always held responsible or punished for their actions”. (p. 4)
For very young children, violent images are often scary but television shoves it up their faces but either way, it doesn’t do much justice to them because at tender ages, children cannot distinguish what is fiction and what is real. Certain behavioral problems associated with children such as lack of sleep can sometimes be associated with frequent exposure to violence in television. In such cases, children are often seen to have nightmares, panic attacks (and the likes) because of the images they see in the media.
The effects of violent images from television are however not any milder for older children because older children have also been observed to be frightened by violence in certain television programs; regardless of whether it happens in real life (like on the news) or in fiction (like in horror movies). For instance, most good guys in most drama series are never free from violent acts and this may pass as an appropriate thing to do for children.
For example, it is affirmed that children who watch violent movies are likely to either view the world as a dangerous place or be aggressive on the same grounds (Nevid, 2008, p. 361). This fact therefore affects the psychological development of children and their ability to properly blend in with the society.
Television characters can also been faulted to exhibit poor social behaviors which affect the perception of children as they grow up. Such perceptions are affected especially with regards to risky social behaviors like smoking, drinking, risky sexual habits and the likes. To some extent, television programs are identified to perpetrate wrong gender and racial perceptions in the way television programs are produced (Kavoori, 2006, p. 32).
In fact television programs today tend to exaggerate certain gender and racial stereotypes and children who grow up seeing such misconceived ideas tend to assume they are the true representation of the real world. For Instance, Amin (2000) notes that Arabs are often depicted as terrorists and most white children hold this belief as true.
Children who watch a lot of television often tend to depict adverse social behaviors because television tends to promote bad behaviors like alcohol abuse as cool and fun. Such perceptions are further reinforced because television fails to show everyone the consequences of such habits.
In fact, most movies never miss a smoker, raunchy sexual scene or an alcoholic. Such issues majorly affect teens. In sexual scenes for example, actors are never shown protecting themselves from the consequences of sex such as sexually transmitted diseases and infections or pregnancy and many may think such acts are natural.
This kind of misconceived perceptions makes viewers adopt a much-relaxed attitude towards sex or any other vice that is being promoted. The effects of such attitudes are affirmed by Nemours Foundation (2010, p. 2) who notes that “studies have shown that teens who watch lots of sexual content on TV are more likely to initiate intercourse or participate in other sexual activities earlier than peers who don’t watch sexually explicit shows”.
Alcohol abuse has also increased over recent years in various television programs and its effects have been more widespread than ever before because of increased exposure of children to such programs. Recent studies done by alcohol agencies have shown that the exposure of children to alcohol commercials have increased by more than thirty percent in the first five years preceding the year 2006 (Nemours Foundation, 2010, p. 1).
Some proponents of television viewing have however proposed the banning of such retrogressive adverts (such as the banning of cigarette adverts) but their effects can still not be eliminated because the use of alcohol and cigarettes is still being promoted in movies.
Television commercials have also become a common feature in prime time television and they affect the way most children perceive certain products and services. For instance, most television programs promote the consumption of wrong foods (in form of junk) and children are unable to differentiate the health benefits from the disadvantages of such foods. It is therefore not uncommon for children to often demand certain products just because they saw a catchy advertisement in mainstream television.
Comprehensively, these negative effects of television affect children development in many ways than one. Children being at a strategic age of developing their social skills, they ought to be doing more constructive things than just watch television. This will improve their level of emotional development and help them integrate better with other people in the real world.
Children therefore need to play more with other children of their age and learn more social skills because there is no substitution to such development stages. Certain common problems associated with today’s children like myopic complications will therefore be avoided if such measures are observed. This is true because it is almost impossible to isolate television watching from such like complications if children are wasting up to five hours a day watching television.
Other small complications like inappropriate use of language will also be avoided with reduced exposure to television (at least when children are at a young age). This is especially important for young children because they have a very limited capability of differentiating what language is good or bad. The situation becomes much worse when inappropriate use of language affects a child’s academic development because children tend to assume what they hear through television as the correct way to speak.
For instance Lee (2010) explains that “There was one point of time, the local sitcom Phua Chu Kang got so popular that children started using phrases like “Don’t pray pray”, and “I look you no up”. It got into such frenzy that we had a Speak Good English Campaign, remember?” (p. 4). This exposes the level of bad television influence on children.
This study was limited to the extent that it could not be easily generalized to all groups of children. Specifically, it was limited to the fact that children hail from different societies and therefore not all of them face the same type of television effects.
External validity of the research findings was also another limitation to the study, considering existing volumes of research are hard to verify and may sometimes reflect personal opinions. Finally, the research’s findings were limited to specific social classes because it is an almost undeniable fact that various respondents from different social classes behave differently in terms of lifestyle habits.
The appropriateness of television is a matter of weighing the pros and cons associated with it. There is no doubt that television has its advantages but it is important to note that the disadvantages of watching television (for young children) outweigh its advantages.
One of the best way of rectifying retrogressive attributes associated with television is limiting the hours spent watching it and restricting the wrongful watch of adult movies and programs. The kind of limitation to be applied however depends on the type of parents, their children’s’ age and such like variables.
Conventionally, children have often been limited to around 30 minutes or an hour a day of television programming but each parent today has the ability of determining the correct number of hours their children can watch television. Family sitcoms and other educational programs should however be allowed for children to watch because in addition to offering entertainment, such programs are educative.
Parents should also watch television with their children so that they ensure their children are not exposed to inappropriate programming. Other measures such as banning eating while watching television should also be applied by some parents as part of their efforts to control the adverse effects of television. These are the best measures to prevent children from being exposed to the adverse effects of television.
Amin, H. (2000). Civic Discourse and Digital Age Communications in the Middle East. London: Greenwood Publishing Group.
Kavoori, A. (2006). Media, Terrorism, and Theory: A Reader. London: Rowman & Littlefield.
Lee, J. (2010). How TV Affects Children. Retrieved 7 January, 2011, from:
Nemours Foundation. (2010). How TV Affects Your Child. Retrieved 7 January, 2011, From: http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/family/tv_affects_child.html#
Nevid, J. (2008). Psychology: Concepts and Applications. London: Cengage Learning.