The Truth About TV Time: 15 Findings Every Parent Should Know

Most parents have a general idea that “too much TV is bad,” but not every parent has had the time or opportunity to explore just what that means. If you’re wondering what’s going on behind the tube, and just how it might affect your child, we’ve got 15 important facts for you to check out. We’ll explore sleep disturbances, learning, teen sex, obesity, violence, and even vision strain as it relates to kids and TV time. Read on, and find out what watching TV is doing to your family.

  1. Kids watch an awful lot of TV

    Surely you’ve heard this before, but have you ever actually sat down to think about the number of hours your child spends watching TV? A program while you get ready for work, a few after-school specials, prime time, and Saturday morning cartoons add up quickly. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry reports that TV watching is a major activity for most American kids, with an average of three to four hours of TV each day. By the time most American kids reach high school graduation, they will have spent more time watching TV than in the classroom.

  2. TV has some pretty nasty effects

    Do you know just how bad TV really is for kids? The AACAP explains that children are more impressionable than we realize, and therefore are more susceptible to believing everything they see on TV. As a result, children who watch a lot of TV are likely to have lower grades, read fewer books, exercise less, and even be overweight.

  3. TV can have a major influence on value systems and behavior

    As adults, parents understand the difference between fantasy and fiction and reality (even staged “reality”), but kids have trouble differentiating between what’s real and fake on TV. And as children watch TV, especially violent programming, they may begin to believe that the acts they see on screen are acceptable and normal in real life. The AACAP reports that children and teenagers who watch violent TV may become immune to horror, accept violence as a way to solve problems, and even begin to imitate the kind of violence that they see on TV. This is especially a problem with shows where violence is realistic and unpunished, leading to impulse control problems that may surface years down the road.

  4. Ratings guidelines may not mean what you think

    The Kaiser Family Foundation discovered that while many parents pay attention to ratings guidelines found on TV, they often don’t understand them. 72% of parents with children ages 2 to 6 incorrectly think that the TV-Y7 means programming directed to ages seven and under, when it actually means the opposite: programming for ages seven and up. And almost no one understands the FV rating for fantasy violence, with only 12% identifying it correctly, and even 8% thinking it stands for “family viewing.”

  5. TV viewing before bed makes sleeping difficult

    Studies indicate that watching TV before bed can lead to sleep problems, including difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, issues that are hard not just on children, but parents as well. Experts recommend that parents make bedtime a relaxing experience that does not involve TV or videos. Rather, parents can save relaxing, non-stimulating activities for bedtime to encourage healthy sleeping routines.

  1. Disturbing TV at any time is bad for preschoolers’ sleep

    While bedtime TV is a bad idea, violent TV at any time can have a negative impact on sleep as well. A Pediatrics journal study indicated that when children watched shows containing violence in the morning or afternoon, they were more likely to have nightmares, or not get good, fulfilling sleep. The same did not happen when children watched age-appropriate programming in the morning or afternoon. This study indicates that parents should be carefully monitoring the programs watched by their children, and make sure that they are only viewing age-appropriate material.

  2. Studies suggest that sex on TV influences teens to have sex

    A study conducted by RAND of nearly 1,800 adolescents aged 12 to 17 indicated that, in general, watching sex on TV means teens will have sex in real life. Adolescents who watched more sexual content were more likely to have intercourse, or increase sexual activity. Kids who were in the 90th percentile of TV sex viewing were twice as likely to have sex than adolescents in the 10th percentile, suggesting that a higher exposure to sexual content on TV influences young people to initiate sex and increase sexual activity.

  3. TV influences pregnancy as well

    In the same vein, adolescents who watch TV shows with lots of sexual content are more likely to become pregnant or cause a pregnancy. In fact, when most of a teen’s TV watching is sexual in nature, their risk for teen pregnancy is doubled. But interestingly enough, teens who watch a lot of TV in general, but not sexual content, are actually less likely to become pregnant than their average peer. Experts believe this is because the hours teens spend watching TV keep them from being out dating and socializing with friends, when they may find opportunities to have sex, and possibly get pregnant.

  4. TV can be used to educate and inform about sex, however

    Watching TV may mean that teens are having more sex, but the tube is also a great tool for sharing information about teen pregnancy, contraception, and STDs. In a study of the show ER, viewers indicated that they actually learned from an episode featuring emergency contraception as a method for pregnancy prevention. The public seems to approve of learning in this way, with 86% of respondents polled by the CDC stating that HIV/AIDS prevention information should be aired on TV, and 92% of 18-25-year-olds agreeing that condom information should be aired on TV as well.

  5. TV time for little ones is simply not educational

    Although many parents hold out hope that educational DVDs might inspire learning in their little ones, the Parents as Teachers National Center shares that TV does not offer any of the things young children need to effectively learn. Rather than engage in screen time, young children need to “explore, move, manipulate, smell, touch and repeat as they learn.” By learning away from the TV, kids can develop their bodies, brains, and social skills through creative play.

  1. TV time, even in the form of active video games, is grossly inactive

    Most parents understand that TV time means inactivity, but you may not fully grasp the concept until you see the hard facts: watching TV consumes only a few more calories than sleeping, and this kind of inactivity can play a major role in weight gain. One might think that active video games might be a step up, and from sitting on the couch, they certainly are. But when compared with actual physical activity, games pale in comparison. Playing Wii tennis is fun, but typically only burns three to five calories per minute, compared to real tennis, which burns 8.1 calories per minute.

  2. TV commercials promote terrible nutrition

    Each day, kids will typically see more than 10 food-related ads, adding up to nearly 4,000 every year, and almost every single one of these ads is for food that children should not be eating: 90% of food advertisements viewed by children feature items that are high in fat, sugar, or sodium, and most (79%) are low in fiber as well. Watching these commercials influences kids and encourages them to ask for and seek out food and beverage items that are nutritionally harmful.

  3. Watching TV has a direct link to increased calories and obesity

    When you know just how bad food commercials are, it’s not hard to understand how TV can influence children in a way that leads to obesity. Studies have shown that children will eat about 167 extra calories for every hour of TV that they watch, and with a minimum average of three hours of TV per day, that’s 500 extra calories per day. 500 calories is enough for an adult to gain an additional pound a week. So it’s not at all surprising to find out that for each hour of TV watched per day, a preschooler’s risk for obesity increases by 6%.

  4. Kids should not have a TV in their bedroom

    Allowing your child to have a TV in their bedroom is simply not a good idea. Facts indicate that doing so can increase TV viewing time by nine hours each week, and lead to problems including sleep disturbances, lower standardized test scores, obesity, and may even contribute to depression in adulthood. Experts recommend that children, even adolescents, should not be allowed to have a TV in their bedroom, and that all TV time is supervised.

  5. Sitting “too close” to the TV is actually not bad for kids’ eyes

    Parents have believed for years that sitting down right in front of a TV can damage kids’ eyes, but the American Academy of Ophthalmology says that kids can focus up close better than adults, and without eye strain. But doing so may indicate that your child is nearsighted, and staring at a TV for too long can cause eye strain. Additionally, sitting so close to the TV can lead to kids being further tuned out, as they are more closely engaged visually, and the sound is likely to be louder up close as well.

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