Television viewing can effect children in numerous ways and has been linked to number of potentially worrisome concerns.
How kids are affected by what they see on TV
Babies as young as 14 months can observe and mimic TV behaviors. (Grossman & De Gaetano, 1999, p. 53) The stronger a child identifies with media characters, the more they are influenced by them. (Williams et al., 1981; Patterson, 2004) How much a child is affected by what they see on TV also has a lot to do with how secure they are in real life. Kids who are loved and respected at home, active in other activities, and who have strong connections with peers and good social skills are less likely to be influenced by what they see on TV.
Sydney Hinds, a mother of 3 in New Orleans, says that after her father let their 2-year-old son watch the Disney movie Pocahontas, for weeks thereafter he would grab whatever resembled a sword and yell, “Savages!” (Jargon, 4-24-2019) Aside from the problems that can come from children emulating what they see on TV, this can lead to any number of misunderstandings. One preschooler who watched a slave get whipped on +Roots+ determined that this man must be a very bad person to deserve such punishment, and therefore Black people like him are very scary. And one school board in Indiana had to issue an advisory to its students telling them that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles don’t actually exist, after too many students were found crawling down storm drains trying to look for them. (I must confess to doing the same as a child, but it wasn’t because I thought they were real, but because the TV show managed to make sewers seem mysterious and alluring.)
Sometimes this emulation can have tragic results. There is some evidence that the Netflix show “13 Reasons Why,” which revolves around a teenage girl who commits suicide, may have inadvertently led more teens to kill themselves. Lisa Horowitz, co-author of the National Institutes of Health-funded study, says that the suicide rate among 10-19 year olds spiked by nearly a third in April 2017, one month after the show made its debut. She says that media portrayals of suicide “may have a bigger impact on younger people than we thought.” (Flint, 7-18-2019)
Kids traumatized by television
There have been several case studies in medical journals telling about young people who had to be hospitalized for several days or weeks after watching horror movies such as The Exorcist and Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” note Dave Grossman and Gloria De Gaetano. “One recent article reported that two children had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.” (1999, p. 36) While such cases are rare, they nonetheless show that what kids watch on TV can reach beyond the screen to have real-world consequences.
How television impacts children’s behavior
Though not all TV content is created equally, television viewing in general seems to worsen kids’ behavior. One study found that children exposed to TV for the first time showed a marked 160% increase in verbal and physical aggression after 2 years. This effect was seen among boys and girls alike. (McBeth-Williams, 1986)
The link between television & ADHD
Earlier we talked about how TV leads to distraction and tends to reduce the quality of kids play. This pattern may lead to ADHD-like behaviors in children. Early television exposure (ages 0 to 5) is associated with more attention problems at age 7. (Christakis et al., 2004)
Television & its effects on schooling & academics
Kids who watch TV more than 10 hours a week are slower to learn in school. (Springen, 2002)
Television & its links to obesity
Television leaves kids sitting on a couch in replacement for the active play children might otherwise engage in. So not surprisingly, television is strongly linked to obesity. Kids who watch more than 10 hours a week are more likely to be overweight. (Springen, 2002)
Long-term effects of TV on children
One study tracked the TV habits of 1,300 toddlers between the ages of 2 1/2 and 4 1/2, then checked up on them again at age 10. On average, toddlers in the study were watching around 9 hours of TV a week. Yet for every hour beyond that, by fourth grade children were 7% less engaged in class, 6% worse at math, and 10% more likely to be bullied. They also snacked more, exercised less, and had higher ratios of body fat. (The Week, 5-21-2010) Keep in mind that these numbers are for a per-hour average for each hour above the average of 9, and the heaviest TV watchers show the most adverse effects.
Television may diminish creativity and encourage kids to be passive consumers
“If you want your children to be brilliant, read them fairy tales.
If you want them to be more brilliant read them more fairy tales.”
– Albert Einstein
Another concern is that television may alter the way our minds work and how we learn about the world. Marie Winn (1977) has argued that because television viewing is such a passive, one-way activity, it trains kids to become passive recipients of information. They are lulled into an almost hypnotic state and learn to have stories and information given to them rather than seeking answers on their own or using creativity to come up with their own entertainment.
TV trains kids to become consumers – in more ways than one. It’s easier to watch TV than it is to read books, which means we’re training our children’s brains toward a more passive than active imagination.