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What Children are NOT Doing When Watching TV

There is a lot about television that concerns pediatricians, especially the passive nature of TV viewing. The next time your child watches TV, look at her instead of the screen and ask yourself, "What is she doing?" or perhaps more appropriately, "What is she not doing?" Sitting in front of the television set, children are giving up opportunities for more active intellectual, emotional, artistic, and physical growth. Instead of playing outdoors, reading a book, conversing, exercising, or doing homework, they spend hours sitting, entranced by what is on TV. Children learn best in the context of relationships and meaningful interaction with people they respect. In most cases, even in a group, television viewing is a passive, solitary activity.

Children who have learned critical viewing skills and who belong to families that actively select high-quality programs can learn from television viewing. For some children, especially young ones, TV can be a source of rote language. However, these circumstances are the exception. In general, while watching television, your child is probably not doing any of the following:

  • Asking questions
  • Solving problems
  • Being creative
  • Exercising initiative
  • Practicing eye-hand coordination
  • Scanning (useful in reading)
  • Practicing motor skills
  • Thinking critically, logically, and analytically
  • Practicing communication skills
  • Playing interactive games with other children or adults (helpful for developing patience, self-control cooperation, sportsmanship)

Television's Influence on Your Child   

While parents often worry about television's negative influence, it can play a positive role in children's lives. If the programs a child watches are carefully selected, TV can provide her with good entertainment, exposure to other cultures, and positive social values. News programs can inform her about current events. Through special programs she can learn about the wonders of nature and the fascination of history. When the family watches together, TV can provide an opportunity for them to share time with one another.

When To Be Cautious

Although there is some worthwhile television programming, you will have to look for it actively. Too much of prime-time television is dominated by programs that depict violence and aggression or promote family-role stereotypes that may not reinforce the values you hold. Many shows portray criminal activity or sexual promiscuity, with little or no attention to moral implications or dangerous outcomes. Some cartoons are designed to make it difficult for children to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Media glamorize harmful and dangerous behavior, especially the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Music videos contain frequent references to or graphic displays of sexual behavior, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide. Commercials and other advertising expose children to products that parents often do not approve of and cannot afford. They normalize and promote the adoption of unhealthy behaviors by children and adolescents.

Greater than any other single concern for many parents is television violence and its effects on their children. Studies suggest that TV, music video, and motion picture violence can cause antisocial behavior in youngsters and make children more likely to hurt others, behave more aggressively on the playground, and display callousness toward other people's pain. It can also create fear and suspicion in young viewers. You need to be an involved parent, making a conscientious effort to minimize or eliminate your youngster's viewing of violence on television.

Last Updated
Caring for Your School-Age Child: Ages 5 to 12 (Copyright © 2004 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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