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How Television Affects Children

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How does watching TV affect the behavior of children?

How does watching TV affect the behavior of children?

What Are the Effects of Television on Child Development?

As children, mothers would scold us for sitting too close to the television, claiming that it would ruin our eyesight. They may have been right about that, but television might just have a bigger impact on children than just their eyesight.

Children’s television has been around as long as television itself. Some of the first children’s programs include Play School, Howdy Doody, Captain Kangaroo, Bill and Ben, and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. In the United States, early children’s television was often a way for large companies, like Disney, to push their product, and they failed to reach out to the educational needs of children.

During early childhood, from the time children are born, they are like sponges, absorbing everything around them, helping to mold the person they will grow to become. Children need to be stimulated when they are young, and television can be very stimulating to a child—whether that kind of stimulation is adequate or not has been studied extensively by many.

Even though some television programming is geared toward child development, excessive television watching can hinder learning, compromise early childhood development, and stimulate aggressive or antisocial behavior.

Children's Television Act

The United States government did research on the negative effects television was having on children and in 1990, Congress put in place the Children’s Television Act. The purpose of the Children’s Television Act or CTA was to produce more of the educational and informational programming on television that they believe would be more beneficial to children.

The CTA requires all television stations in the United States to provide educational and informational programming for children. Since Congress enacted the Children’s Television Act, we have seen more educational television shows like Sesame Street, Barney and Friends, and Dora the Explorer.

Barney and Friends

Barney and Friends

Educational Programming

On November 10, 1969, Sesame Street was premiered on public broadcasting television stations. Sesame Street was one of the very first preschool educational television programs. Sesame Street was created by Joan Ganz Cooney, whose goal was to help prepare children for kindergarten. The show's stated purpose was to introduce small children to the alphabet and the numbering system, but children were also taught about ethnic diversity, cooperation, kindness, urban pride, and conflict-resolution skills.

Barney and Friends, which premiered in 1992, is an educational program that touches on areas of childhood development skills such as cognitive, social, emotional, and physical abilities. Barney, along with colors, numbers, and the alphabet, teaches respect, courtesy, manners, and many other essentials in life.

Another program that is a product of the 1990 Children's Television Act, which premiered in 1999, is Dora the Explorer. Like Sesame Street and Barney and Friends, Dora the Explorer gets children involved and teaches them how to count, the alphabet, and colors. Dora also teaches kids about leadership, diversity, Spanish, and teamwork.

These programs are widely viewed all over America and the world. Some studies show that in America, children spend on average three hours a day watching television, and with the Children's Television Act in place, children have the opportunity to view more educational programming like these.

Early Childhood Development

Even with the growing number of educational programming like Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer, and Barney and Friends, studies show that television can have a negative impact on early childhood development in areas such as language and cognitive development, which could have an effect on behavior, attention, aggression and other health issues.

There are a few factors that play a role in how television affects children. Not only is it important to monitor what children watch, but also how much they watch. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of two should not be exposed to television, video games, or use a computer or tablet. Nicole Martins, an assistant professor in the department of telecommunications at Indiana University, says that “the first three years are a time of rapid brain growth, and children learn best from interaction with parents and caregivers, not from screen media” (LoBuono, 2012).

Parents’ interaction with their children, especially in the first three years, can have a very large impact on the child’s development. This is a time that a child not only develops skills like language, but they learn to put words and phrases together to form sentences, leading to their ability to communicate effectively.

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Infants Development In Language

According to a study done by Dimitri Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children's Research Institute and professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine, children under the age of two that watch television have shown signs of a delay in language development.

Christakis determined through his study, that children under the age of two that watch television hear far fewer words from adults. The study also showed "a decrease in the number and length of child vocalization and back and forth between child and adult" (Bryner, 2009). This is either because of the child being left alone in front of the television, or the parent being distracted by the television and not interacting with the child.

This is concerning because "hearing adults speak and being spoken to are critical exposures that play a role in infants' development in language" (Bryner, 2009). Without parent-child interaction, the child's ability to communicate can be significantly hindered. The development of a child's language is affected more by the voice of a parent than that of a television.


Behavioral Issues

Along with potential developmental problems in young children such as language, behavioral issues also can be a result of excessive television watching. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, in-depth studies indicate that violence seen by children on television can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed.

Watching violence on television can also cause some to show or feel less empathy toward others. It seems like no matter what channel you put the television on these days, you are bound to see some sort of violence, and the violence you do see is glamorized and, some of the time, going unpunished. These programs are something young children do not need to see, not just because of the violence but because of the message these programs are sending out about violence.

Watching violent programming can lead to aggressive behavior, and that can have adverse effects on a child’s development and school work. “Even having the TV on in the home is linked to more aggressive behavior in 3-year-olds. This was regardless of the type of programming and regardless of whether the child was actually watching the TV. Children are imitators, and those who watch violent shows are more likely to display aggressive behavior” (Boyse, 2010).

Social Awkwardness

When children are watching television they are not doing things like exploring, playing, and communicating in a way that will help develop their bodies and brains. The Parents as Teachers National Center says that “young children need to explore, move, manipulate, smell, touch, and repeat as they learn.

Studies have found that watching television does not increase attention, promote social skills, or foster creative play” (Graham). The lack of these skills can seriously affect social behavior in young children causing them to become antisocial. A child’s vocabulary can suffer from excessive television watching and can lead to the child’s inability to communicate and converse effectively, which can then lead to social awkwardness.

What, When, and How Much Television Is Appropriate?

According to the World Health Organization, the first three years of a child’s life is the most important time period for brain development. Cognitive, social, and emotional growth is greatly affected during this time period of rapid brain development.

To help with this brain development, children need adequate nutrition and stimulation. A question many parents want to know the answer to is whether or not television is considered adequate stimulation. Every parent wants their children to grow and develop the essential skills it takes to live a full and successful life, and it is important that the proper steps are taken to help them develop these skills.

Since the first three years of a child’s life is the most important time period for development, parents need to know what kind of stimulation is good and what kind is harmful to their child’s development. Sitting in front of a television for hours a day can be detrimental to a child’s development, affecting them well into adulthood.

Children’s educational programming can be beneficial to school-age children, but children ages three and under should be stimulated in other ways. Even though there has been significant progress in children’s educational programming, limiting a child’s television viewing will help to avoid problems such as aggression, language, social, behavioral, and other health issues later in life. It is up to each parent to evaluate their child’s development and monitor not only what they watch on television, but also how much they are watching.


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Diehl , D. (2012). Making good decisions: television, learning, and the cognitive development of young children1. Retrieved from

Graham, J. (n.d.). How television viewing affects children. Retrieved from ren.sflb.ashx

Asher, L. (2006, October 24). "the world according to sesame street". Retrieved from .html

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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