Tuesday, May 08, 2007
TV time hurting your kids?
As a television news correspondent, I am always struck by how many stories I report about people watching too much television. No, I am not trying to put myself out of a job, but now that I have children, these stories do always catch my attention. The age old question, "How much is too much?" will probably not be answered anytime soon, but the American Academy of Pediatrics has just put out one of the largest and longest term studies on the subject.

I will just go ahead and put it out there - I am guilty. My 22-month-old has been known to sit down and watch an entire episode of "Dora the Explorer." I swear it doesn't happen often, but it is the only time I have seen the little girl sit still for more than a few minutes. It is a blissful reprieve for us, even for just a few minutes. The American Academy of Pediatrics says it's a mistake to let children under 2 watch any television. Uh oh. For children older than 2, the recommendation is no more than 1-2 hours a day.

Their recommendations come from a study that followed almost 700 children (and their mothers) for 20 years. On average, it was from age 13 to 33. They found that adolescents who watched more than an hour of television were at elevated risk for poor homework completion, negative attitudes toward school, poor grades and long-term academic failure. They added that those who watched three or more hours were at elevated risk for subsequent attention problems. The problem seems to lie in something known as the orienting reflex. In a nutshell, because TV offers so many different stimuli in a short period, individuals are more likely to maintain focus only for very short periods.

Of course, not everyone is buying all of this. We checked with the Attention Deficit Disorder Association. They reminded us that this study still does not show a conclusive link between television and ADHD, and that around 50 percent of ADHD cases are genetic.

So, what do you think? Do you limit the number of hours of television your child watches? What are those limits? I am off to do another television segment, but looking forward to your reponse.
Hi Dr. Gupta,

I probably SHOULD limit my son's television watching, but I don't! I do turn it off and make him do his homework first, but he's either on his computer playing games, or watching SpongeBob. Maybe I should get him that Wii thing so that he gets more exercise! I feel a bit like a bad parent because my kid is a slug and is always plopped in front of the mind-numbing-brain-sucking TV, but... hmmm, I almost never watch it myself because I hate that my brain essentially shuts down. Maybe I'll take that into consideration when he comes home today and turns it on. Thanks for making me think about it.
I definitly think all children's TV time should be severely limited. The more time children spend in front of the TV, computer, video games etc. the less time they are reading books, and playing outside. Maybe our children wouldn't be so fat and dumb if thye played more and read more instead of watching TV, or playing video games.
Hi Dr. Gupta,

I always tought to much TV was bad for children, but to see scientific research supporting this assumption makes me want to enforce some limits in my household.
Thank You.

Marco Chelo
I think on these things like TV watching, internet, gaming as the result of very strong marketing campaigns. Leading institutes and schools are accepted the fact that friendship and contacts amongst children have substantially reduced due to these one way stimulation which as you rightly put it, attention levels are decreasing sharply. Loss of attention is dangerous. Still i do have kids watch tv to complete the house keeping. I personally reduced TV but spending more time surfing the internet. More outdoor, team and contact sports .... i am dreaming here....
I agree that letting your child watch whatever they want all day would contribute to poor grades and other things. My 3 year old daughter watches tv (A LOT) and she has learned so much. Some things, she learned from her father and myself but she can count in Spanish, she can write and recognize the entire alphabet. She can write both her first and last name (which are not easy). She speaks in long, complete sentences. My daughter uses words that other kids her age do not know the meaning of. She learns so much, of course I only allow her to watch educational shows but during the day, (while with grandma) she watches a lot of nonsense. But she is a lot more advanced than a lot of children her age.
Of COURSE it's bad for kids to sit like slugs watching TV. Why do we need studies and why don't more people shut the thing off now and then?

Every summer my mother told us the TV was broken (it may have been, we were poor and had hand-me-down televisions). We had to be out of the house if it was nice out and we weren't at a meal. I was still a chubby kid but at least I had some basic health habits.

I have no kids of my own so I suppose it's easy to judge.
Obviously, if kids are watching too much TV they may not be getting their homework done and thus get worse grades than kids who aren't. However, I think it's possible that the type of kid who will spend hours in front of the TV instead of other activities such as reading, may have a learning disability to begin with. For instance, my daughter has always had a hard time listening to stories and reading (especially non-fiction) and consequently, school is not easy for her. However she will enjoy a Disney Movie on the same subjects she hates in school. When she has seen a movie about a historic event related to her schoolwork, it helps her pay better attention to what she is learning and retain more of the information. She starts to think about what was missed or misrepresented in the movie and she retains the new information she is learning. She also remembers vocabulary used in movies much more than from usage in school.
Look, science has been known to lag behind common sense a decade or two. ADD(as opposed to ADHD) is, basically, the tendency to stay disengaged with less stimulating activites. It IS the ability to sit there staring at something for hours without doing anything. In terms of what is healthy, for kids and adults, we should take an evolutionary standpoint and look at what our ancient ancestors were doing....can you see any benefit in listlessly staring at flashing lights for several hours? Even video games, which are better in that it's not completely passive, often just encourage knee-jerk reactions to the virtual environment, ie, not stimulating your frontal lobe, a key symptom of ADD.(On the Wii: it looks pretty good, in that the games are simple, they don't create a future need in kids for 15 sources of stimuli(<---only the wii-sports, but the other ones aren't bad, either), and they get kids sweating a little. Staring at the screen is still harsh on the eyes and they're still inferior, developmentally speaking, to real sports, so still limit it to 2 hours if played regularly) TV and video games do have some value as entertainment devices, but remember, what your kids DO is training their developing minds for the future.

I am ADD, and this evidence is there in my case too. I am the youngest, and my siblings and I watched tv together. It increased for my eldest sibling as they got older, and so I was watching more at a younger age. My eldest sibling is very focused, and it goes downhill all the way to me. Basically, tv should not be the default activity. It is hard to discourage use of the 2 greatest sources of media of all time, the tv and the internet, but spending lots of time in these is just not what humans are made for, and your kids will pay when they're older.

I would encourage independent activities, make them them do chores regularly: there is something small enough for a 5-year old to do around the house. Playing outside is great. Kids should be in touch with nature, it makes them more robust. It reduces future allergies and exposure to the germs outside which are 99.9% harmless increases their immunity. If you're concerned about safety, which I know every parent in even the safest community is, make playgroups so you can take turns watching them with other parents or put them in a sport.

I can't emphasisize the link between tv and ADD enough. My mind literally works like this: if what I'm trying to stay engaged with is too boring, I "change the channel", switch immediately to some other activity. Next time you see a commercial, see if you remember the commercial before it...or the one before that. TV trains you to reset your brain every 30 seconds.

Please, limit your kids' television-watching to 30 minutes a day of noneducational material, and 1 and a half hours total.
I think it is important to limit the hours. I don't have children myself, but I have friends that do. My best friend saw a VAST improvement not only in her children's grades but in hers and her fiance's as well when the turned off their cable. However, I do that that letting children watch educational programming is important. My neice knows a lot that she might not have learned with television.
I think the best alternative is to require schoolwork done, then allow television but also have children be active as well.
Dr. G - As parents of a 22-month old girl, we try to be conscientous about limiting TV time for ourselves and our daughter. However, I find that rather than enforce strict restrictions as some of my peers have, we provide some flexibility since she will inevitably be exposed to TV someplace, and I'd rather have her do it on my watch. 15 minutes of The Wiggles (includes giggling, dancing and singing) is a nightly ritual, and yes, we dance and sing with her. Finding Nemo is also a nice rainy day alternative in small doses, to talk about the ocean and families and spend a little cuddle time on the couch. It's not all poison, but TV should be watched with limits, and with the parents at the child's side. In some cases, it's a blessed moment of stillness and silence! It's made me more selective with my own TV experiences as well.
Limiting time alone may or may not do much. Know what my parents did for me? In addition to limiting the amount of time in fron tof the tube (with the occasional exception like, say, if there was a special movie on that night), my parents spent time teaching me there is more to life than screens. No matter how busy they were, they took time to teach my sister and I that playing outside was fun, that books were great. Once we had it in our heads that these things were fun, we would go do them on our own!
Hi Dr. Gupta,

As the grandmother of a 21 month old granddaughter, I worry about her watching too much TV as well. As an alternative to the regular programs, our families decided to purchase a series of videos that teach sign language to babies and children.
So far our granddaughter know about 50 signs. This has proven to be a wonderful experience for all of us. The learning of signs has helped us communicate with her so much more effectively! She loves watching them, but even as wonderful as they are, I feel there must be a limit on TV viewing. Life is too precious not to enjoy all aspects of it!
Also, I was wondering, what do you think about babies and toddlers learning sign language?
My 4-year-old has been watching TV since he was 6 months old, and my twin boys love Little Einsteins and anything Baby Einstein related. They have all learned to sing, dance, and talk through television and through my wife and I READING to them every night. I think everything in moderation is fine, and a little TV never hurt anyone. My son loves to play outside and ride his bike still and seems to be disinterested in video games right now, so as long as that keeps up, he can keep watching Backyardigans and pretending he's a "scurvy pirate" any time.
Just wanted to let you know that my granddaugther is not deaf. Teaching sign language to hearing children has enabled parents to communicate with very young children,therefore lessening the frustration level for toddlers and their parents. It has certainly worked for us!
It is too bad this study was observational. I would venture a guess that the reason some households performed poorly in comparison to others had less to do with hours the children watched TV and more to do with underlying causes that are also the predictor of the childrens' TV time. In a house where the parents are both working, perhaps multiple jobs, and survival is a daily struggle TV is a cheap toy for your kids. You pay a dollar amount every month and they are entertained for hours. If you as parents are not highly educated, you are less likely to read to your children or play engaging games with them, also leading to more TV time. You also might be less encouraging of their homework time or school time and will allow them to watch more TV. So I think this study is seriously flawed.

However, educational programming is a great way to get kids to learn more rather than hours upon hours of merely entertaining programming. I have also noticed that when we dropped our cable service (partially for money, and partially because we had become too busy over a few weeks) that we now have a lot more time on our hands. We also can choose to watch DVDs that we seek out instead of mindlessly watching whatever is on TV because nothing else is on.
I love watching Tv, but I have no will power when in comes to limiting the content or extent, and I am a 30 year old woman doing a Phd in Physics. What will power will a child have in front of such fascinating programs?

So when I got married 4 years ago, I told my husband that I didn't want to buy a TV. Four years later I have a 20 month old daughter, that "pretty much doesn't know what a TV is". We buy her lots of educational toys, and we read to her a lot. We also taught her sign language, even though is doesn't have any hearing problem. I talk to her in English and my husband in Spanish. By the time she was 12 months, she knew close to 60 signs , and now at 20 months she says sentences both in Spanish and English, can count to 10 in both languages, recognizes the alphabet, can draw stright lines and circles, loves dancing and singing, and has been called a "great future soccer player". She goes to the park twice a day. I am very happy that we don't have any excuse to just ignore her in front of a TV. There are many educational videos out there, but nothing that can't be learned with games or books.

I am aware of my own "stupidity" in front of the TV and I didn't want my daughter to be sucked into that at an early age when the brain is so capable of learning so many things.
Re: no television for children under two May 8, 2007

English Nanny & Governess School for twenty three years has been teaching that television for young children negatively affects creativity, imagination, innovation and socialization.

Our students are taught the importance of literature, music, art, and creative play, all needed to challenge and intellectually stimulate a child’s mind.

Competing with the education of Chinese and Indian children our children need every advantage to expand their horizons.

Sincerely Sheilagh Roth Executive Director English Nanny & Governess School Chagrin Falls Ohio
Hey Dr. Gupta~
Too much T.V., video games, music with bad lyrics, etc is really BAD!
What ever happened to reading books? Exploring nature and learning? Or learning to be creative with painting, writing, etc.
I abhor it when parents use a T.V. as a babysitter. I know as a working Mom that it is difficult to always have an activity for the kids but we must stimulate their minds and bodies. This is the time while they are young.
Too much Television or videos stagnates development. I feel that parents are too distracted themselves these days with usually both parents working in a household. It's tough.
We must as a society put more emphasis on our children, their mental and physical well being. It's important, they are our future and we don't get a second chance. And just as an added note, we must remember that our children will be the ones who take care of us when we get (over 100) older, right Dr. Gupta? So, we better raise them right! ;-)
I have three children and none are allowed to watch any TV at all. Neither do I or my husband: TV is a pure waste of time and energy. For the kids, however, it is much worse than for adults. Results: my two older children are top students in gifted and talented programs, very well-adjusted socially and have many great friends. They are very well-behaved. The youngest is 10 months old and he enjoys spending time the natural way, the way humans were meant to, not doing what the corporations would want you to do--mindlessly watch TV. If parents feel the need to have their children watch TV, they should not have had kids to begin with.
I'm not a parent, I'm a teenager, and I thought it might be good to hear something from the other end. No, you shouldn't let your kid watch TV all the time, but a little isn't too big a deal. When I read this I thought of two of my cousins who are two years apart in age. Due to their closeness they have pretty much watched the same television since they were little. One of them does excellently in school and the other younger one is just reaching the age where it's becoming clear that she won't have quite so easy a time. She doesn't like homework or reading, let's face a lot of kids don't. But you can't just blame it all on the television. Some kids are just like that, kids have complained about school since before the invention of the television.
For school age kids a little television can even be considered important. For better or for worse television is part of our culture, and cutting a kid off from television is cutting them off from a lot of discussions.
From my own personal experience I can also say that the television is not a murderer of the imagination. All through out my younger years most of my outside playtime involved me playing games that emulated Disney movies, television, or videogames. My friends and I use our imaginations to tell the further adventures of the characters from the Lion King, the Zelda videogames, or from Pokemon. Watching TV isn't always passive, even when it's not educational.
I watched plenty of TV growing up and it hasn't harmed me at all. My PSAT scores weren't too shabby, if I do say so my self. (97th percentile!). You don't have to worry that everything you do is going to be seriously detrimental to your child's development.
(I hope any spelling errors don't undermine my point)
I have a 19 yr old that has a good job, his own isurance, bought a brand new car last year and now heading to college while working. I never limited his tv watching and he turned out just fine. I feel that his being in the house watching tv and playing video games and yes he did have friends over, kept him away from outside trouble that I wouldn't have been able to supervise. Call tv a babysitter, call it what you want but now a days it is much safer to have your child near home watching tv, then out and about in this crazy world. And also my child is slim and never got fat from watching tv. Let us enjoy tv and don't think bad about us tv watchers!
Obviously, just turning off the TV seems like a bad idea-- you must find something to put in its place! So, before they even start to watch, have some activity lined up-- enroll them in an after school sport, line up play dates, etc. You've got to help your child find an activity more fun than TV or video games because they won't know what to do otherwise.

The only way to keep the TV off when they're babies is to get rid of it altogether! We did this my son was 9 months old. Now he's 3 and has just started to watch some videos on the computer for about half an hour about 2-3 times a week.

It hasn't been easy, and about once a week I would jones to chill out in front of the tube, or to park the perpetual motion tot in front of it just so I could cook dinner.

On the other hand, my husband and I have had 2 more hours a day than we used to because we stopped watching TV... something a parent needs! No-TV forced us to get an ASTC membership, which gives free entry to lots of science and children's museums... find out about local playgrounds... learn how to set up fun crafts and kid activities... set up a regular babysitting swap so that our son learned how to make friends and we got some time off... go on a walk with our son every day, etc. We feel like better humans than we were before we got rid of the TV. Also, our son has terrific focus, and seems to be in great shape physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally for his age. May be just dumb luck but we don't want to spoil our luck by changing anything then.

Best of luck to all you other parents-- I know you're all trying as hard as you can to raise your kids right!
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