Scientists are much more split over whether what we watch has adverse health effects, especially on children. When it comes to kids, the real debate is whether the dangers of TV go beyond the health effects of being sedentary, including potential long-term impacts on their brains.
The crux of the argument against kids watching TV is that time spent in front of the tube takes away from developmentally important activities like playing and socializing, which is true. There are a number of studies that find TV-watching is associated with poorer academic performance, including a 7 percent drop in classroom engagement for every hour of television a child logs in.
Yet many scientists argue that television is being unfairly victimized. There is a pervasive belief that watching TV as a child leads to attention disorders, despite a lack of evidence. Similarly, violent and sexual content is believed to lead to aggressive behaviors, though there is scant evidence to support the connection. And while some studies have shown a connection between TV-watching and poor grades, other studies have linked watching the tube to improved language skills and learning.
Research shows that not all programming is created equal. Adult programming negatively impacts infants’ language development, while children’s shows don’t. Even age-appropriate content can be a mixed bag. Some programs have been shown to increase language skills, while others, targeted to the same age group, do the opposite. The age of the viewer is also a factor. For example, “Sesame Street” has been shown to improve vocabulary development in 3- to 5- year-olds, but the effect wanes by six.
Bottom line: As a parent, it’s important to monitor the kinds of shows your kids watch to make sure they’re age-appropriate, especially when it comes to younger kids. What’s more, limiting television-viewing likely provides a number of health benefits because it forces adults and kids to get off the couch and be more active.
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