Television is ubiquitous in our society and is often introduced to children at a very young age. Not long ago, toddlers and growing children spent most of their waking hours either playing with their peers, running around outside, playing with non-electronic toys or otherwise directly and actively engaging the world around them.
Now, many spend hours per day glued to a screen passively absorbing the scenes before them. Mom and dad may comfort themselves with the fact that much of this programming is labeled educational, but the truth of the matter is that the majority of it is little more than shallow entertainment.
So what does this mean for growing minds and bodies? Nothing good, according to experts. Excessive television can lead to any of the following:
There’s a reason that children are supposed to play. It’s a way of learning to think both critically and creatively. Children learn problem-solving through active play much in same way that other mammals do. Passive, receptive entertainment does not engage a growing brain in the same way.
Although a little television may not harm your child’s academic performance, too much certainly could. According to the Mayo Clinic, elementary students with televisions in their bedrooms have consistently lower grades than those who do not.
As with many adults, children who watch too much television tend to suffer from poorer quality sleep or irregular sleeping schedules. And just like adults, kids need those hours of shut-eye in order to concentrate, learn and function properly.
Television contributes to childhood obesity in several ways. The first and most obvious is that sitting passively in front of the tube uses virtually no calories and does nothing to develop muscle tone or coordination. A few generations ago, parents mostly encouraged children to go burn off excess energy by running around outside. Now that excess energy tends to accumulate in the form of excess body fat. Secondly, many children quickly get into the habit of snacking while watching television, and they usually aren’t snacking on broccoli. A kid sitting in front of the tube for an afternoon can easily munch through a bag of chips or other processed, fatty snack food. Finally, television commercials aggressively market sodas, sugary breakfast cereals and other junk foods to kids, making them more inclined to beg for them the next time you’re at the store.
A study cited by the Mayo Clinic indicates that children in elementary school who spend more than two hours a day on the computer or television are more likely to have behavioral problems than their peers. In addition, children exposed to too much television around the age of four are more inclined to become bullies later in their childhood.
M.D., Faculty of Medicine, Ramathibodi Hospital, Mahidol University, 1998.