A powerful mass communication tool, TV affects your child in many ways. Some are obvious, but others are very subtle. Television shapes society on a broad scale, influencing cultural norms and expectations, affecting how children perceive themselves and interpret the world around them. Television can shape their understanding of personal interactions and social cues, impacting the developmental processes and behavioral choices. Researchers have found that there are measurable physical affects, and studies have indicated that television also impacts the mechanics of the mind, even cognition itself.

Pediatricians Speak Out About TV And Babies

Since 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has had a simple, straightforward position on television for babies and toddlers, as noted in an October 2011 Live Science article. Much to the chagrin of those purveying videos and programming for the 2 year old and under set, and perhaps the parents using those products in hope of producing child prodigies and geniuses, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television at all for children under 2.

The Live Science article was discussing new research on the issue, and that research strengthened the AAP position to such a degree that it issued a new statement on the matter, and included “background television.” Just having it on in the same room has found to affect children, having a negative affect on language development by distracting them from valuable play and social interaction, as well as playing a role in sleep disturbance.

And, it’s not only the baby that is distracted, but also the parent. Instead of interacting with the baby, the parent watches television. According to an October 18, 2011, Time Magazine report, almost two thirds of American households have televisions on most of the time or even all of the time, whether anybody is deliberately watching it or not. It – and its messages – are always in the background, not just at home, but in public spaces also. It’s interesting how, despite the AAP’s television position, pediatrician waiting rooms usually have a television on in the waiting room.

Children Are Affected Mentally And Emotionally

Iowa State University researchers are just a few among the many that have found a direct relationship between television watching an attention span. The non-scientifically oriented person can simply compare the pace of programming through the decades and see how it has sped up. Watch an episode of Mr. Rogers and then watch a program made for children today. The difference is obvious, even to the untrained eye. Consider the effect of that quick cut edit and action pattern on the sorts of activities children used to do, before there was television.

Attention span problems can result in poor school performance, as well as hinder a child’s ability to self-entertain. Activities requiring focus, such as reading for pleasure, painting and other art projects, and similar types of brain developing recreational activities, fall to the wayside, replaced by the far more passive entertainment of the television. They absorb so much that may not be obvious right away, such as cultural concepts of attractiveness which can color how they feel about themselves, often negatively, as they see continuous images that set standards that few real people are able to meet.

Children take in all sorts of social interaction cues from what they see on television. They absorb tones of voice and patterns of interaction. Think of those smart-alecky, disrespectful situation comedy kids. Consider the spousal relationships portrayed on many programs. Then compare those to the television programs of yesteryear, like the Waltons and Little House on the Prairie. Contemplate, perhaps, Homer Simpson and Charles Ingals. On September 27, 2012, ABC News reported that researchers from Indiana University found that well over 90 percent of the 50 most popular shows for children 2 years old and up featured what they termed “social aggression” of one sort or another.

It comes as no surprise that higher rates of bullying are associated with higher numbers of hours spent watching television in many studies, as well as lower self-esteem. The Journal of Science released the results of a 17 year study by Columbia University and Mount Sinai Medical Center researchers demonstrating that the more hours children spend watching television, the higher the rate of violent behavior.

Physical Health Has Been Proven To Suffer

Obesity, and its multitude of health risks, including heart disease and diabetes in children, which used to be almost unheard of, has been directly connected with television viewing. Simply put, the more hours spent watching television, the more likely your child is to be overweight or obese, sick, and not physically fit. The most obvious way television contributes to this is via the lack of physical activity. Instead of being outside playing, developing muscles and physical endurance, children are inactive, staring at a screen.

However, that’s not the only way television affects physical health. From the appearance of the TV dinner in the 1950s, food and television have been associated, and snacking while watching is routine. Advertisers know when best to push unhealthy food products, and despite regulations aimed at reducing advertisers ability to aggressively direct market to children, they are still successful at reaching their targeted consumers. According to the American Society for Clinical Nutrition, better food choices are made by children with less exposure to food advertising between and during – via product placement and the like – children’s programming.

Weigh Viewing Choices Carefully

The impact of television isn’t something that should be underestimated. It is worth noting that the AAP didn’t differentiate between ‘good’ programming and ‘bad’ in its recommendations against television for children under 2 years of age. Many can point to quality educational programming created for children, of course. However, there are many ways to learn things, and it may be worthwhile to consider whether or not television is the best way available for a child to learn about a particular topic. All of the evidence regarding television and children points to the importance of parents weighing television viewing choices carefully. The affects of television on your child can indeed be far-reaching.