The Negative Implications of Television Viewing on the Psychological Development of Children

When it comes to children, TV and all other forms of electronic media should be limited to one or two hours a day of high-quality content, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics 1. The AAP recommends children under the age of 2 should not watch TV at all. These recommendations result from the AAP’s concern that excessive media viewing can cause problems in school, sleep and eating disorders or attention problems.

Reality vs. TV

Children -- especially children under the age of 8 -- often have difficulty understanding the difference between what is real and what is imaginary. TV programs that show monsters or violence can result in bad dreams, anxiety and sleep problems, according to the University of Michigan Health System 2. Older children who view violence on TV might also be worried that they will become victims, while violent threats shown as news create more fear than violence that is clearly fictionalized. Anxiety and worry can become chronic stressors that affect a child’s ability to learn and relate to other people, according to the Johns Hopkins University School of Education.

Social Interaction

Social interaction is vitally important for a baby to develop normally, according to the AAP. Infants and toddlers become socialized through their interactions with parents, caregivers and siblings. Yet KidsHealth reports two-thirds of infants and toddlers spend an average of two hours a day watching TV or DVDs, which replaces interactions with other people. Little research is available on the effects of programming targeted specifically to young children such as toddlers, but the University of Michigan reports that when infants and toddlers watch TV, they are more likely to have irregular sleep schedules 24.

Stereotypes and Violence

A child’s psychological development includes learning through imitation, yet many TV programs -- even those targeted to children -- include stereotypes of people by race or sex, use violence to solve problems and show people being mean to each other. Children’s TV programming contains approximately 20 violent acts per hour, according to a research paper on the University of Maine website, and children who watch violent shows are more likely to be aggressive toward playmates, argue or disobey 4. Children might also become desensitized to violence in the real world.

Television and Language

Children learn social skills and develop proficiency in language through conversation with others, interactions in groups and play. Children under 2 who watched programs designed specifically to “teach” children or promote brain development actually learned less than those who spent time playing or interacting with other children and adults, according to the University of Maine paper 4. The study notes that TV might prevent children from taking small risks in social situations -- such as striking up a conversation with someone they don’t know -- by providing a distraction from human interaction.

Solutions and Strategies

Although some families have chosen to eliminate TV and other media entirely, most parents use other strategies. Many limit TV to two hours or less each day, do not put TV in children’s bedrooms and turn the TV off at meals. They also watch programs with their children and engage them in discussions to express their views about the subject matter. Many parents restrict shows that include violent content and encourage programs that contain positive social interactions, cooperation and caring.