Television and the family

The week of April 21-27 is this year's Turn Off the TV week. Read below to see how important it is to set limits on TV watching for you and your family.

On average, people living in the US watch more than four hours of TV a day, or two full months of TV a year. But how does all this time in front of the television affect us and our society? There is a lot of evidence showing that watching too much television can be unhealthy. Watching too much TV can cut into family time, encourage violence, and lead to unhealthy lifestyles and obesity.

How TV affects your child

There are many ways that watching TV affects your child's life. When your child sits down to watch TV, consider the following:

Screen Time (includes computer Screen time)

Children in the US watch about 4 hours of TV every day. Watching movies on tape and playing video games only adds to time spent in front of the TV screen. It may be tempting to use television, movies, and video games to keep your child busy, but your child needs to spend as much time growing and learning as possible. Playing, reading, and spending time with friends and family are much healthier activities than sitting in front of a TV screen.


On TV, children see many commercials for unhealthy foods, such as candy, snacks, sugary cereals, high fat foods and drinks. These are usually played during children's programs. One study showed that 202 commercials for junk foods were played during just one morning of Saturday cartoons. Commercials almost never give information about the foods children should eat to keep healthy.

Research shows that the more television children watch, the more likely they are to snack between meals, eat foods shown on TV, and try to get their parents to buy unhealthy foods.

Children and families who watch TV during meals are more likely to eat salty, fatty, and sugary foods and more total calories during those meals. This greatly increases the risk of being overweight.


Studies show that children who have more than 2 hours of "screen time" per day are at a much greater risk of being overweight. Why - because you burn less calories watching TV than any other time when you are awake. Some researchers say that people burn less calories watching TV than they do sleeping.

Most Americans (including children) do not get enough physical exercise. They do not spend as much time running, jumping, and getting the exercise they need. We spend most of our free time watching television, which promotes obesity and its related illnesses such as diabetes. Turning off the TV is a great way to improve your family's health. Cutting back on television is a great way to find the time to play outside, or take a walk.

Because children are influenced by what their parents do, it is important that whatever effort you make to change your habits, that you do it as a family. This way, turning off the TV becomes a great family effort, a way to bond and spend time together. Use your time to exercise as a family or prepare healthy meals with the children as assistants.


If your child watches 3 to 4 hours of noneducational TV per day, he will have seen about 8,000 murders on TV by the time he finishes grade school. 90 percent of children have seen violence on TV that made them feel "scared" or "upset." Children who see violence on television may not understand that real violence hurts and kills people. Even if the "good guys" use violence, children may think that it is okay to use force.

Many television programs do not show the real life consequences of violence. The number of violent acts seen on TV by children greatly increases the chance that the child will be violent or aggressive when they grow up. It is best not to let your child watch violent programs and violent cartoons.


Television exposes children to adult behaviors, like sex. But TV shows that contain sexual activity often do not show the risks and results of that activity. These include teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. On TV, sexual activity is often shown as fun, exciting and without any risks. Your child may copy what he or she sees on TV in order to feel more grown up or because of peer pressure.

Alcohol, tobacco and other drugs

Young people today are surrounded by TV and magazine messages that say drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes or cigars are normal activities. These messages don't say that alcohol and tobacco harm people and may lead to death. Beer and wine are some of the most advertised products on television. TV programs and commercials often show people who drink and smoke as healthy, energetic, and successful. They almost never show the harmful results - such as lung cancer, liver failure, drunk driving and deadly accidents. It is up to you to teach your child the truth about the dangers of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.

Commercials and their influence

The average child sees more than 20,000 commercials each year. Ads may try to convince your child that having a certain toy or eating a certain food will make him happy or popular. You can help your children understand how ads use pictures, music, and sound to entertain and influence choices - even bad choices. Kids need to know that ads try to convince people to buy things they may not need or cannot afford.

A word about TV for toddlers

Children of all ages are constantly learning new things. The first 2 years of life are especially important in the growth and development of your child's brain. During this time, children need good, positive interaction with other children and adults. Too much TV can negatively affect early brain development. This is especially true at younger ages, when learning to talk and play with others is so important.

Until more research is done about the effects of TV on very young children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend television for children age 2 or younger. For older children, the Academy recommends no more than 1 to 2 hours per day of educational, nonviolent programs.


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