TV Has a Powerful Impact on Young People

Children and teens in the US spend an average of 3 to 4 hours a day watching TV. They spend more time sitting in front of electronic screens (TVs, computers, and video games) than they do on any other activity besides sleeping. Some of this time may be educational and entertaining. But it may also be full of images of violence, sexuality, stereotypes, drugs, and alcohol. Kids are also bombarded with TV advertisements on products they do not need, including unhealthy foods and snacks.

Research shows the impact of TV on children and teens is mostly negative. Violence on TV has been linked to real-life aggressive or violent behavior by kids. Many studies have also shown that the more TV kids watch, the more likely they are to become obese. Obesity is linked to several major health problems, including asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and sleep apnea (a sleep disorder) among young people. In addition, kids who watch a lot of TV are likely to read less than other students. They are more likely to get lower grades in school. They may also be more likely to smoke, use alcohol or drugs, have a poorer body concept and self-image, and be sexually active as teens.

Parents Can Make a Difference

Parents can shape how TV affects their kids by setting limits on how much they watch and what they watch, by talking to them, and by setting a good example.

Set Limits on TV and Other Media for Your Teen or Pre-Teen

  • Set rules on how much TV they can watch. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 1 to 2 hours a day of quality programming (and no TV for kids under 2). Consider a weekly limit, too. Avoid letting children watch large blocks of TV (i.e. 4 hours straight) by having them choose specific programs to watch.
  • Set rules about when they can watch TV. For example, no TV until homework or chores are finished; no TV late at night or on a school night; no TV during dinner, etc.
  • Set limits about what they can watch. Teens can handle more serious programs than younger kids can. But it is still important to limit the amount of violent, sexual, or stereotyping material they are exposed to. Get to know the TV rating system or use the TV guide to help you decide what is okay. When you can, watch shows with your teen and discuss what they are seeing with them.
  • Help them balance TV with other activities. Don't just tell them to watch less. Encourage them to spend time finding and doing other activities they enjoy such as: reading, music/arts, sports, hobbies, outdoor play, social activities, family activities, etc.
  • Turn the TV off during dinner. Try using this time for talking and being together as a family.
  • Turn the TV off when nobody is watching a program. Avoid using the TV as background "white" noise. This increases the amount of time kids are exposed to negative images and advertising. Try playing music instead.
  • Keep TVs out of kids' bedrooms.Kids who have a TV in their room are more likely to spend more time watching TV, watch programs they otherwise wouldn't be allowed to, stay up late and get less sleep, and be socially isolated. They are also much more likely to become obese.

Watch What Your Teen or Pre-Teen Watches on TV and Other Media

  • Know what they are watching. Pay attention to what is on the screen. Also, be aware of what your teen is watching when you are not around. Many teens and pre-teens report that they watch different shows when they are away from their parents. Talk to parents of your kid's friends, too; let them know your expectations about TV.
  • Watch TV with your kid.Watch at least one episode of their favorite programs. Make sure you think it is okay. Surf the Internet together or play their video games with them, as well.
  • Turn it off if it is inappropriate or offensive.Teach your children to do the same.
  • Set a computer block on inappropriate Internet sites.Set a block on sexually explicit sites and discuss which sites are permitted for your child to use.
  • Encourage kids to watch more positive programs.It may be easier to get your teen to watch something else, rather than limit how much they watch, at first. Use videos and DVDs to record or show high-quality, educational programs for them to watch.
  • Talk with your teen or pre-teen about what's on TV. When you watch a program together, talk about what themes it shows. Make links between the show and personal experiences, books, history, or places of interest. Use the show as a launching point to talk about difficult issues like racial stereotypes, gender stereotypes, violence, sexuality, or drugs. Don't be afraid to express your opinions and values.
  • Beware of advertising.Talk about TV ads particularly with your pre-teen. Help them understand what ads are trying to sell, how they do this, and how they can be misleading. Who is behind the ads? What methods are they using to "lure" kids?

Model Good TV Behavior

  • Limit your own TV watching. Try to watch less or watch more educational programs. Shows with more violent or sexual content should be viewed when your younger children are not around. Remember, your kids watch you and will copy what you do.
  • Don't make TV seem more valuable than it is. Avoid using TV as a reward or punishment (unless it is punishment specifically for breaking a rule about TV itself.)
  • If you or your kid snacks while watching TV, try eating healthier snacks. While sitting in front to the TV, many kids and adults eat unhealthy snacks. There are also many ads that make foods loaded with fat or sugar look good. Try to resist the temptation. Eat something good for you and your family like unsalted unbuttered popcorn, vegetables, or fruit.

More Resources:

National Institute on Media and the Family

School Accountability for Learning and Teaching (SALT)
Data on the amount of time Rhode Island students spend watching TV, on the computer, and playing video games.
1) Select the school, district, or entire state; 2) select a school year; 3) select "Student Reports"; 4) scroll down near the bottom of the page and select one of the "Computer Use and TV Viewing" options.

1 National Institute on Media and the Family. 2002. "Fact sheet: Children and television."
2 American Academy of Pediatrics. 2001. " Policy statement: Children, adolescents, and television." Pediatrics 107(2): 423-426.
3 National Institute on Media and the Family. "Fact sheet: Television and obesity among children."
4 Gortmaker, S. 2003. "Television and the obesity epidemic." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion teleconference. December 11, 2003.
5 American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology. 2001. "Facts for Families #54: Children and Watching TV."
6 National Institute on Media and the Family. 2002. "Fact sheet: Television's effect on reading and academic achievement."
7 National Institute on Media and the Family. 2002. "Fact sheet: Media's effect on girls: Body image and gender identity."
8 Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. 2003. "Researchers link cigarette smoking in adolescents with excessive television viewing." Research Activities, No. 269: 12-13.