What Role Does Television Play in Child Development?

Discover the positive and negative impacts TV plays in child development

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It is estimated that children between the ages of five and 16 watch an average of 38 hours of television per week. But, is this entirely a bad thing?

Child development is multifaceted and influenced by countless experiences, but with so much time spent in front of a screen, what are the possible consequences for young minds?

So, let’s take a closer look at the intersection of television and child development.

Positive Impacts on Child

We hear a lot about the negative aspects of children watching television, but there are some useful attributes of child-centred and educational content.

A Love of Learning

Educational programming can have positive effects on a child’s desire to learn. A study on pre-school children discovered that watching appropriately-designed and presented television programmes can teach children specific attention skills, as well as encourage verbal responses and enhanced comprehension with repeated viewings. Those watching the show were more involved, responding to questions and engaging with the educational aspect of the show, rather than just sitting and not absorbing.

Furthermore, according to Daniel Anderson and Elizabeth Lorch, children of preschool age have the ability to make the distinction between age-appropriate programming and commercials, and focus more of their attention on the former. It has also been found that early exposure to educational television has a positive correlation with academic achievement, leisure-time reading, and extracurricular activity participation.

However, whilst moderate television viewing does seem to have a beneficial impact on academic achievement, another study concluded that too much time in front of the screen has the opposite effect. Therefore limiting screen time and choosing programming that’s made just for kids, particularly for younger children is a good approach.

Understanding the World

Programming that is tailor-made to children can, according to Dr Patricia Edgar and Dr Don Edgar, “stimulate a child’s imagination and open up the infinite opportunities that life presents. Like good books, good television programmes can extend children’s understanding of their world.”

Television allows children to see and experience things they might not otherwise have the opportunity to. For example, learning about other cultures and parts of the world, seeing animals in the wild rather than in a zoo setting, and discovering perspectives that are different to their own. All of this can enrich the life of children and pique their interest in further learning.

Communication Skills and
Readiness for School

There is evidence to suggest that for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, moderate exposure to television can help in the development of their communication skills. In addition, Feng Din and Josephine Calao concluded that curriculum-focused content promotes both academic and social development where they could be lacking. Samuel Ball and Gerry Ann Bogatz found that Sesame Street, with its focus on education and community, delivered in a fun, age-appropriate format, helped children to develop the skills required to succeed at school.

Negative Impacts on Child

Educational programming and age-appropriate content can be useful in encouraging positive childhood development, but excess consumption should be avoided, because then it’s doing more harm than good.

Time Away from Other Enriching

Whilst there are potential benefits of moderate television viewing, too much time in front of a screen prevents children from engaging in other activities, namely going outside, being active, reading, and spending quality time with other people.

Low Activity and Obesity

Related to the point above, an excessive amount of time watching television prevents children from being active and getting their daily requirement of exercise. It can even contribute to obesity in childhood and adolescence, a growing concern in the modern world. In turn, this can have a detrimental impact on self-esteem, confidence, and social development.

Access to Inappropriate Content

Not all television programming is appropriate for children. A study found that violence and other unsuitable content is not only upsetting for kids, but it can have a detrimental effect on cognitive development and academic achievement, meaning that even from a young age, what they watch still matters.

How Much TV Should I Allow My
Child to Watch?

It’s important for parents to strike a healthy balance when deciding how much television their children should watch. According to the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP), children under the age of 18 months should not watch television, and from 18 months to 5 years, screen time should be limited to 1 hour per day. It’s also best to focus young kids’ viewing on educational content that enriches their knowledge and skills.

For kids age 5 to 18, limits should be decided by parents, although the AAP does recommend switching off the TV at mealtimes, watching shows together as a family activity, and removing TVs from bedrooms, as well as setting aside time to spend together on activities that don’t involve a screen.

Ultimately, watching TV can be a worthwhile part of the complex matrix of early development. It’s just one aspect of childhood that, when used appropriately, can help enrich young minds and encourage creativity, social skills, and a thirst for knowledge.

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