Earlier this week, CNN and Health.com published an article asking whether ‘secondhand’ TV was taking a toll on kids.  Some of the key points from the article include that: 

  • Young children in the US watch about 80 minutes of television directly per day, on average.
  • The average child between the ages of 8 months and 8 years absorbs nearly four hours of so-called background or “second hand” TV each day. 
  • Indirect TV exposure may be detracting from play, homework and family time, with clear consequences for kids’ well-being.
  • A handful of smaller studies have linked background TV to shorter attention spans, lower quality parent-child interactions, and poorer academic performance. For instance, as a toddler is developing and learning how to play, background television is decreasing their attention to the play at hand.
  • Parents should turn off the TV when no one is watching, and make sure the TV stays off during homework time, meal times and bedtime.
  • Even more important, parents need to get the TV out of the bedroom, because there is overwhelming evidence that having a television in a child’s bedroom is not a good thing.  Children who have a TV in their room have a higher risk of obesity, poor sleeping habits and lower academic achievement.

Additionally, I would strongly encourage parents to be aware that the TV can not only serve as a distraction to children throughout the day, but it also serves as an important educator and influencer in their lives.  On a recent Doctor Oz show, one mom shared that her five-year-old son overheard a show segment on orgasms, leading to some tricky conversations between the mom and her son.  I have talked to so many parents who wonder where their kids have learned certain terms or behaviors, and more often than not, they have absorbed behaviors, “adult” words and sexual and mature content from what their parents are watching.  Remember that just because your children are really young, or in the other room, the content that you watch does not just “go over their heads”.  Be considerate both of the amount of TV you expose your children to and the nature of the content that you expose your children to—both directly and indirectly.