The problem with children watching television

Television is practically like wallpaper for many families with children.  During the week, most U.S. children spend at least three hours a day in front of a set, and four hours on weekend days—and that includes preschoolers.[1]

So, what’s the problem?

Television watching is associated with a number of negative psychological, social, school achievement, and health outcomes for children. Of course, with only 24 hours in a day, time spent watching TV is time NOT spent in other activities research has established are beneficial for children—such as reading for pleasure, eating meals together as a family, getting physical exercise, or participating in organized after-school activities.  Child Trends tracks the latest data on children’s television habits here.

Children who have a TV in their bedroom tend to watch more, and are more likely to be overweight.  Your child doesn’t have his or her own TV?  According to CDC, he or she is in the minority; just over half of six- to 17-year-olds in 2007 had a TV in their bedroom.  Interestingly, there is wide variation across the states in these percentages: from a low of 24 percent in Utah, to a high of 69 percent in Mississippi.  What’s up with that?

Based on a variety of evidence, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children watch no more than two hours per day, and that children younger than two watch no TV.[2]  And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) decided to include in its Children’s Food Environment State Indicator Report, 2011 two measures related to TV watching.[3]

Come to think of it, these days, what’s a television?  We can download and view television content on a computer, and on a variety of mobile devices. Where children are concerned, we need to ask, is all this screen time a good thing?

Check out more information on children and living screen-free at the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood’s Screen Free Weekwebsite.

-David Murphey
Senior Research Scientist, Child Trends


[1] Gutnick, A. L., Robb, M., Takeuchi, L., and Kotler, J. (2010). Always connected: The new digital media habits of young children.  New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.

[2] American Academy of Pediatrics. (2010). Policy statement—media education.  Council on Communications and Media. Pediatrics, 126(5), 1-6.

[3] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Children’s food environment state indicator report, 2011.  Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/downloads/ChildrensFoodEnvironment.pdf

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “The problem with children watching television

  1. It is crazy that many kids have TV’s in their rooms and watch 3 hours/day during the week and 4 hours/day on the weekend! Does that time include all the time they play video games? Why don’t kids go outside and play anymore. When I was a kids we played outside, we didn’t play video games and watch TV. My parents let us watch cartoon Saturday morning and the Disney family movie Sunday nights. What a difference!

    • Trend Lines

      Thanks for your comment. And to answer your question, no, the time watching television does not include video game time. The times have certainly changed!

  2. Silbia

    Family time is scarce now a days. Parents are too busy taking care of their own careers, sometimes out of need but not always.
    Also, having more comodity in life isn’t producing a better life as it was intended. Instead we are seeing a big problem with obesity and other health problems in our children.

  3. Pingback: Early years important for building healthy nutrition and exercise habits | Trend Lines

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