Is TV really bad for your child?

I remember as a child, my parents would warn me that ‘watching too much TV fries your brain cells’. I used to wake up early to watch the kids shows before school and race back home after school to watch the afterschool kids shows. I watched a lot of TV but still managed to get a degree and learnt an impressive number of facts from the news and documentaries I had encountered on TV. That is just my personal experience, but what does science say?

Paediatrician, Dimitri Christakis, showed the psychological and physiological effects that television can have on a child’s brain (2006). He carried out a study which showed that a child’s prolonged exposure to rapid image changes during the critical period of the brain development can precondition the mind to expect high levels of stimulation leading to inattention in later life.

The more television children watched before the age of 3, the more likely they were to have attention problems by the age of 7. For each hour of TV watched each day, their chances of having attention issued increased by 10%. This was compared to cognitive stimulation. In situations where parents read to their children or took them to places like the zoo, their likelihood of having attention problems later in life decreased. For each hour a day spent on cognitive activities, the likelihood reduced by 30%.

According to the Academy of Paediatricians, children under 2 years old should not be watching any TV. When a baby is sat in front of a television screen for long periods of time, it can delay their language and motor skills. This is highlighted by the exampled that a television or ipad is a 2D, whilst a ball or building block is a 3D shape. The child can explore the dimensions of the shape, encouraging them to be spatially aware and explore their environment.

However, it’s worth noting that not all television programmes are harmful for children. Another study by Christakis (2006) highlighted the importance of the programme being watched by the child. He found that educational programmes posed no threat to the attention span of children in later life, having 0% affect. On the other hand, entertainment and violent TV programmes increased the risk of attention problems by 60% and 110% respectively.

Furthermore, television programmes that have an educational element such as counting or learning the alphabet can have a positive impact on a child’s learning. With all things, it is about making a conscious decision to balance television with a healthy lifestyle. You can let you child watch television that will benefit their learning or interact with them. A study found that in households where the TV was constantly on, parents and their children exchanged only about 200 words compared to 1000 when the TV was off or not present.


What are your TV habits and how can you aid your child’s learning through the use of TV and other screen based devices?

We have a Parents for Life course which raises the awareness on the importance of positive parenting and strategies on how to enhance your relationship with your child through key life stages.

We have an Increasing Wellbeing and Inclusion in Early Years Settings course



Dimitri Christakis and Fedrick J.Zimmerman. (2006). The Elephant In The Living Room: Make Television Work for Your Kids

Roberta M. Berns (2010). Child, Family, School, Community: Socialization and Support



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