In fact, the relationship between academic performance and television is not clear cut. Research has shown that children who watch a large amount of television typically do poorly in school, yet those who spend a moderate amount of time in front of the television do better than non-viewers. There is a small negative relationship between television viewing and a child's IQ. However, there are significant subgroup differences. There are several examples, such as -- a high IQ is positively related to television viewing for children until they reach their teens. In addition, the negative relationship found with television viewing and IQ is stronger for boys than girls. Another important subgroup difference that is lost in the generalization of the subject of children and television is that television viewing and reading are positively related, up to a viewing of ten hours per week ("Children & television"). In addition to the direct skills television can teach, it is also a perfect medium for indirectly teaching as well.
Socialization is an important concept children's television can teach, especially sex role and race role socialization. However, children's programming often finds females and minority races underrepresented. Additionally, stereotypes can be present that negatively affect what children learn about the world outside.
Advertisements on programming also affect what children learn indirectly, leading to increased requests to buy products, obesity and alcohol and cigarette consumption ("Children and Television," 2008).
The Negative Effects of Television on Development
For children under two years of age, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children do not watch any television. This recommendation is in light of the understanding of how critical the first two years of life are to brain development. Some surmise that television viewing, as well as other electronic media, can interfere with playing, exploring and interacting with others that are all part of healthy social and physical development. This concern continues as children get older and television takes away from time that could be spent reading, doing homework, being physically active, playing with friends, or with the family ("How TV," 2009). Excess television can be harmful in other ways as well.
Consistently spending more than four hours per day watching television has been linked to a higher incidence of obesity in children. Children who watch violent acts on television are more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior. In addition, these children are also more prone to be frightened of the world around them and believe that something bad is going to happen to them. Television also reinforces unhealthy behaviors, such as drinking and smoking. It can also reinforce racial and gender stereotypes ("How TV," 2009).
Television and Violence
To say that there is violence on television is a bit of an understatement. By age 18, the average American child has seen 200,000 acts of violence on television. One primary concern is that children may become desensitized to violence and, therefore, more aggressive (Pearl, 1984). Television programs often glorify violence, making it appear to be fun or an effective means of obtaining a goal. This violence isn't only performed by the bad guys on television; the good guys commit acts of violence as well, further graying the issue for children. To further confuse children, the bad guys aren't always held accountable for their actions, on television programs ("How TV," 2009). Not only are these bad examples to be setting for impressionable minds, but violence can also be scary for children too.
Dennis (1998) notes younger children are most likely to be frightened by violent scenes and scary images. Although they can be told that what they're viewing isn't real, it's little consolation because it's difficult for young children to distinguish between reality and fantasy. The result of this exposure can be nightmares, behavior problems, and difficulty sleeping. Even older children can find violence of television frightening. Whether the violence they're viewing is on a fictional program, a reality-show, or on the news, it can still be scary for them. As children get older, it is easier to reason with them, however. For this reason, it's important that adults discuss what's been seen on the program and reassure the child to help ease their fears ("How TV," 2009).
Television and Risky Behavior
As mentioned, another effect of television that is a concern for researchers, educators, and parents alike is the promotion of unhealthy, or risky, behavior. A two-week study in July 2005 found that during primetime hours, of 7 to 10 p.m., "sex was referenced 1.8 times, drugs 0.6 times, tobacco 0.3 times, alcohol 2.4 times, and violence/crime 6.0 times per network. Messages advocating exercise, anti-drug advocacy, and anti-smoking advocacy were each shown 0.2 times per hour; while anti-alcohol advocacy was shown 0.1 times per hour" (Suzuki & Yamamoto, 2008). One of the most commonly found places for the promotion of unhealthy behavior, outside of the television program itself, is in television commercials. Both programs and commercials are rife with depictions of risky behavior including: drinking, smoking, premarital sex, and substance abuse (Forbes, van Teigilingen, & Clark, 2007) -- each depicted as being fun and cool. To make matters worse, rarely are their discussions associated with these depictions about the consequences of these types of behaviors ("How TV," 2009). These have a direct effect on children.
Studies have found that teenagers who view a lot of sexually explicit television are more likely to initiate sex, or they are more likely to take part in sex earlier than teenagers who don't watch sexual content on television. Underage drinking too is associated with alcohol advertisements on television. As alcohol advertising has increased over the last few years, more children have been exposed to these advertisements. A Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth study, over the five-year period of 2001 to 2006, "found that youth exposure to alcohol ads on TV increased by 30%" ("How TV," 2009). Smoking too, although banned from advertisements, is portrayed frequently on television and children who watch five or more hours a day are significantly more likely to smoke than those who watch less than two hours each day.
Television and Obesity
Along with mental development, the concern of the effects television has on physical development, and specifically obesity, have been a recent focus of research for some time. A linkage has been found between excessive television watching and obesity. Children are inactive when watching television and have a tendency to snack, contributing to the problem. In addition, while watching television, they're subjected to advertisements promoting unhealthy foods, drinks and snacks. Studies have found that by reducing the amount of television watched, weight gain in children was lessened as well as body mass index. According to the American Medical Association, one factor that increases the risk of an infant from becoming an overweight child is allowing infants to watch television (Rowland & Wallace, 2009). This is not just an American phenomenon.
Chang and Nayga (2009) studied the rising childhood obesity in Taiwan. Noting that this trend was becoming a major public health issue, the researchers examined the effect of television viewing, by children, and fast-food consumption, on obesity in children. A nationwide survey was conducted and it was found that television viewing hours and fast-food consumption were positively correlated, leading to obesity.
Over the last half century, television viewing for children has increased dramatically. From a limited number of children-centric programs shown on a weekly basis, today there are entire channels devoted to solely children's programming. In addition, children now have access to hundred of other channels, 24-hours per day. There are both positive and negative effects of this viewing outside of the classroom. From teaching children specific educational skills and social skills, to encouraging literacy, with limits television can be of benefit to cognitively and socially developing children. However, television has also been linked to increased obesity, poor grades, increased violence, and increased likelihood that the child will partake in risky behaviors. For these reasons, parents must understand that, in moderation and with the right programming, television can be a valuable tool; however, unmonitored and unlimited access can result in significant negative effects.
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