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Can Television Be Harmful to Children?

The Answer Is Maybe - Learn Why

By

Updated June 26, 2014

Brother's Watching TV
Chris Stein/Digital Vision/Getty Images
While riding on a field trip bus, I overheard a sixth grade child talking incessantly to another child about a horror movie he had recently watched on television. When the conversation turned gory, I intervened and told the child to find something else to talk about. Soccer won out. For a few minutes anyway. Then the child went back to the movie. I intervened again. Throughout the day, I heard the same child talking about the movie at least five different times and heard other counselors jumping in to rescue the conversation. I was struck by the enthusiasm this child had for the movie and for describing in morbid detail the various deaths in the movie. It was disturbing that this child fixated so much on this to the extent that he truly seemed unable to talk about anything else.

It is a well established fact that children are affected by exposure to what they watch on television. However, it is also true that positive television programming can have a positive effect on children's values and behaviors. Negative program teaches negative values and may cause children to become desensitized to violence and sexuality by watching programs with violent and sexual content. The fact that television may contribute to violent behavior, inappropriate sexual activities and other behavior problems is not new news, and yet the message doesn't seem to get through to the larger society. Negative television programs can promote the idea that selfishness and insensitivity are common traits that can be humorous. Many programs depict teens being disrespectful to adults as funny. Aggression, insults, drug use, and instant gratification are dominant messages in many television programs.

Parents can and should teach their children to be wise consumers of television programming. Parents can empower their children to be responsible viewers by limiting viewing time and encouraging healthy alternative activities such as outdoor play, crafts, and family game nights. Parents can watch television with their children and help them pick out programs that promote positive values. Keep some favorite videos on hand for when there are no appropriate programs on television for children.

Parents can teach older children (tweens and teens) to be aware of the messages they receive in television program. They can watch television with their children and keep note of violent acts, drug use, problem behaviors, and sexual references. Parents should discuss the content with their children and why the programming is inappropriate. Eventually, teens and tweens will be able to discern for themselves what types of programming is not appropriate and will understand why they are off limits. While parents may not always be able to monitor older children's television choices, teaching them what to watch out for and why will begin to teach them to make positive choices on their own.

Parents can also teach children to be critical of commercials. Watching commercials together, they can discuss ways advertisers try to influence people by using special effects, unrealistic depictions of products, music, actions of actors, and more. Parents should ensure that children understand that the purpose of advertising is to sell a product, and commercials should always be viewed with a critical eye.

While the possible negatives of television are clear, no discussion of the media would be complete without acknowledging that television is a tool. The choices of programming and the amount of time children spend watching it are the true areas of potential problems. Many television programs have exceptional educational value and can reinforce learning in ways that simply cannot be accomplished through static media like books. Children can learn valuable academic skills and social skills by watching quality educational programs. They can learn positive family values by watching programs with good role models. The important element in whether television viewing becomes a positive or negative learning experience is, as with many things, parent involvement and guidance.

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