I know it is recommended that kids not watch TV till they are at least two years old, and even then that TV viewing be pretty minimal.

However, I wonder what are the actual detriments to kids older than two? I know too much TV impedes children's time to engage in other important activities, but What are the scientifically backed detriments? There are actually a number of questions that inspire this question:

  1. Is looking at a computer monitor the same as viewing the TV?

  2. What about Participating in games on the computer or on a gaming system?

  3. How about watching an older sibling participate in these activities (supposing the content being viewed is age appropriate. . .

  4. Does the detriment still apply when they are teens? Adulthood?

I don't expect answers to specifically address all of my example questions, I'm just trying to make the line of thinking clear here - I'm not asking about content and anecdotal reasoning, but real, scientifically backed evidence about what the harm really is for toddlers, school-aged kids and on up the ages and is really "screen time" in general that should be of concern or only TV?

Please realize there is a question that addresses concerns that apply to infants Is TV Harmful to My Infant's Development and one that addresses eyesight concerns of toddlers that watch and sit too close where I feel these questions are already answered sufficiently. I understand and see that there are concerns regarding social interaction and language development that do specifically apply to the youngest of us. I'm wondering about other types of impacts and impacts for the older age groups.

  • <comments removed> Please do not use comments to answer these questions. Comments are designed to help improve the question or to request clarification. Please use the 'answer' function instead. Thanks. Commented Feb 17, 2014 at 17:06

4 Answers 4


TV overuse kills imagination

Television provides an almost complete experience for us and our children. It provides images and sounds, which are probably the source of 90% of stimulai. When we watch tv we are fully immersed in it, but we are only the receivers. We do not add anything of our own to the experience.

When a child watches TV, it is actually not necessary for him to think. There is no place left for imagination. No space to invent something, to make things up, to plot a story, to actually play. TV is what it is - it's an easy time consumer. And it's not specifically easy for our children, since they engage in tv-less activities as happily, but for us. It's easy to let our children watch tv and be rid of them for some time.

What is the main problem with television? That it is overused. A little of everything is hardly ever bad. But a child spending 3-5-7 ? hours a day watching TV - that's pathology. A 20 minute evening cartoon won't kill an imagination of a boy who plays for hours with his toys, who builds castles or a girl who becomes a princess of her dolls' kingdom. Not doing those things and letting 90% of "activity" be watching TV - will most likely kill imagination and destroy creativity.

Should we let our children watch TV?

I think that children below, say, 3 years old, should not be allowed to watch TV for extended periods of time, perhaps even not at all. As far as I know, children are capable of playing on their own for some time, even my 3 month old daughter can sometimes spend 30 minutes playing with her toys on an educational mat.

After we decide we want to let our children watch TV, we still shouldn't them watch TV(!). We should turn the TV only for movies and cartoons of our own choice and turn it off after they're finished. There's plenty of titles available on DVD/BR or even on the Internet. We can and should choose what our children watch.

And, perhaps most importantly, to make watching TV an important and beneficial experience, we should talk to our children after the show or movie and see what they have understood and learned of it. I think that one can have a really "decent" converstation with one's kid after watching Lion King or Cinderella or any proper fable.

Are Computer games any better than TV?

I'd also like to mention computer games as an alternative to TV. I think that it's similar and may have similar effects. Out of those two, however, I'd choose computer games any time. While they also provide a complete experience and leave little place for imagination, they always require interaction and sometimes even require creativity and thought. They is research that shows that computer games boost some skills, improve reaction times, support planning-ahead or even introduce more physical activity.

In case of computer games it is as important for us, parents, to choose the games our children play as it is important for us to choose what they watch.

I am no expert on the matter. I have shared my thoughts since as @RobertCartaino wrote I apparently can't do that in comments.


Here is my revised answer to your question:

Without conducting a study of my own or writing a post-graduate level research paper on the topic, it is hard to answer the questions you have asked. As a parent who got fed up with her children's heroin-like addiction to the zombifying effects of television and promptly cancelled our cable TV subscription, I am very interested in the "scientific" proof that television, computer/video games, and other screen related activities are indeed as harmful as my instincts tell me they are.

I've scoured the web, and developed a hunch that the harm lies in the suppression of the DMN (Default Mode Network), or, the "resting state" of the brain. This is where your mind "goes" when it wanders. A link here. It's an article about the default mode network with references worth exploring. I haven't found a direct link between watching tv and the DMN in children but there is a recent study done on adults that illustrates how blinking momentarily activates the DMN, and that people adjust the rate of blinking based on content (they don't want to miss anything). Interestingly, even young children are capable of this too, as evidenced in a study that examined the differences in blink patterns of autistic and "normal" toddlers.

To be clear, the brain is not doing nothing while in default mode...it is engaged in internalizing experiences into memories, social cognition, and making plans for the future. Some of our most creative, profound thoughts occur during default mode thinking. Most importantly, the DMN is thought to be responsible for making us the social creatures that we are- which, if suppressed too often, could contribute to a lack of feeling "connected," at the least, with the world, which may be why studies show that the more TV people watch, the sadder they are prone to be.

As for computer screens (where one might be surfing the web, reading articles, etc...) - Dr. Larry Rosen's article "How Much Technology Should You Let Your Child Use" in the Huffington Post points to studies that show that the mind is overstimulated by constantly switching between multiple screens/tasks. It could be argued that computer and video games would have the same effect.

I hope that this at the very least provides a few good rabbit holes to fall into on your quest to determine the exact detriment that TV/Screens time has on children, and, humanity.

  • I will add links to some of the studies I found in regards to the relationship between blinking and attention as soon as I'm on my laptop again.
    – Jax
    Commented Feb 17, 2014 at 4:38
  • When the calamities are over. Please add the links and undelete! Commented Feb 17, 2014 at 17:06
  • calamities are far from over...but here is some food for thought...with links, which, BTW took me longer to figure out than all the rest. >:( I hope that my statement in the first paragraph of my loathing of TV/Screen time for kids adequately meets any bias "disclosure" requirements? Wink wink!
    – Jax
    Commented Feb 19, 2014 at 5:35
  • @Dariusz thanks for the assist with the link. I was ready to throw in the towel!
    – Jax
    Commented Feb 19, 2014 at 5:48
  • @Jax no problem, glad to help. I sensed your frustration;)
    – Dariusz
    Commented Feb 19, 2014 at 6:10

Even if I weren't concerned with what's on the TV, I'd worry about what a child is not doing while watching TV. There is a lot to do, a lot to learn, and a lot socialization a child needs to pick up. There are reading skills and writing, drawing and creative play a child needs, none of which happen in front of a TV. Computer games? Bah. Limited, scripted scenarios in most cases. Counting rolly-pollies and lady bugs in the yard is a better use of a child's time!


Is looking at a computer monitor the same as viewing the TV?

Depends on what is on the computer monitor.

What about Participating in games on the computer or on a gaming system?

This is more active than the passive act of watching TV, so marginally better for the gray matter--though note that plenty of games are 'barely' active.

How about watching an older sibling participate in these activities (supposing the content being viewed is age appropriate. . .

We're back to passive entertainment again.

Does the detriment still apply when they are teens? Adulthood?

The difference is in brain development. A still developing brain can benefit a whole lot from active engagement.

So, it's not that passive content on screens are BAD for you, but rather that take time away from many more things that are GOOD for the brain.

Some thoughts from the Mayo Clinic:


  • downvoter...care to comment?
    – DA01
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 22:11

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .