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I've got two kids, boy 3YO and a girl 5YO.

We find that on a weekend, when they play around the house for two hours (with parental involvement) they end up reasonably good natured (although somewhat chaotic - normal for kids).

When they sit in front of a TV for two hours, they come away grumpy with tendency to bicker and talk back.

I get that tuning out is fun, and having to tune back is in work. The behaviour seems to be worse than that.

My question is: Why does 2 hours in front of the TV make my kids grumpy?

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--- Disclaimer: Some might feel this answer to be hard to digest. ---

Have you ever thought about what is happening in your kid's brains while they are watching TV?
I mean, from a neuroscientistic perspective?

Basically a fireworks of impressions without any chance to influence what is happening. A child in front of TV will absorb a flood of pictures, sounds etc. in a quick succession. Yes, there is a story and yes, often something to learn, but there is no break, no time to reflect and no chance to influence the speed of the presentation or ask questions.

You might think your children are "zoning out" or "relaxing" in front of TV, but actually they are not. Watching TV is hard work for a child's brain. Of course they will love watching TV, exactly because of the amount of inpressions - a brain loves input. Unfortunately, the filter mechanisms most of us adults have are not developed yet, especially in younger children. Is your child able to get up and walk away while the show is running? Excellent. Most aren't. While the TV is on, they will remain "hypnotized" in front of this box. Hey, I know adults who can't ignore a TV - and the fact that our brain is wired to focus on movement doesn't help, either.

After TV time, the brain will be exhausted (and somewhat "neurally scrambeled" due to the amount of impressions that couldn't be "stored" or absorbed properly) but still in "rapid input mode", while the body will likely be craving exercise. And in my experience that's a recipe for disaster. The pent-up energy has to go somewhere while mental control mechanisms are down due to tiredness. And this combined equals a child in "overdrive" with a really bad mood - or bickering, grumpy brats.

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    I don't doubt these claims, as they do make sense to me, but I'd really love to see some sources, especially just for further reading. – user11394 May 9 '15 at 13:50
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    @CreationEdge: Try the works of Manfred Spitzer. (I only have sources in German, sorry.) He's a German Psychiatrist and Psychologist and is considered the authority on educational neuroscience in Germany (and world-wide). He has a knack of explaining complicated things in an easy way and I met him personally a few years ago. I'm sure some of his work is available in english, too. – Stephie May 9 '15 at 14:01
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    @CreationEdge: And I just found an interview here. – Stephie May 9 '15 at 14:05
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    @bjb568: Usually I hate noise. The disclaimer here is fully intended, though: Some parents may feel this post to be a form of criticism of their parenting style (which it isn't!) and re-thinking the (ab-)use of TV as electronic babysitter and reflecting on how something our kids seem to enjoy may actually cause harm (if only temporarily) may be unsettling. I know that I'm touching a sensitive subject here. – Stephie May 9 '15 at 19:03
  • One paper that references many possibly relevant research into the neuroscience going on is Facing the Screen Dilemma, published by the organization Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment. – Acire Jun 16 '15 at 2:12

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