I've tried to find out whether or not TV-watching is harmful or not for a child's development but haven't really found any good sources. Any tips on studies etc highly appreciated.

  • 2
    I thought that this might have been answered over on Skeptics.SE but no suitable question exists -- it might be relevant to post it there? (Although cross-posting is generally to be avoided.) Commented Aug 18, 2011 at 7:24
  • @TorbenGundtofte-Bruun As written this question would be off-topic on Skeptics.SE, which is for "notable claims". You would have to find a specific claim about the bad effects of TV and ask if it is true. Commented Sep 4, 2020 at 9:10
  • This is a bit meta, but two issues to watch out for. 1; correlation = causation. A correlation between TV watching and X does not mean that TV watching causes X. 2; one-sided statistics. The assumption is that TV is either neutral or bad, so positive effects of TV are not tested for or detected. Also a technical issue: use of one-sided statistics makes it more likely that a statistical artefact is thought to be real. stats.idre.ucla.edu/other/mult-pkg/faq/general/… Commented Sep 4, 2020 at 9:16

2 Answers 2


I'm not sure about a consensus, but here are links that summarize research on the effects of television on various aspects of child development.


The results reported here indicate "negative associations between television viewing before age three years and adverse cognitive outcomes at ages six and seven years."

"By contrast, this analysis suggests that television viewing at ages three to five years has a more beneficial effect, at least for the outcomes of reading recognition and short-term memory. The researchers found no beneficial effect on mathematics outcomes or reading comprehension."

At http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2009/09/27/the-debilitating-effects-of-tv-on-children/ outcomes from 3 different sources are cited below.

  • Those who watched three or more hours a day were at even greater risk for “subsequent attention and learning difficulties,’’ and were the least likely to go to college.

  • “Increased time spent watching television during childhood and adolescence was associated with a lower level of educational attainment by early adulthood.’’

  • Kids who watch TV are more likely to smoke, to be overweight, to suffer from sleep difficulties, and to have high cholesterol.

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    Don't confuse correlation with causation! Commented Aug 23, 2011 at 22:42

One of BabyCenter's bloggers has several entries about TV and children. Most of this information is starting to get quite old, however.

This post covers a study about television in children:

Leaving the television on as background while children are playing disrupts children’s development, even if the television is tuned to adult shows and the children do not understand, or are not interested in, the content. The background noise and distraction of parents’ TV-viewing disrupts play behavior and may negatively affect young children’s early cognitive development and ability to focus their attention.

She's also blogged about the American Academy of Pediatrics' TV watching guidelines. (The link she provides is dead now.)

This is what the policy says: "While certain television programs may be promoted to this age group, research on early brain development shows that babies and toddlers have a critical need for direct interactions with parents and other significant care givers for healthy brain growth and the development of appropriate social, emotional, and cognitive skills."

The AAP statement on media education also suggests parents create an “electronic media-free” environment in children’s rooms, and avoid using media as an electronic babysitter. In addition, it recommends pediatricians incorporate questions about media into routine child health visits, as education can reduce harmful media effects.

The AAP also has studies about television and videogame exposure and their effects on development.

RESULTS: Exposure to television and video games was associated with greater attention problems. The association of television and video games to attention problems in the middle childhood sample remained significant when earlier attention problems and gender were statistically controlled. The associations of screen media and attention problems were similar across media type (television or video games) and age (middle childhood or late adolescent/early adult).

Finally, Babycenter has a more recently blog post about this topic:

The real question is this. Is there anything intrinsically bad about watching TV? Does the very act of watching something on the tube cause harm? If you take a look at the published research, there seem to be two areas of concern:

  1. Watching TV at night can interfere with sleep. In addition to the obvious problems (e.g., kids having trouble falling asleep after a scary movie) there is also the problem of artificial lighting. Night time exposure to artificial light (from lamps, computer screens, and televisions) interferes with the production of melatonin, the hormone of drowsiness.
  2. Some researchers wonder if fast edits—those quick camera angle shifts and abrupt changes of scene—can program young minds for short attention spans. It sounds plausible, but the jury is still out.

For example, an experimental study presented kids with short films—some featuring fast edits, others slow edits. Afterwards, children were tested on their ability to pay attention. Researchers found differences, but the “fast edit” kids weren’t always at a disadvantage. Some kids actually performed better on the attention task after sitting through the fast edit films.

However, as someone who currently loves TV and pretty much always has, I will say this much: it is up to parents to monitor what their kids are watching and how much of it they are. I was not allowed to watch SNL or any programs at 9pm until I was in middle school, and my afternoon television intake was limited to 3 hours in the summer and 2 hours during the school year. I also had to be in bed by a certain time, but I was allowed to read for an hour after that time. My parents kept an eye on the programs I watched (I watched a lot of PBS, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network. My younger sibling watched Disney Channel more than CN by comparison) and encouraged us to watch movies (complete stories) and read as much as we liked. I had more trips to the library than to the video rental place, and I checked out far more books and music than I ever did movies.

My parents (and I, moreso than they) monitored my brother's videogame intake as well; we played racing games and RPGs until both of us were teenagers, and then the fighting and FPS games were introduced. I refused to let Aaron buy (or to be allowed to be coerced into buying for him) any rated M games until I knew he was mature enough and/or old enough to be able to understand that games are fantasy. But my childhood and today's childhood are really different.

Still, I'm firmly of the belief -- one that I've heard parroted back at me by various edutainment personalities -- that parents need to be involved in their kids' media consumption. I never once thought that TV was "real" in the way that my daily interactions were, and my parents taught me that actions have consequences.

And hey, I turned out all right -- I was G&T throughout primary and secondary school, took lots of AP classes, and graduated with an A- average from a top-ranked university business program. TV was not detrimental to my development. Well, no more so than wanting to watch it meant I didn't do my homework, haha.


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