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How television impacts children

Nina Chen, Ph.D., CFLE, human development specialist, Jackson County, University of Missouri Extension


Many parents are concerned about their children’s television habits. Are they watching too much? What are they watching? How is TV affecting them? These are the kinds of questions parents should ask when making decisions about their children’s TV viewing.


Here are some facts about TV that can give parents more information:

  • American children watch an average of three to five hours of television every day.
  • The average child witnesses 45 acts of violence on TV every day.
  • Children watching TV may see 50,000 TV commercials every year.
  • Most 2- to 5-year-old children watch TV an average of 31 hours each week or more than four hours each day.
  • Children’s programming has an average of 26 violent acts every hour.
  • Ten percent of children’s TV time is spent watching children’s programs and 90 percent of their time is spent watching programs intended for adults.
  • The average American family has the TV on for 6.2 hours every day.
  • Children are more likely to be obese when they watch TV four or more hours per day.


Many studies found that TV violence impacts children and teens negatively. For example, children learn that violence is an acceptable way to solve problems. Children may develop strong emotional fears, imitate the violence they see on TV, become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others, and identify with certain characters, both good and bad. Studies also show that children who watch too much television may be more aggressive and violent, perform poorly in school, use drugs or alcohol, and become sexually active at an early age.


Children’s development and learning may also suffer from too much TV. Children watching too much TV don’t get as much physical activity and aren’t exposed to new experiences. One study showed that 4-year-olds who watched a lot of TV scored lower on measures of applied problem solving, language comprehension and expressive vocabulary.


Although there are negative effects of watching too much television, some studies indicate that moderate TV viewing can stimulate a child’s education and creativity. Children who watched a moderate amount of TV performed better academically than children who watched TV excessively or not at all.


Television can have both negative and positive effects on children. Like anything else, moderation is best. Parents should limit the amount of time their children spend in front of the TV and pay close attention to the content of the programs they are watching.


Here are more suggestions for parents to help guide children’s television viewing:

  • Put TV sets in family areas instead of in children’s rooms.
  • Monitor what your children are viewing and avoid violent or sexual content.
  • Watch TV with your children and discuss the program or commercials. Ask them questions, and express your thoughts and feelings. This discussion process will help children critically evaluate programs and advertisements.
  • Set limits on TV viewing. For example, restrict TV during meals and before children have finished homework or chores.
  • Be a good role model for your children with your own TV viewing habits. They model what you do more than what you say.



Graham, J. 2008. How Television Viewing Affects Children. Family Issues Facts. University of Maine Cooperative Extension.


National Institute on Media and the Family. Children and Media Violence.


Oesterriech, L. 2004. Getting Along: Taming the TV. Iowa State University Extension.



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Last Updated: 04/19/2010