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Health & Parenting

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Is TV Really So Bad for Kids?

Is TV Really So Bad for Kids?


A recent study by New York University School of Medicine researchers concluded that preschool children who frequently watch violent TV programs or play violent video games are 11 times more likely to engage in aggressive and antisocial behavior than children not frequently exposed. A study at the National Institute on Media and the Family, published in 2002, found that third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade children who watch media violence are more likely to treat their peers with rudeness and mean behavior.

In a study of more than 700 children, Columbia University researchers found that adolescents who watch more than an hour a day of TV are more prone to aggression and violence once they reach their late teens and early 20s.

"It certainly isn't true that every child who watches a lot of violence will become a school shooter," says Joanne Cantor, PhD, professor emerita of communication arts at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and author of Mommy, I'm Scared: How TV and Movies Frighten Children and What We Can Do to Protect Them. "Only a very tiny fraction of kids actually commit criminal violence. But even among those children who don't, they may become more hostile, more desensitized, and more frightened."

Here's how the AAP puts it: "Watching a lot of violence on television can lead to hostility, fear, anxiety, depression, nightmares, sleep disturbances, and posttraumatic stress disorder. It is best not to let your child watch violent programs and cartoons."

As for sexual content on TV -- whether in dramatic programs, music videos, or commercials -- experts caution that TV often doesn't depict the negative outcomes of sexual behavior, such as unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, and that children may imitate what they see in order to feel older.

"Kids don't learn that much about sex from their parents, and there's not a lot of very good sex education in the schools," says Cantor. "So what they learn about sex from TV comes in a vacuum."

By watching television, adds Cantor, children often learn that sex is very casual, that it has no negative consequences, and that it's "cool" to have sex.

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