Feature Archive

Quality vs. Quantity: TV Guidelines for Kids

How does the amount and quality of TV-watching affect your child's development?

WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario

Once the thrill of building snowmen has worn off, children in colder climates tend to spend the winter months indoors. That can mean more television time than usual -- a source of concern among some child development experts who wonder about the impact on impressionable young minds.

"We don't have living-color pictures of young children's brains watching television," says educational psychologist Jane M. Healy, PhD. "What we do have is a huge history and body of research showing us that anything a child does for an extended period of time will make changes in the brain."

What kinds of changes? That may depend on what your child is watching. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, research shows "a very strong link" between exposure to violent television programs, including cartoons, and aggressive behavior in children. But how about nonviolent children's programs?

Healy, who is the author of Your Child's Growing Mind: Brain Development and Learning from Birth to Adolescence, tells WebMD even well-respected kids programs use fast-paced camera moves, color splashes, and special effects to captivate young viewers. "Children's programs have a lot of loud noises and silly sounds and funny-sounding voices designed to attract children's attention," she says. The result is that children who watch too much TV "lack experience in shifting and maintaining their own attention because the television is directing them."