Health Watch -- Kids and TV

Health Watch is a Public Service of the  Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

Is television replacing playing outside?

American children are spending as much time watching television as they are playing outside, and this is a trend that starts at a very early age. That’s according to a survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The survey found that children from ages 2 to 6 spend an average of two hours a day watching TV – about the same amount of time they spend playing outside. In contrast, these children only spend about 39 minutes a day reading or being read to.

Meanwhile, we’re starting our couch potatoes at an early age. More than 40 percent of children under the age of 2 watch TV every day, and more than a quarter of children this age even have a TV set in their bedrooms. In many of these homes, the television is kept on most of the time, whether or not anyone is watching.

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas have found that television watching can present problems for young children. Dr. John Herman, a UT Southwestern sleep expert, says that television may interfere with children being able to get enough sleep. Parents may think that they’re helping their children settle down and relax for the night by letting them watch television at bedtime, but the bright lights behind the television screen actually serve as a stimulant, waking up children’s brains. That makes it harder for them to get to sleep. Exposure to the TV screen at night could even reset children’s internal clocks so that they fall asleep later and want to wake up later.