kid watching tv

TV – friend or foe?

I grew up in a house where we spent about 90% of our free time watching Television.  We watched the 7 am cartoon while we were having breakfast and tuned in to K-TV when we got back from school in the afternoons.  My mother had the good sense to deny us access to the TV until we had done our homework, but this often only resulted in us rushing through the work and producing relatively low quality, sloppy efforts.  And on the weekend – we hired movies and watched these each weekend, all weekend long.

As an adult I’ve grown increasingly disillusioned with the Box and often marvel at the fact that I turned out relatively okay despite my hours of marathon TV viewing. In hindsight, there were several buffering factors: my parents also instilled a love of reading in us and were very strict about bedtime and about which shows we were allowed to watch.

In my practice I often feel as if I spend a huge deal of time and effort trying to undo the “evils” brought about by too much Television viewing.  If I had a Rand for each time I heard the parents of a child with learning difficulties complain that their child watches too much TV, I’d be very rich indeed. We probably can’t blame it all on TV, but the Box definitely does not help.  Certainly not all children who watch too much TV develop learning difficulties, but it’s generally been my experience that all children with learning difficulties watch too much TV.

Yet, TV can have some positive effects as well. Below I’ve listed some of the the pros and cons and tried to put together guidelines on how to get the most from your TV set.



  • Some TV programmes have Educational benefits.  It exposes children to animals, objects, places, situations that they would not have otherwise seen.  TV is the perfect medium to demonstrate how things work and can help to broaden your child’s vocabulary.
  • TV can have a calming effect. I hate to admit it, but there have definitely been moments in my teaching career where I hoarded my class into the TV room when they became too boisterous or hyperactive.
  • TV can help children develop empathy.  I only learned this trick when I was completing my Master’s degree.  I was much younger than most of the other students in my class and came under fire during the selection process for being too young and inexperienced.  “You’re only 24 years old” the comment came “how on earth are you going to give other people advice on how to live their lives?”  I was floored. Luckily another lecturer came to my rescue: “You’re going to read a lot and watch lots of movies, because while you’re reading and watching you feel what the characters are experiencing, you share their emotions and you get life experience”.  It is very important to note that only good quality programmes will have this effect though.  For instance: The movie Brave – yes, Dragonball Z – not so much.



  • TV Stifles creativity.  Many parents make the mistake of confusing imagination with creativity.  Sure TV might dish up many wonderful characters and make-believe lands to stretch your child’s imagination, but these are all served to them and they don’t have to create any of them themselves.  Because the events in a Television programme happen in a set sequence and is usually a foregone conclusion children are never given the opportunity to think of other creative ways in which characters could find solutions to their problems. I also find that the attention of children who watch too much TV often drifts to these “TV wonderlands” during periods where they should be focussing on schoolwork or learning to interact socially with friends.
  • TVcan negatively affect language development. It might help to increase your child’s vocabulary but watching too much television might decrease your child’s ability to express himself.  TV is largely a visual medium and often requires very little cognitive processing.  In my practice I find that children with bad TV habits battle to explain a story in sequence, they are often very long-winded in their explanations and can’t give concise definitions of everyday words and they make more use of “sound effects” than actual words.
  • TV is addictive and time consuming. Another very common complaint is “I just can’t get him away from the TV”. The immediate reply in my head is: “Uhhhhmmm … of course you can” but I never say this out loud.  When children are allowed to watch too much TV they lose all interest in other, less exciting or more physically challenging activities. These children often have no motivation to do their schoolwork or play outside or make new friends.  I often listen to school aged children complain about how they just don’t have enough time to finish their school work in the afternoons and then in the next breath they recall all the events of the previous night’s prime time TV programmes.
  • Television violence can traumatise young children or lead to aggressive behaviour.
  • TV encourages another of my pet hates – consumerism. All those clever adverts targeting little people and leading them to believe that they simply have to have a whole range of things they absolutely don’t need. In my opinion it only serves to encourage temper tantrums, chaos, conflict or worst case scenario: permissive parenting and children who don’t understand the concept of delayed gratification.



  • TV should be watched in moderation. The negative effects of TV viewing can largely be avoided by limiting the amount of time that children spend in front of the TV. Children under the age of 2 years should not be allowed to watch any TV at all (they need to spend all their waking time bonding with caregivers and exploring their environment) and older children should only be allowed to watch for a maximum one hour a day.
  • Children should never, ever have TV’s in their bedrooms – ever.  Boy the amount of times I’ve had this conversation: “Do you have a TV in your room?” “Yes, but my mom says I’m only allowed to watch it before bedtime. And then when she’s asleep I put it on and turn it on silent and watch almost the whole night”. Enough said.
  • TV programmes should be educational & age-appropriate.
  • Don’t just switch the TV on when you have nothing else to do. Plan beforehand which shows you would like to watch and find other activities to keep your children occupied outside of TV hours.
  • Don’t eat in front of the TV. Research has shown that it can contribute to obesity as children tend to be less aware of their satiation levels while their attention is being diverted by TV programmes.
  • Watch TV with your children.  That way you can talk to them about what they are seeing.  It provides a brilliant opportunity to teach ethical behaviour and problem solving skills.