Old Archives

Parenting Pep Talk: Turn Off The TV? Not So Fast.

We are part of The Trust Project
Dr. Jaime Black
Dr. Jaime Black

The fall is an exciting time for television fans. Just as the summer is ending a whole host of new TV programs will be popular and many children will be dying to see which ones are hits. Many parents, on the other hand, will be concerned about new and potentially graphic content. All parents have heard the warning: the more television your children watch the worse off they will be. It may not be that simple, however. Here are some reasons why.

Correlation does not equal causation. One New Zealand study found that increased TV time was correlated with aggressive personality traits and criminality. This does not mean that TV causes children to grow to be aggressive and/or criminals. When making a distinction between correlation and causation, remember this: ice cream sales are correlated with homicide rates. Does this mean that ice cream eaters or salesmen are murderers or targets for homicide? No, probably not. In the TV study, the researchers only looked at time spent watching TV and did not look at what kids were actually watching. Many experts believe that the “what” can be very important.

Children imitate both bad and good behavior. Parents can take advantage of this, says Dr. Christakis, director of Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. In response to the New Zealand study, Dr. Christakis studied 820 families and their TV habits. In his study, he made no changes to their TV-watching time but changed the TV content in half of the families from violent images to educational and pro-social ones. Six months later, those watching positive images were less aggressive and more social than their violence-watching counterparts. This suggests that watching educational television can actually improve behavior.

Even “bad” television can provide educational moments. There is a difference between plopping kids down in front of the TV and making TV watching an interactive experience. Television can open a dialog about various difficult topics like violence, discrimination, sex, death, and consumerism, to name just a few. Parents can get a feel for what their children are thinking and feeling and maybe even gain insight into what’s happening at school while watching certain shows together.

Certain shows cultivate interests. Channels like The Discovery Channel, National Geographic, PBS, Animal Planet, etc. are educational and can promote interest in topics that aren’t regularly covered in school. Parents can use those interests to plan fun trips to places like museums and parks. For example, your children could watch Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey and then educate you during a visit to the Hayden Planetarium in New York City.

Of course we know that children benefit from being active and engaged both physically and mentally. Television should not be the number one source of entertainment in any household, but it need not be taboo either. We are all busy and we all need to unwind. Sometimes unwinding comes in the form of television and that’s OK. As parents, try to make smart choices and talk to your kids about what they see. As long as your children have balance in their lives they are not likely to become criminals just because they watch TV.

Dr. Jaime Black is a licensed psychologist practicing in Westchester and New York City. Jaime works with high-functioning individuals on the autism spectrum, doing psychotherapy, conducting evaluations, and facilitating various socialization groups including an improv social skills group. Visit www.spectrumservicesnyc.com, e-mail JaimeBlackPsyD@gmail.com or call (914)712-8208.

We'd love for you to support our work by joining as a free, partial access subscriber, or by registering as a full access member. Members get full access to all of our content, and receive a variety of bonus perks like free show tickets. Learn more here.