Sue Scheff: TV Inhibits Reading

This topic is not new.  With the expansion of cable networks, Internet and video games, our kids/teens are spending more time in front of “screens.”  Whether it is a television – computer – or cell phone – more and more kids, starting younger in age, are spending more time “watching” rather than reading.  What can we do to promote reading?  Learn more in this article from Connect with Kids and some great parenting tips.

Source: Connect with Kids

TV Inhibits Reading

“Television just presents material. It doesn’t question it. It’s the questioning and the understanding that the kids really need.”

– Suzanne Starkey, M.D., Psychiatrist

<!–a href="#" target="_blank">Sprint</a–>According to the latest Neilsen survey, the average 11-year-old watches more than 28 hours of television a week; the average five-year-old- 32 hours a week. And new research suggests that all those hours have an impact on their vocabulary.

Like most children, Zachary and his little sister, Brooklyn, like to watch television.

“Usually I watch Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, Animal Planet,” says Zachary. Brooklyn’s favorite show: “Sponge Bob.”

The children’s parents try to set limits – usually an hour of television a day, sometimes more on the weekends.

“I do think too much is not good because you are just kind of brain dead when you are watching TV. A little of the right thing can actually be okay,” says Lisa Busman, Zachary and Brooklyn’s mother.

A University of Washington study finds that the more TV that a baby watches, the smaller their vocabulary. In fact, for every hour of TV, a child learns six to eight fewer words compared to babies who never watch TV at all.

Psychiatrist Dr. Suzanne Starkey explains, “Television just presents material. It doesn’t question it. It’s the questioning and the understanding that the kids really need.”

She says the same rules apply to videos that claim to be educational. To learn, babies require face to face interaction. “When we’re learning about language, the back and forth interaction between mother and child is very important. That’s where the child will learn sounds, and that’s where the child will learn some degree of inflection.”

Experts say instead of passive activities, children of all ages are better served by being active – playing, learning an instrument, spending time with family, and of course reading, which is exactly what Brooklyn and Zachary love to do.

Nearly 40 years ago, a critic dubbed television a “vast wasteland.” The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is weighing in with its own opinion. AAP officials released statements that say television can have negative long-term effects, such as weight problems and lack of creativity, on children.

Nancy Beyer has pulled the cable at home and bans all television on weekends for her 12-year-old daughter.

“It makes me use my imagination more than lots of kids do,” says Beyer’s daughter, Jessica.

Although Jessica’s mother hopes that the television ban will nudge her daughter to become more sociable, Jessica admits at times the opposite is true. She says she feels excluded at school when other kids are discussing what shows were on and she has to remind them that “we don’t have cable.”

Some experts say that by dismissing television, parents may miss some key teaching opportunities with their kids. Dr. Vincent Ho, a psychiatrist, says that parents should not let the television become a passive experience but should use it to stimulate discussion. He suggests that even bad television can be a good learning tool and that many opportunities to discuss what is going on exist.

Tips for Parents

A study completed by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that 57% of parents with preschool children believe that television has done more good than harm. However, the opinions were different among parents with children aged 6 to 11. Their opinions were primarily based on the belief that a lack of quality programs for older children exists.

Based on its study, the AAP makes three major recommendations for children and television viewing:

  • Children under 2 years old should not watch television. Children under 2 need to receive stimuli from interaction with older people for proper brain development.
  • Older children should not have television sets in their bedrooms. By keeping televisions in common areas of the house, you are better able to monitor your child’s viewing.
  • Pediatricians should have parents fill out “media history” forms along with medical history information. Spending too much time in front of the television (video games, computers, etc.), can lead to physical health issues, such as obesity. And in younger kids, it may contribute to the lack of development in cognitive skills.

While watching television can jumpstart discussions with your child, it is important that you encourage your child in other active and educational endeavors. The Medical College of Wisconsin offers the following advice for limiting your child’s television and other media intake:

  • Ask your child to tell you what his or her favorite shows are and together predetermine which ones he or she will watch on a regular basis.
  • Set limits to time spent on the computer when not engaged in schoolwork. More than one to two hours per day is excessive.
  • Help your child to structure the rest of his or her time by looking for opportunities in the community, such as after-school sports, school-based clubs, scouting and school or community artistic endeavors (band, orchestra, etc.).
  • Make frequent trips to the library and help your child choose age-appropriate books to read.
  • Play games or sports with your child.
  • Last but not least, set a good example by limiting your own television time.


  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • Annenberg Public Policy Center
  • Extreme Learning Center
  • Medical College of Wisconsin
  • Neilsen Survey