How much TV time is too much?

Studies show that excessive TV watching and screen use, especially for young children, can lead to attention problems and lower reading scores.

I have two young nieces, ages 2 and 3, who love Disney princesses and Tinker Bell. Everything from their toys to their clothes revolves around those two themes. They also love to watch Tinker Bell, Cinderella, Belle, Ariel and all the other fairies and princesses on TV and in movies. Therein lies a potential problem — too much TV. Studies show that excessive TV watching and screen use, especially for young children, can lead to attention problems and lower reading scores and get in the way of a child’s time to explore, learn and interact with others.

A recent study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex identifies the potential impact of television viewing beyond the long-standing discussion of TV being linked to obesityattention problems and aggression in kids. This new study links TV watching with changes in children’s growing brains. Researchers studied Japanese children between the ages of 5 and 18 who watched an average of two hours of TV a day (some watched up to four hours a day). Brain scans of the children revealed that parts of the brain grew larger the more a child watched TV. The researchers discovered  two issues with the higher brain volume: it was associated with lower verbal intelligence and the brain areas that grew are those that need to be pruned during childhood in order for the brain to operate efficiently. Simply put, according to study co-author Hikaru Takeuchi of Tohoku University, “TV might make the developing brain too fat” to work the way it should.

While the researchers studied children several years older than my two nieces, the findings are important for children of all ages. The data from the study can’t say that TV caused the brain changes, but like similar studies, it does highlight an association — one that I’ll be sure to pass along to my nieces’ parents and my friends with small children.

The takeaway? Limit the number of hours your child watches TV. Encourage your children to read, play outside with friends and siblings, play board games, work puzzles or talk to you while you prepare dinner each night.

How many hours a day do your children watch TV or play on the computer? Children should have two hours or less of screen time a day. Screen time includes television, computer, computer games and handheld games.

Healthy screen time guidelines:

  • No TV/computer for children under age 2
  • No TV/computer in the room where the child sleeps
  • One hour of educational TV/computer time between ages 2 and 5
  • Two hours or less of screen time for kids age 5 and older


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