Is TV Making Kids Dumb?

By Lily Bourne

Many parents have the same mindset surrounding television; don’t watch too much, it’ll make you dumber. But how accurate can that claim really be? Whether we like it or not, television has become an integral part of childhood, and not watching it often causes a sense of unbelonging. The average American child spends 2-3 hours watching television every day, and that isn’t including social media or other forms of media consumption, totalling an additional average of 5-7 hours a day. This consumption of media in a relatively short time has caused a generational divide between parents and children, where older generations distrust new technologies, while younger generations have never experienced anything different. Resulting from this distrust, older generations tend to buy into negative mindsets towards television and other media, believing that children may be losing intelligence as a result of increased time spent watching television. 

Unfortunately for the many children arguing against their parents’ claims, experts generally agree that watching excessive amounts of television decreases cognitive performance. Researchers found that children who spent less than 2 hours per day on a screen, coupled with better sleep and exercise, had much sharper intellect than those who did not. They also hypothesized that much of the time spent watching television or other media was spent while being on another device at the same time, further impairing the brain’s ability to focus on one task at a time. Especially in younger children, evidence proves that high exposure to television negatively affects cognitive development, language skills, attention, and other incredibly important factors in childhood development. It also leads to a decline in parent-child interactions, which usually foster social-emotional skills in developing children. Clearly, overexposure to television at an early age leads to generally negative consequences, and more research is being done to continue to back up this claim.

However, all hope is not lost for those arguing for the benefits of television. With the surge in new streaming services and programs, educational television has grown and become a genre in itself. PBS Kids, for example, offers over 30 different shows focused on educating children through unique characters and topics. Research has shown that age-appropriate programming with specific educational goals can lead children to early literacy and language development. A study done on high school students showed that those who had watched Sesame Street, a highly popular educational program, had higher GPAs, read more books, and had higher academic self esteem compared to those who did not watch educational television as children. Another result of watching programs like Sesame Street is more positive racial attitudes and general cultural appreciation in young children. Most of these educational shows encourage friendship between characters of different backgrounds, and include diverse casts to open children up to the diversity of the real world. 

Although television has negative benefits, the reality is that almost every child in this modern age will be subject to media exposure as they grow up. Instead of fighting against the natural course of young children towards engaging content, parents should consider a different approach. By pushing children towards more educational programs, like Sesame Street or PBS Kids, parents can actually use television as a learning tool to improve their children’s cognitive and social-emotional development. Perhaps the question to ask isn’t really “Is TV making kids dumb?”, but a more important proposition: “Can TV make kids smart?”