“TV Will Rot Your Kid’s Brain” And Other Myths

Studies, studies, studies. There are all kinds of studies out there, and new ones are popping up all the time. There are studies that say cell phone use may cause cancer, coffee can help protect you from Alheimer’s, and even one that states drinking an alcoholic beverage each day may benefit women’s health. Of course there’s the old favorite: “TV will rot your kid’s brain!”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children should only have 1 to 2 hours of “quality programming” per day. For children under the age of 2, they go even further and say, “No TV for them!” Studies have shown that being exposed to too much TV can be detrimental to your child’s health. Potential issues they may develop include aggressive behavior, obesity, substance abuse and poor school performance. Of course when a statement like that is made, more often than not somebody steps up to offer the opposing view. In a Slate article earlier this year, writer Austan Goolsbee stated most studies about children and TV are “seriously flawed.” These studies don’t take the kids’ living environments into account. He posits that kids who watch very small amounts of TV tend to be from much wealthier families than those who watch several more hours a day.

“The problem with comparing them to kids who watch a lot of TV is like the problem with a study that compared, say, kids who ride to school in a Mercedes with kids who ride the bus. The data would no doubt show that Mercedes kids are more likely to score high on their SATs, go to college, and go on to high-paying jobs. None of that has anything to do with the car, but the comparison would make it look as if it did.”

Goolsbee goes on to cite a study that showed TV made little to no difference in children’s test scores. Therein lies the problem. Every time a study gets published, another study comes out later refuting it. Who are we to believe? Remember the “Mozart makes you smarter craze?” Something about improving spatial-temporal reasoning or the like. The popularized version of the theory, the “Mozart effect,” stated that “early childhood exposure to classical music has a beneficial effect on mental development.” Not everyone was a believer, as the theory was listed as one of the “50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology” by Emory University phsychologist Scott E. Lilienfeld in his book. This was also debunked more formally in a study by University of Vienna researchers Jakob Pietschnig, Martin Voracek and Anton K. Formann.

The University of Vienna researchers’ key finding is clear-cut: based on the cumulated evidence, there remains no support for gains in spatial ability specifically due to listening to Mozart music. “I recommend listening to Mozart to everyone, but it will not meet expectations of boosting cognitive abilities,” says Jakob Pietschnig, lead author of the study.

Of course music can greatly effect your moods, but it can’t physically change the way your brain is structured. Not in the way Sylar restructured his own brain on the TV show Heroes. Or if it did, could we simply take all the bad kids in school, strap them down into a chair all Clockwork Orange style, and force them to listen to classical music for 100 hours straight. Then would they all come out calm, brilliant and ready for some of that good old-fashioned learning?

Of course not. Life doesn’t work that way. This doesn’t mean all studies are worthless, they just need to be taken with a grain of salt. There are definitely some important studies out there, and the ones that have to do with health should be taken very seriously. However, it’s imperative to keep everything in context. And know there is always an opposing view waiting around the corner. The best thing to do is educate yourself as much as you can on the facts. It’s much better to be armed with an informed opinion, than to simply jump to conclusions.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics, Slate, Science Daily

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6 thoughts on ““TV Will Rot Your Kid’s Brain” And Other Myths

  1. Ha, I’m glad I logged on tonight and got to read this first. I’m always amazed at everything you find, Jeff, as far as statistics and research. It’s all so interesting! I may not have heard of many of articles or authors of such studies (well, any of them), but I do agree with the question, “Who are we to believe?” And, to answer that I say, we are to believe ourselves as parents. Each parent being different, each lifestyle, budget, and child being different, the TV factor is relative. I do believe that too much TV (i.e. too much meaning, let me plop my kid in front of it as a babysitter and leave the room for hours so I can do whatever else I want) is not good. My reasoning is not just because it is “TV” but because television sensationalizes most things when it comes to kids: foods, toys, and how “real life” looks in the form of friendships, peer pressure, and disrespecting adults (Hannah Montana comes to mind), even at a young age. Not to mention if the TV is tuned to prime time network programs. So, I keep our TV watching to no more than one hour a day, on average, and limit Maycee’s viewing to what shows I have watched with her and feel are either harmless, educational, fun or all of the above. The rest of our lives we do many more things that are valuable with our time besides “vegging out”. Okay, that’s all folks! :0)

    1. Well put. It should be different for every child. I’m glad I haven’t had to face the likes “Hannah Montana” yet. And vegging out should be left for dinner, not a daily activity. 😉

  2. This was a great post! Also I loved all the images. It’s hard to say who are we to believe, the best I can say is: look at both sides, see what they have to say, then go with your gut.

    In the end, a person will have to do what works for them.

    Personally, I let my daughter watch some tv, but not hours on end. Even the tv that she does watch is commercial free and easy for us access.

  3. Brilliant post – and great to hear a balanced argument on the subject for once. I think it depends on the TV programmes and the other activities involved in a child’s day. We tend to watch a couple of favourite, ten minute programmes a day, but that’s more because of the time they are on. It’s the winding down part of the day, after tea and before the bedtime bath. It comes after a day of playing and reading stories and having adventures. I watched some TV as a kid and it did me no harm. Honest.

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