What we Know about Young Children, TV and Media Violence

Psychologists, educators, and other researchers have studied how TV affects young children. Here are some of the main points they emphasize:

  • Young children watch more television than any other age group.
    Between the ages of 2 and 3, most children develop a favorite television show and begin to acquire the habit of watching television. American children between the ages of 2 and 5 spend more time watching TV than any other age group! (Presumably, school and other activities cut down on viewing time for children in the 6 to 17-year-old category.) Among other things, heavy TV viewing can also mean heavy exposure to violence. Children's programming has consistently been found to have higher levels of violence than any other category of programming. And young children also frequently watch violent programming intended for adults.
  • Young children can't tell the difference between fantasy and reality.
    Your preschooler's rich imagination is a big part of his normal development, but that means it is usually hard for him to tell the difference between what's real and what's imaginary. Preschoolers cannot always understand that what they see on television is made up, especially when it looks so much like real life, so it's especially difficult for them to distinguish between television violence and real- life violence.
  • Young children are particularly susceptible to media violence.
    Because they lack the life experience to evaluate what they are watching, preschoolers are not critical viewers of the violence they see in television programs, movies, and videotapes. They simply accept the violent behavior they see as real and normal.
  • Young children learn by imitating what they see, so television can be a powerful teacher.
    Television can teach your child about violence and aggressive behavior, but perhaps in ways you have not considered before. For instance, because most 3 to 6-year-olds want to feel that they are strong and in control of their world, they often identify with TV characters who are powerful and effective. But what they see most often are superheroes and other characters who solve problems with violence, usually as a first resort, and then are rewarded for doing so. When young children watch TV or videos that present violence as successful, exciting, funny, pleasurable, and commonplace, it can be easy for them to accept the "TV way" as real and desirable.
  • Preschoolers need a variety of real experiences and real playtime in order to grow and develop.
    Your growing child needs a wide range of activities and experiences. She needs a mix of physical activity, lots of "hands-on" experience with the world, a chance to be with other children and caring adults, and quiet time by herself. And she needs lots of time to play! Imaginative play is the single most important way 3 to 6-year olds learn, grow, and work out their feelings, fears, and fantasies. The more your child watches TV, the less she develops her own ability to entertain herself, and the less time she spends on all the other important experiences she needs to grow and learn.