How much TV is too much?

Friday, October 04, 2019

How long does your child spend in front of the TV? Is there a right amount or should it be down to your own personal preference? There are multiple studies that outline the negative effects of letting your little ones sit down in front of the box but on the flip side there are benefits of watching TV too.

We look at both sides of the argument and hear first-hand from parents their views on what is right for their child – from toddler to teenager.

How does TV affect your child?

There are numerous studies that have looked into the effects of TV and screen time on children’s development and health. More often than not the media present us with scare-tactic headlines that pick out the worst statistics from these studies rather than highlight the positives that can also come from watching TV.


According to the Metro, 5 year-olds who watch more than three hours of TV a day are more likely to steal or get into fights. However, once explored the risks of this are actually very small and researchers have advised against heavy screen use rather than banning it altogether.

Language development

Studies into the effect of TV on language development are difficult to 100% confirm, as most mention a possible link between the two but not a concrete one.

Primary school children who watch TV for less than three hours a day are more likely to communicate ideas effectively by the time they reach 11, according to researchers from both UK and Australian universities. However, other factors could be at play here such as:

  • poverty
  • having a large number of siblings
  • and if children have been read to by parents.

All are said to contribute to a child’s development, and TV can’t be held solely accountable.

Negative effects of TV

The negatives of TV are widely publicised, and you’ll probably see more headlines on these than the good that can come from watching it, but it’s worth knowing what the disadvantages are so you can work out what’s right for you and your child.

Stops imagination

Children who spend a lot of time inside watching TV are said to miss out on exploring the real world. Because ideas are presented to them on a screen they lack the imaginations to come up with new ideas themselves.


Similar to above, there is no direct concrete link between obesity and watching TV. Although, a study from The International Journal of Obesity suggested that those that have a TV in their room are more likely to be overweight and have a higher BMI. But equally diet and lack of physical exercise could result in this, rather than only a screen causing obesity.

Wanting what they see

Parents become victims to the adverts their children see. The latest toys, Disney holidays, food etc. – these adverts are designed to make children ask their parents for what they’ve just seen; regardless of whether they actually need it.

>>How often do you switch off and eat together as a family?

Benefits of watching TV

Alongside the negatives there are also the benefits. We spoke to one mother of two who explained the benefits of TV for her four and one-year-old daughters.

Lorna said: “Some programmes are educational (Alpha Blocks/Number Blocks) and also wildlife programmes (David Attenborough etc.) are great to watch as a family. Additionally when you need a child to calm down and be occupied then it’s a great tool – for example when you’re making dinner, on a plane or on train journey.”

Tom, father of one, agreed. He explained: “From a very young age (3 months) I have used TV as a stable part of my son’s bedtime routine. He has approx. 30 mins before bed with his bottle.

“It has developed from shapes and colours in the early months, which helps cerebral development, to Thomas and Peppa Pig.

“I think you can use TV (YouTube) to search for trains or aeroplanes to help teach them things they have picked up on day to day. For example, on our recent holiday explaining the process of an airport and baggage helped prepare him for the queues and the potential delays. We watched a few videos in the build-up of planes/swimming pools etc. and he knew what he was going to get up to.”


There are channels specifically for educational purposes, whether that is arts and crafts, history or nature and programmes that help aid learning for pre-school children.

It can help problem-solving and analytical thinking and especially help those children who struggle with traditional teaching methods in the classroom.


Seeing sports on TV can help spark an interest in your child and encourage them to join clubs and get active. Equally if your child takes an interest in a particular club then going to one of their games as a reward for good behaviour could also be seen as a benefit.

This is something Tom agrees with, he said: “In a sporty household we constantly have football and golf on the TV and my son has developed a passion for both these sports - learning the rules and actively watching how they hit or kick it and attempting to replicate.”


If your kids just won’t sit still at a restaurant, you’ve got a long journey and they’re restless or you’re trying to make dinner or tidy up – then putting on the TV can be life-saver.

It might just keep them engaged long enough so you’re not constantly hearing ‘I’m bored’!

Although, Vanessa, mother of two (8 and 12 years-old), believes TV isn’t needed to entertain our children, “there is always a lot to do around the house and they usually find something else to do quite quickly.”

How much TV is too much?

Guy, father of two teenagers, aged 13 and 16, said: “It can be a constant worry for parents with teenagers that they’re spending too much time in front of a screen.

“You’re never sure how much screen time you should allow them and how to police it. You listen to what your friends with kids are doing, you read news articles and even the schools offer advice to both parents and the kids. In the end my wife and I agreed on an approach and had an honest conversation with our kids and left them to police themselves; with the occasional nudge along the way.

“They live in a digital age, using screens constantly, as we all do. We felt it was better to treat them as adults and help them learn to manage their own screen time, as they’ll be screening for many years to come when they’ve left home.”

Vanessa’s approach might be different to some but for her family she felt it was right to go TV-free for a while. She said: “I decided to go TV-free in November 2017, we lasted 1 year with the TV in the attic. I found we did more as a family – we went out more, played board games, read more and experimented more in the kitchen.

“We have the TV down now but only use it to watch movies together; we might watch a couple per week. The girls are allowed 30 min of electronics per day Mon-Fri and 1 hour on Saturday and Sunday.

“I find this balance perfect for them, they’ve since dusted off all their toys, play more together and we chat all the time about everything.”

If it’s computer games, watching films, playing on your phone or watching TV programmes isn’t it ultimately down to the parents to decide what is right for their child whether four or 14 years-old?

Explore further topics on health, wellbeing and family in our Health-on-Line blog.

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