Kiwi Polemicist

June 3, 2009

• TV Damages Parent-Child Relationships

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The BBC has an article which says in part

A US team recorded more than 300 children aged between two months and four years on several days every month over two years.

They found that when the TV was audible – either on in the background or being watched – the number of words spoken and sounds made by either adult or child reduced considerably.

It is the latest study to imply that delays in language development may be the fault of TV, a medium blamed for a host of other modern ills, from bullying to obesity.
This latest study into TV’s effect on children comes from the University of Washington’s Dimitri Christakis, the researcher who made headlines after reporting that infants who watched the Baby Einstein series – a set of programmes billed as educational – learnt fewer new words than those who did not.

His new study did not differentiate between TV being watched or background TV, nor did it examine the kind of programmes that were on. But it did find that overall, adults barely spoke to children when the TV was audible.

This is another one of those research projects that states the blindingly obvious: television kills conversation. I am reminded of a book written by an Australian man who was a soldier in Vietnam. He grew up in a rural area that did not have TV and in the evenings people would sit on porches and chat, as well as visiting each other. Television arrived in his home town while he was in Vietnam, and when he returned he found that the community social activities had basically disappeared because each family was sitting at home dumbly watching the tube (“dumbly” as in “speechlessly”, naturally).

mother mom mum looking into eyes of baby source

Naturally all new mums look glamorous, show no signs of sleep deprivation or fluid retention, and always have their baby dressed in spotless clothes

baby with big eyes source

Back to the study cited by the BBC. They talk about the effects of TV on language development, and I’m sure that this is a problem, but what about the effects on parent-child relationships? Mothers will tell you that they love to stare into the eyes of their baby – which is of course the cutest on the planet – and I believe that women and babies are designed to do this because it fosters the parent-child relationship. Parents are the bedrock of a child’s life, and if a child isn’t connected to a foundation he’s going to have problems for the rest of life. He may later seek a replacement for that relationship in gangs and/or promiscuity; additionally or alternatively, he might try and blot out the ache in his heart with alcohol, drugs or food. Poor parent-child relationships are also a major cause of depression. Thus there is, in some cases, a causal link between television-watching and the social ills that our government bleats on about. Snap quiz: who owns TVNZ?*

Television isn’t the only thing that kills conversation. If you take a daytime walk around the parts of town that are predominantly welfare-dependent you’ll find plenty of houses that have thunderously loud stereos playing for hours on end. If that isn’t a conversation-killer, what is? In some cases the government is paying people to stay home and damage the parent-child relationship, along with the baby’s ears.

Here’s my advice:

  • Do spend time developing relationships with your children. E.g., working together builds relationships and is educational
  • Do talk to your baby using normal language (not too much ‘baby talk’) – it’s good for their language development
  • Do read books to your children: kids love it, you’re building the relationship, and you’re teaching them. What a wonderful use of time
  • Do get rid of the TV or reserve it for special occasions
  • Don’t use TV as a babysitter

Children need relationships, and relationships need time. Don’t let TV steal that time, because you can’t get it back.

monster truck baby wearing muffs source

TV severely impairs parent-child communication

Other harmful effects of television:

  • a person watching TV has less brain activity than a person who is asleep
  • TV is also a stimulant, e.g. children who rarely watch TV are clearly overstimulated after watching a programme. TV teaches children to expect constant stimulation so, for example, they have trouble sitting still and/or reading a book
  • TV dulls the imagination. In comparison, when a person is reading or listening to a book their imagination fills in the details not supplied by the author
  • TV teaches children to have a short attention span
  • children are copycats; do you want your children behaving like the people that they see on TV? If you don’t believe me consider this: how much blood has been drawn by children imitating a sword fight seen on TV?
  • the body’s metabolic rate is reduced when watching TV: this fosters obesity because people are burning fewer calories per hour. Then there’s the ads for food…

~~Please share your experiences of the effect of TV on your children and family. I’m also interested in hearing from people who have removed their TV or restricted access to it~~

*the state owns TVNZ




  1. I try to read bedtime stories to my little girl every evening, she is only one but shows no interest in TV not that i’m disapointed, because I to share the view that TV kills the imagination & the conversation. I grew up on St Helena where TV was only introduce in the early 90’s I dont live there any more but i keep hearing stories of how tradition is dying, could be something to do with TV.

    Comment by Darrell — June 3, 2009 @ 11:02 pm

    • Darrel: if you keep your little one away from the TV she won’t desire it and if you read to her she will learn to love books.

      I can’t remember where, but I did read that when TV arrives in remote islands like St Helena there is a huge cultural change, e.g. children stop respecting elders and become more violent because they are copying what they see on TV.

      I believe that TV is poison for individuals, families and communities.

      Comment by Kiwi Polemicist — June 4, 2009 @ 9:08 pm

  2. Interesting topic. Ealier this year, in Jan, we got rid of sky. Unfortunatley, it meant that we then could get any TV at all. So for the last 5 months we have had no TV at all. We let our two boys watch about 20 minutes of the wiggles DVD afer bath time and before reading.
    I actually enjoy it without tv. There are a couple of TV shows I like and therfore watch them online. Being a sport mad kiwi I wondered how i would go without sky. Well I can watch more sport via the net, for free than I can get on sky. Super 14 etc, cricket.

    One question though. We often have the radio on now. Any studies abou that???

    Comment by Ozy Mandias — June 9, 2009 @ 8:37 pm

    • Ozy: I’m glad to hear that you’re enjoying it without TV. One suggestion: you’re likely to find that having the Wiggles before reading makes it hard for them to concentrate on the book because they’re overstimulated by the Wiggles. Perhaps if they had the DVD before the bath they’d splash about and work off their overstimulation – each kid is different. Kids also love the christian Veggie Tales.

      I’d suggest making DVDs a reward and/or a treat rather than a “right” because a kid with a sense of entitlement is a royal pain and a sense of entitlement is not good for their character (it’s a form of pride, see Php 2:3).

      One potential problem for kids without TV is peer pressure at school (home school parents easily avoid this!). It probably helps if the child has a prepared response and a personal understanding of the reason for not having TV. “We can’t get TV at our house” is a perfect “excuse”.

      I haven’t seen any studies on radio, but I believe that it’d engage the imagination as books and audio books do, depending upon the content and whether you’re actively listening or the radio is just background noise. Eg, if you’re listening to a cricket commentator describing a bowler running up, you’re imagining the grass, the uniform, and his style. Plenty of autobiographies describe avid listening to radio shows when the author was a child and this was compatible with a healthy run-about lifestyle.

      I’m not certain about this, but I suspect that having the radio on without actively listening to it encourages mental laziness, ie it teaches people to not listen actively. If there’s a radio show that the kids like it’s great to sit down with them and listen to it together – that way you’re building relationships. Ditto if there’s a show that husband and wife like – they can cuddle up and listen together (exegesis of Song of Solomon???). It was once the norm to sit down in front of the radio and listen attentively. You can stream the BBC and many other radio stations over the internet – just turn off the screen for that retro effect 🙂

      You could probably find christian podcasts for the kids and you and the missus. There’s some good biblical teaching at and

      You don’t have to answer this question, but has the absence of TV helped your marriage?

      This wasn’t meant to be such a long reply – you got me thinking and this is the result.

      Comment by Kiwi Polemicist — June 10, 2009 @ 11:30 pm

  3. Thanks for the advice. Our boys are pretty good and dont seem to get too stimulated by the music as such. We dont use it currently as a reward but there are plenty of days when the boys behaviour means they dont et to watch it.

    I think it is different stroke for different folks. We were told once that bath time should be a quiet relaxing time. Well bath time in our family is run by dad, me, and things are far from quiet and relaxed. More like a tidal wave of distruction.

    Agree about the radio. I am a fan of Test cricket on the radio and enjoy the ‘imagination’ aspect of it.

    Already have my fair share of sermons from online. I enjoy my running and love nothing better to listen to sermons while I run.
    Enjoy Joshua Harris who hangs in the same circles as Piper – He is the pastor of Covenant Life Church. Tim keller I enjoy. For something a lot less structured and different ( although cant say I agree with everything he says ) Rob Bell.

    Any other you know of??

    Comment by Ozy Mandias — June 11, 2009 @ 6:21 pm

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