A number of readers have asked me whether they should limit their gifted children’s TV watching and computer use. This is a simple question, yet the research on it is not extensive and does not provide a definitive answer. Some authorities claim that frequent TV watching leads to violence, substance use, and obesity. The Alliance for Childhood, a nonprofit organization in Maryland, contends that early exposure to computers stunts children’s social development, and it has called for a moratorium on the use of computers with preschoolers. On the other hand, some educators encourage early computer use.
Let’s review what we do know. Children and adolescents spend more time watching TV than doing almost any other activity. A study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood notes that many adolescents have spent the equivalent of three years watching TV by age 18. The number of violent and sexual incidents on TV programs during prime time—what we used to call the “family hour”—has increased dramatically in the past 25 years. Now computer games and the Internet have captured the minds and hearts of our children and youth. The Pew Internet Project notes that instant messaging plays a major role in teens’ lives and in their relationships with friends and family. Finally, only one in four American children gets adequate physical exercise every day, according to the National Association for Sports and Physical Education. Almost 15 percent of children aged 6–11 are obese, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
These reports are sobering reminders of the dangers of TV and computer overuse. However, I do not advocate a moratorium; I recommend moderation and monitoring. Young children are particularly susceptible to messages repeatedly communicated by the media. Many TV shows glamorize violence, immoral behavior, superficial relationships, and drug use. But many other shows are child-friendly and educational as well as entertaining. Help your children choose appropriate programs, watch them together, and limit their time in front of the TV. The same suggestion holds for computer and Internet use. Let moderation and monitoring be your guide.
Finally, encourage your children to get off the couch and engage in physical activity. Not only is it good for their physical health, but a growing body of evidence links exercise to increased brain function.
—Steven I. Pfeiffer, PhD